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Incense Journal

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

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.

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 takes high quality ingredients to get the incense to roll properly. 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 & 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.