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Incense Journal

Natural incense info from music to listen to while burning incense to incense history

The Oldest Headshop In The World - Annapurna in Berkeley

Mike Pare

Berkeley flashbacks at Annapurna! This headshop has been open for fifty years and they have probably sold more incense than any other headshop ever. It's quite an accomplishment. The owner Alfred is super friendly. I used to buy Spiritual Sky, satya nag champa, and djarums here when I was a younger person living in the bay area.

It's interesting to think about how incense and intoxicants have a long history of association. There is a shadow side of incense that merits further investigation. This shadow side of incense involves lots of shady stuff like counterfeiting, smuggling, as well as connections with esoteric topics like magick and altered states of consciousness.


Incense in the Art Gallery

Mike Pare

“Ring On Fire”, 2019, Media: incense, ash, concrete burner

“Ring On Fire”, 2019, Media: incense, ash, concrete burner

This piece I made is in a group show at Andrew Edlin Gallery New York, opening April 27. The show is curated by Andrew Guenther, a fellow artist and crafter. He is a great painter and jeweler and you should look at his work here:

Guenther came up with the concept for the show:

“Big Ringer is an exhibition of artists making their own interpretations of the diamond engagement ring, or ring of value that connotes some type of formal agreement. 

Wedding rings and engagement rings have been exchanged since the Romans. Over time the meanings of engagement rings have ranged from religious talismans, agreements of ownership, symbols of value, and tokens of union or devotion. It is only around the 1930s that retailers began to push the sparkling diamond settings as we know them today. 

While rings are traditionally made from precious metals and I don’t expect artists in the exhibition to follow this example but rather use what is available. The artists are free to interpret and reimagine the engagement ring in any material they see fit. The rings do not have to be gender specific and may even be for the self.”

…And from the gallery website: “Prior to our modern understanding of the circulatory system, many believed a vein ran directly from the fourth finger of the left hand to the heart. The vena amoris, or vein of love, was seen as the conduit to a loved one's heart. Placing a wedding band or engagement ring on this finger was meant to be a supernatural link to the wearer's partner, a symbol of unity. Over time, rings have grown in size and opulence, carrying heavier cultural expectations.”


Here are my notes on Ring of Fire:

“This is the first piece of work I've decided to present that incorporates my recent interest in incense materials. The Ring of Fire is a temporary sculpture that exists in the memories of the viewer, in ways both visual and olfactory. The sense of smell can make a lasting impression and has the power to invoke memories. On the topic of the show, this work emphasises ritual associated with commitment. The ring does not last-but the memory does. The smell of the incense materials experienced in the future is bound to evoke the memory of the piece, and thus the themes of the exhibit. The ring itself is an offering, an invocation, and a pact. “

Here are all of the rings I made for the exhibit. The Ash is Japanese rice ash.

Here are all of the rings I made for the exhibit. The Ash is Japanese rice ash.

Can You Buy Incense at Disney World Orlando?

Mike Pare


Is it possible to find incense at Disney World Orlando? The answer is yes. At some point, someone at Disneycorp decided it was okay for them to sell incense at their giant shopping mall / theme parks. I am not sure if it’s okay to burn it in your hotel room though.

I found incense at Epcot Center. The Morocco Pavilion had a selection of very low grade incense and incense burners from India.

We moved on and discovered a surprisingly good selection of incense in the Japanese Pavilion..


a little googling and I found that incense is also available at the China Pavilion. I did not see it or smell it when I was there, but that is probably because i was eating an egg roll.

What Are the Benefits of Burning Palo Santo?

Mike Pare


The Piney, resinous smoke of palo santo wood has a regal or holy association. This South American tree, Bursera graveolens  is a relative of the Frankincense tree of Africa. Palo santo contains a high concentration of d-limonene, an aromatic molecule found in citrus and frankincense among other botanicals. The wood of the tree used for incense can only be harvested from dead trees, the longer the tree is dead, the better the oil and wood.  It has been used for centuries in household and ritual use. Here are the top five uses of Palo Santo.

  • Clears the mind. Often burned while meditating to provide mental clarity and focus the mind.  The scent is centering and grounding.
  • Space cleansing. Spiritual cleaning with smoke, aka smudging, is a practice that goes back for ages. 
  • Anti Bacterial and insect repellent.  Palo santo essential oil is traditionally used as an anti-bacterial agent. Using palo santo incense reduces unwanted odors, bacteria and viruses. Also bugs don't like the smell.  Go away mosquitoes!
  • Evokes past memories. The sense of smell is strongly associated with memory. 
  • Calms pets down. Word has it that dogs like the smell of Palo Santo. 

