Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Carl F. Neal, author of Incense Magick.
Fifteen years ago when I first began to make natural incense, some of the ingredients were very difficult to locate. In 2012, life is a lot easier for natural incense makers. While we have always been able to get certain aromatics at the grocery store, I was surprised when I recently toured my favorite grocery storeâ€™s bulk food section and discovered everything you need to make quite a variety of natural incense.
Binders (the â€śglueâ€ť that holds incense sticks and cones together) have always been the most difficult ingredient to find, but no more! Although guar gum has long been available at some health food stores, it is now found in many more mainstream stores as well. Likewise, thanks to a growing awareness of wheat gluten allergies/sensitivities, xanthum gum is also much easier to find in many grocery stores. You might find these ingredients in the bulk foods section, â€śspecialty foodsâ€ť (a section that I am very familiar with since going gluten-free six months ago), or the baking section.
Bases (the part of natural incense that provides the heat and helps to smooth out burning) are more limited in the grocery store, but in most bulk herb sections I can find white willow bark, which can be a useful base. Some stores carry even more materials that can be used as a base. For more details on what constitutes a good base you may want to consult a good incense making book.
Aromatics have always been plentiful in grocery stores. Cinnamon, basil, oregano, cardamom, bay leaf, and many more are available in almost any grocery store. I would take care about buying very inexpensive herbs unless you carefully read the label; many culinary herbs are adulterated with fillers. Cinnamon, for example, is sometimes combined with crushed nutshells. You want to limit yourself to pure herbs, but there is a huge variety of acceptable aromatics for sale in nearly every grocery store in America.
In years past I often joked about making incense from grocery store ingredients, but it is no longer a joke! Not every store may carry everything Iâ€™ve listed here, but the odds are getting better and better than any randomly selected grocery store may be an incense ingredient warehouse.
Here is an easy recipe that uses ingredients I found this weekend at my favorite grocery store:
White Willow Bark (or other wood powders): 1Tbsp
Guar gum (or xanthum gum or tragacanth): 1/8 tsp
Cinnamon : 1/2 tsp
Just combine these powdered ingredients and then stir in a small amount of water (start with 1 tsp). Knead the mixture completely. If, after kneading, the mixture wonâ€™t hold together, add a few drops of water and knead some more. Once the entire mixture can be gathered into a single ball, knead and roll it in your hands until it is one solid ball that has no cracks and is one uniform color. Break off ÂĽ tsp pieces and roll into a cone or a stick. Let them dry for a few days and enjoy! That same formula will work well with many aromatics. For more recipes and information you can check out my first book, Incense: Crafting and Use of Magical Scents, or visit my website: www.incensebooks.com.
Our thanks to Carl for his guest post! For more from Carl F. Neal, read his article “The Economics and Politics of Incense .”