Modern Aromatherapy, the therapeutic use of botanical essential oils, is one of the fastest growing healing modalities of our time, and its name is widely known around the world today. What many people don’t realize however, is that traditional Aromatherapy has been around for thousands of years longer than essential oils.
The smoke and aromatic medicine from fragrant plants in the form of incense, fumigants, and steam has been used by physicians, medicine people, healers, and shamans for millennia to bring balance to the body and emotions, clarity to the mind, and healing to the spirit.
The medicine of incense, the original aromatic medicine, can greatly enhance and heal the many functions of the mind and memory, the respiratory system and sinuses, heart and circulation, emotional balance, internal organs and digestion, even the skin. Many ancient healers took notice of the effectiveness of plant smoke as a therapy, and incorporated the use of incense into many great systems of natural medicine and healing, such as the Indian system of Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine, and Western Herbalism.
On every continent, ancient peoples have used the smoke of burning plants to treat patients for countless ailments and illnesses. The original application of plant smoke therapy was to burn aromatic herbs or medicinal tree resins on hot charcoal from a fire, and “bathe” the patient in smoke by fanning it towards them and around their bodies, or allow the patient to take deep inhales of the fragrant fumes for a certain period of time.
Incense is still used today in Indigenous healing ways, often with a focus on holistic healing of the mind, body, and spirit. Shamans of Ecuador use incense plants like Palo Santo to heal emotional trauma, mental agitation, and many physiological ailments. Native Americans use plants like Cedar, Juniper, and White Sage to heal the spirit, emotional body, and psyche, and to cure countless physiological ailments and illnesses. North African tribes people still use Frankincense and Myrrh for their anti-microbial and anti-viral properties to fend off viruses and sickness, and to heal psychological problems, respiratory ailments, and many other imbalances, in addition to spiritual healing uses.
Outside of the very effective and more simplistic Indigenous use of incense therapy, thousands of years ago certain well-established and renown Eastern systems of medicine, such as the ancient Indian system of Ayurveda, Tibetan medicine, Traditional Chinese medicine, and Coptic medicine, took the application of medicinal incense to a very different level. This is where the art of more complex therapeutic formulation and prescription of incense was created.
In Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine, incense is often used as complimentary medicine to other herbal treatments to ensure patients receive a more well-rounded, holistic treatment. This of course depends on the severity of the health issue at hand. In these holistic treatments, practitioners cater to internal healing through ingested herbs, teas, topical treatments, medicinal foods, or other applications, while also prescribing medicine through the airways (another form of internal medicine) with incense. This approach adds another layer of depth, helping to treat the root cause and symptoms together from every possible angle.
In addition to its medicinal qualities, incense is also the most universal spiritual tool used around the world. Therefore it can bring a much needed spiritual or ritual aspect to any healing taking place for a more well-rounded and holistic healing process. The calming, heart-opening, and spiritual aspects of incense only support and often hasten a patient’s journey to greater health.
Traditional Incense Crafting
Perhaps one of the best things about traditional incense crafting is that it can easily be done at home. Incense crafting is a powerful skill to have that comes with the freedom to create your own aromatic medicine using the sources of plants you trust, or by using aromatic botanicals you harvest yourself from the wild, or even cultivate in your own backyard.
Today’s mainstream incense market has changed drastically from what was once a rich, fragrant array of exotic tree resins, loose herbal mixtures, raw, high-end aromatic woods, and artisan blends of quality organic ingredients. Today it can prove a challenge to find an incense made strictly with natural and organic ingredients, let alone ethically sourced materials. Unfortunately, over 80% of all incenses sold on the market today are created using synthetic chemicals.
Of course, when using incense as medicine, it’s important to use only organic, sustainably wild-harvested, or the most natural products you can find. Sadly, most imported commercial incenses from India, China, and other Asian countries are a mixture of questionable materials, over-harvested wild herbs, woods, and resins from endangered or threatened species, or infused with synthetic fragrance oils that are simply not acceptable for use in therapeutic circumstances.
But when you take incense crafting into your own hands, that’s when you can get real results and greater precision, all while using ingredients you know and trust to be pure. Imagine being able to create an incense with your own hands to help keep your home free of airborne illnesses during the fall and winter months, or creating a custom therapeutic incense blend for your family or patients to treat a respiratory illness or sinus infection, or putting together a blend of aromatic incense herbs to reduce anxiety and stress by directly affecting and nourishing the nervous system.
On the other hand, imagine creating a custom blend to accompany a personal ritual or to enhance meditation by quieting the mind and ‘turning on’ the parasympathetic nervous system. You can also access the endless opportunities for spiritual healing and transformation by creating incense blends intended for psycho-spiritual healing benefits. The possibilities behind your incense crafting are literally endless.
So if you’re an at-home healer looking for powerful ways to help keep your family healthy, or are a self-healer on a journey of keeping balance within your body, mind, and spirit, or if you see patients in a professional setting, whether that’s aromatherapy, massage, Ayurveda, TCM, herbalism, or another type of practice, learning the ancient art of incense crafting is one of the most powerful tools you have at your fingertips.