Our Copalo incense cones contain palo santo wood powder, white copal tree resin, and red cedar powder. 

New SUNOL incense blend with Oakmoss

Mike Pare



Oakmoss is one of my favorite natural incense ingredients. It is a lichen, Evernia Prunastri, and it grows on oak trees in many parts of the world. It has historically been used in perfumery for hundreds of years, and was mixed with talc to fragrance powdered wigs. Ha. While not technically a moss, it's a trade name, (and fragrance note) that has stuck around for centuries.  It is a key ingredient in traditional french chypre and fougère perfumes.  Further complicating matters,  synthetic "Oakmoss" fragrance has grown in popularity to the point where today the majority of products labeled "oakmoss" are made in a lab.

I like oakmoss as an incense ingredient because it evokes campfire smells, rolling hills, and peaceful feelings. Its a fragrance that stays around for a while after burning. To me it is an immediately recognizable fragrance, and a welcoming one! 

I named this blend Sunol (pronounced sun-OL), after a local village near where I grew up in Northern California.  For a time in the 1980s and 90s, a black lab rottweiler mix named Bosco was the Mayor. 

Oakmoss and Eucalyptus collected in Winter

Oakmoss and Eucalyptus collected in Winter

Oakmoss (and eucalyptus in the background) - Gilroy, California

Oakmoss (and eucalyptus in the background) - Gilroy, California

Sunol is a fantastic new seasonal blend with it's own unique character:

Base: Oakmoss

Middle note: Lavender

Top notes: Bay / Citrus


Click here to purchase Sunol 

Cobra Rock Boot Company Collaboration

Mike Pare

Chispa Blend

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One of our favorite recent incense collaborations was with Cobra Rock - Marfa, Texas based hand crafted leather boot company. We worked with the team at Cobra Rock to create an incense blend that would evoke the feel of the Texas desert landscape, a scent that would compliment the smell of leather and cactus blossoms.

After several months of testing and revising three different blends, we came up with the Chispa blend made with a base of Palo Santo, Cardamom, Benzoin and Sandalwood.

We hand rolled the incense cones and sent them off to Marfa for packaging. Cobra Rock designed and produced a gorgeous hand-stamped leather pouch to securely hold the cones until time it's time to light them up. 

Learn more about Cobra Rock and their wonderful leather goods.

Is Burning Incense Good For You?

Mike Pare


This depends on what kind of incense you're burning and the ingredients used to make it. Dipped incense (think of those sticks you see for sale at your local head shop that come in scents ranging from Sandalwood to to Wild Berry to Bubblegum) are often filled with synthetic ingredients that many people find unpleasant and headache inducing. Dipped incense in contrast to ‘hand-rolled' is what is usually mass-marketed and found everywhere from the vape shop to Walgreens.

Before Purchasing Incense Check to See if its Made with Charcoal or Fragrance Oils.

Dipped incense sticks are made by purchasing unscented incense sticks in bulk, these blanks are usually made of bamboo but often contain other ingredients as filler like sawdust. Then the blank sticks are dipped into fragrance oil or essential oil. Fragrance oils are often made from synthetic compounds making them easy to manufacture at high volume and much less expensive than essential oils. Burning synthetic compounds is not a safe bet if you're worried about your health, if you see incense sticks that don't say they are 100% organic or made with essential oils you might want to hold your breath.

Some incense cone pyres are made from pre-purchased cones that can contain charcoal or burning accelerants so that the incense cone burns longer. Charcoal is toxic when burned and breathed in.

Here's the Good News:

Alternatives to the dipping process include hand-rolled incense or Japanese mold-made incense. Hand rolling incense generally produces a product of much higher quality than the dipped version because it uses high quality whole plant ingredients. Traditional Japanese incense making involves using natural ingredients like tree resins and herbs that get mixed together, then formed and dried. There is a wide variety of quality in incense so one needs to know what they are buying. If you want a healthier incense to burn for relaxing or meditating find out how it was made before taking a whiff.

Incense as Medicine:

Most of the ingredients used in natural incense are materials with long established conventional uses as medicines, food flavorings, and self care. If these materials were unsafe for consumption, they wouldn't be used so widely in ayurvedic, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Shamanic traditions. 

Incense & Music

Mike Pare

What to Listen to While Burning Incense?
Here's our top selections:


JOANNA BROUK -  New Age Avant Garde California Vibes.  Slowly progressive minimalist music.  Moon Mix goes well with her healing, meditative blend of flutes and voices.  If you dig the track below, you might as well check out the recent re-release 2xLP vinyl compilation Hearing Music on Numero Group records.  Bonus: An amazing interview from 1972 can be found HERE

DIMI MINT ABBA - Is like the Aretha Franklin of Mauritania.  The Warm, spicy fragrance of Sun Smoke helps accent this amazing vibrational music and soulful voice.

