Incense... To stick or not to stick?

Incense comes to us from many different cultures whether it be India, Japan, China or Tibet. Their unique recipes, forms, and names grew out of their diverse social, medicinal and religious practices. So, it stands to reason that this one very general term could never adequately describe them all. 

Cored Stick Incense                                                                                                                              A thin bamboo reed is either dipped into paste or a dough is rolled around the reed. The thicker the core, the longer the incense will burn. The fragrant smoke will include the smell of the burning core, which is typically bamboo. Most commonly used in Indian and Chinese varieties.

Solid Cylinders or Spaghetti Stick Incense                                                                                   These sticks are solid throughout (i.e. do not have a bamboo core). They're either smooth thin extruded spaghetti-like sticks (see senko) or thicker hand-formed cyclinders (see dhoop and simpoi) depending on the tradition they are from.

Incense Cones                                                                                                                                Often you find incense cones, what's the difference? Incense cones are formed from the base paste or dough into small solid cones. These are often referred to as "dhoop cones". Incense cones are an alternative to stick incense. They are burnt by lighting the tip and placing on a heat proof base, of which many people will put on a holder to catch the ash.

Common Synonyms For "Stick Incense"

Joss Sticks                                                                                                                           Traditionally the term joss was used by the by the Chinese to describe their religious idols. A joss house is a Chinese temple and joss sticks are offerings of incense burned in their temples. Today, joss is commonly used as a synonym for the word incense (i.e. joss sticks, joss cones, joss coils). The term "joss stick" is used to describe many different types of stick incense. 

The tradition of burning incense in the east has been around for a very long time. Over the years, the term joss stick has been used in different ways by different traditions. There's no hard and fast rule and things are constantly changing. 

You may occasionally run across uses of the term joss stick that seemingly contradict each other. For instance, a joss stick can be described as an extruded or hand-formed incense stick which does not have a bamboo core. It can also be used to refer to a hand-rolled incense stick with a bamboo core. And both are correct. 

For instance, Indian joss sticks are traditionally made with a bamboo stick in the center, Japanese joss sticks are traditionally made without a bamboo core. And Chinese joss sticks can be made either way. Chinese temple and festival joss sticks can even be very large "cylinders" some as large as building columns. But remember these are just guidelines, not hard and fast rules.

Whatever your preferred choice of incense, be sure you will find a great selection in our shop and online store. 

Incense Holders & Smudge Pots

So you are going to burn some incense or smudge your home so you can get into your groove...what to do with the ash?

Here are some of the most common ash catchers...

There are many types of incense burners, it can be tricky choosing the best one for the job. Check out our handy guide to some of the most common.

Ash Catchers or Boat Burners                                                                                                          The ash catcher is the most common type of wooden holder for stick incense with a bamboo reed. It's basically a flat piece of wood that curves up at one end. There is a small hole in the curved end that the bamboo reed is inserted in. Some ash catchers can be quite simple, brightly coloured, patterned, inlaid with brass or embellished with a bit of bling. You may also find them made of materials such as metal, ceramic, glass, stone and bone. They are most commonly found in the long "boat" shape or maybe a disc, rectangle and many other shapes.

Bowl Shaped Incense Burner                                                                                                               A bowl burner can be anything from a simple yet elegant ceramic bowl, a brass bowl with a screen top or an ornate hanging censer complete with lid. These may hold babe sticks, spaghetti sticks, cones or resins. When burning resins and some cones you may require a charcoal tablet to burn the incense. Ensure the holder is heat proof, if not sand is beneficial in protecting the bowl heating and cracking.

Abalone Shell                                                                                                                                        A natural abalone shell makes a fantastic vessel for holding smoldering smudge sticks and sweet grass braids. Some people like to burn loose herbs, resins, or other types of non-combustible incense in their abalone shell. If you do this, it's a good idea to insulate the bottom of the shell with at least 2" of natural ash or sand. This will help protect the shell against high temperatures. Charcoal tablets can burn at up to 1500 F.