BHAGAVAN DAS GOVINDA - Clear, Cleansing High Desert Blend is complimented by the rhythmic vocal stylings of Bhagavan Das

BLACK SABBATH  - In selecting music for Bacchus Blend, I passed over other contenders in the "Inna Gadda Da Vida category" for this version of Planet Caravan. With improvised lyrics by Ozzy, this track is shadowy and magical, but still has a few hopeful hippie vibes.

DAVID HYKES CHOIR- The pure new age waves of vocal bliss of the Harmonic Choir compliment the high minded intentions of Zouz Blend perfectly. Listen to this music at high volume for the full effect.


HENRY FLYNT - Any of the appalachian trance music works by Flynt go well with the spicy green Jove Blend.

FRANCIS BEBEY - African Electronic Music 1975- 1982. The uplifting scent of Copalo Blend is an awakening compliment to these upbeat tracks from the great guitarist and producer Francis Bebey.

What is Natural Incense?

Mike Pare

Natural Incense is Made with:

  • Whole Plants & Herbs
  • Tree Resins & Gums
  • Wood Powders
  • Essential Oils

Incense cones or sticks that use burning accelerants or synthetic materials are not considered natural. Some of the harmful materials found in many commercial incense brands include:

  • Charcoal : used as a base in cones and dipped sticks as a burning accelerant.
  • Saltpeter : a burning accelerant.
  • DPG -Dipropylene Glycol is a common petrochemical additive used in dipped incense as a combustible carrier oil. 
  • Fragrance Oils: factory-made scents with petrochemical origins. 
  • Sawdust from dubious sources.
  • Bamboo sticks treated with preservatives / chemicals such as formaldehyde
Burning ZOUZ Sun Smoke blend

Juniper Incense Blend

Mike Pare

Introducing JOVE - An Incense Blend of Juniper, Red Cedar, and Balsam of Tolu.

The Juniper used in this blend comes wildcrafted from a Juniper bush deep in the Mojave Desert Region of Southern California. Juniper bushes from this desert region live to be well over 100 to 200 years old. The leaves from this specific bush are ancient, and have sensory properties that take you immediately to the desert.

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India Incense Ingredients - Mumbai Marketplace

Mike Pare

Black sandalwood in the bottom of the frame.  New to us.

Black sandalwood in the bottom of the frame.  New to us.

Our friends Didier and Kiki are traveling in India right now, sniffing out some quality incense ingredients.  Here are some pics they sent from a Marketplace in Mumbai.  The incense dealer has a variety of natural ingredients.

bricks of loban - gum benzoin

bricks of loban - gum benzoin

Sandalwood Powder, gums and resins.

Sandalwood Powder, gums and resins.

And here's what this stuff costs to the average wandering tourist-

Loban 100g for 50 rupees (about $.75)

Dhoop (this is what he called it but looked like frankincense) 100g for 50r

Sandalwood powder 50g for 200r ($3)

Sandalwood black chunks 50g for 200r

Indonesia rosin 50g for 100r ($1.50)

Zouz incense featured on West Coast Fog Radio

Mike Pare

New Age favorite Constance Demby on West Coast Fog

New Age favorite Constance Demby on West Coast Fog

Last week I was a guest on West Coast Fog Radio in Los Angeles.  WCF is a weekly show on  hosted by longtime pal Erik Bluhm.  He plays 1960s to 80s California-centric sounds.  Erik and I discussed incense at length on the show, while listening to New Age cassettes and some Grateful Dead rarities. It was a lot of fun. Below is a link to the Podcast of the show. 

What is Amber?

Mike Pare



The product commercially sold as Amber resin today comes from India. It is a soft sugary compound or masala of various aromatic components - attars, oils, tree resins, gums and powders. Used traditionally, a small piece placed in a rosewood or sandalwood box can release fragrance for a very long time. It is sometimes burned on top of charcoal. Because there is no ingredients list when it comes to commercially available amber, we can't be sure that it is a purely natural product, though some claim to be organic. Nonetheless. amber is an enchanting scent. So what makes it smell like that?  

Common ingredients found it Indian Amber that contribute to it's distinctive scent:

  • liquid benzoin resin
  • liquid styrax resin
  • Galbanum resin
  • rockrose
  • sandalwood
  • flower attars such as jasmine or champa
  • herbs such as patchouli
  • binders such as beeswax or ghee

Some excellent varieties of Amber can be purchased on these sites:

True Fossilized Amber Resin

True Fossilized Amber Resin

Indian Amber does not usually work well as an incense ingredient for cones, sticks, or dhoop because it contains wax (usually beeswax) or ghee- clarified butter.  Most commercially available Incense that is labeled "Amber" fragrance is scented with a synthetic fragrance oil and is not a natural product.  But solid amber has natural origins. 

True Fossilized Amber Resin. This is tree sap that has been buried in the earth for long amounts of time, and is fossilized.  It is said to have a fragrance when ground up and burned but from my sources, it is not a remarkable fragrance.  it is available from online dealers for this purpose.  





Historically, true fossilized resin has a long history of use in magic, ritual, and the crafting of ritual objects. It is associated with the Sun.

We love this story from the website:

 "The Greek name for this amber was elektron, "formed by the sun", and it was connected to the sun god Helios, one of whose titles was Elector or the Awakener. According to the myth, when Helios' son Phaëton was killed, his mourning sisters became poplars, and their tears became the origin of elektron, amber. The ancients also noted that if they rubbed the amber for long enough, they could even get an electric spark to jump.  Our word electricity comes from their word for Amber." 

5 Tree Resins That Smell Amazing

Mike Pare

Tree resins only reveal their true aroma profile when burned. They are often the secret ingredient in many incense blends, lending a level of complexity unequaled by artificial fragrances. 

  1. Frankincense - This tree resin is known to have many chemical components, some unique only to it's species. It is so complex that it's fragrance can not be duplicated in a lab.  It's timeless fragrance can be described as clean, piney, and lemony. Some of the ancient species of Frankincense are extinct at this point, but today the finest product comes from Oman. 
  2. Dragons Blood - In Sumatra, the berries of the Daemonorops Draco tree exude a red resinous sap that drips to the floor of the forest.  It is wild harvested by locals and formed into fist sized balls for trade. The fragrance is sensual, earthy, and sweet. It blends well with Patchouli, Thyme, or Red Sandalwood. Dragons Blood is one of the key ingredients in the Zouz Bacchus Blend
  3. Copal - Native to the Americas, Copal is a clean smelling, fast burning resin that comes in varieties of white, gold and black. It blends well with most incense ingredients especially Cedar, Juniper, or Palo Santo. It is considered sacred in many native cultures. 
  4. Guggul - This relative of Myrrh from the Indian Bdellium Tree is especially sweet, sensual and clean smelling. In it's natural form it is very soft and gooey. It blends well with Sandalwood, Aloeswood, Calmus, Orris Root or Benzoin. It is widely used in ayurvedic medicine.
  5. Sal - Another tree resin from India with complex notes of Spice, Musk, and evergreen terpenoids. It is said that Buddha died between two sacred Sal trees. It mixes well with Juniper, Pine, Spruce and Cedar.

Top Ancient Incense Ingredients

Mike Pare


Burning incense is an ancient practice that puts us in touch with memory, both personal and ancestral. Certain incense ingredients used commonly today predate recorded history - they are natural, unprocessed materials that early man valued for their aromatic and esoteric properties.  

Here's a list of five prehistoric incense ingredients:

  1. Benzoin - a sweet soft fragrance that comes from the dried sap of the Asian tree Styrax Benzoin or Styrax Tonkinesis.  A pleasing fragrance associated with stimulating creativity and soothing the senses. It is a common ingredient in many popular incense blends today. In India it is associated with the deities Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.

  2. Juniper - Ancient shamanic cultures have revered Juniper as a sacred plant. The wood, branches and berries are all useful incense ingredients and have been discovered in prehistoric firepits around the world. I think of Juniper as the top Paleo incense ingredient. It's purpose has remained unchanged- used in cleansing and healing, the rejuvenating fragrance connects us to ancient times.
  3. Spruce - The sap, wood and needles of this stone age evergreen were used long before the discovery of Frankincense, as both an incense ingredient and an aid to health. In later times it was used as a substitute for frankincense because of it's citrusy aroma. Old herbal books mention a technique of intensifying the aroma by placing Spruce resin in an anthill for a specific amount of time. Supposedly, the acid secreted by the ants produced an alchemical transformation in the resin.  I'd love to get some of that!
  4. Frankincense - The dried resin of the evergreen tree Boswellia family is a historically prized incense ingredient. It's origins in the Arabian Peninsula and subsequent trade routes have lasted over a millennium. It has always been associated with heavenly or spiritual energies and is also used to purify space.
  5. Cedar - Varieties of this aromatic evergreen species are found throughout the world. In the Native American traditions, cedar is widely associated with aiding visions and helping the body and mind in times of stress. It's use as an incense ingredient is widespread in the cultures of the Himalayas, The Mediterranean, and ancient Egypt. Cedar is one of the key ingredients in the Zouz Copalo Blend.