Incense: An Ancient Aromatherapy Tool That is Still Relevant Today

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019 by uts_admin

If you are new to incense, it is a term used to refer to aromatic natural materials that are burned to release fragrant smoke. Incense is made from a range of herbs, spices and plant resins, that varies by culture and tradition. Burning incense has great benefits ranging from health to spiritual and cultural effects.


There is no clear information to determine exactly when and where the practice of burning incense started. What is clear however, is that a host of ancient civilizations burned incense to achieve a variety of goals and benefits. For example, resin balls, incense artifacts and tools have been discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs. Ancient carvings also indicate the widespread use of incense from the early ages.

Egyptians are therefore thought to have started or promoted the early use of incense. But evidence in the form of incense burners also indicates that the practice was also a part of the Indus Civilization. This was the civilization that constituted West and South Asia during the bronze age that existed from 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE. It is believed that the use of incense and aromatic oils spread throughout the region including India.


The use of incense in the ancient China is thought to have started around 2000 BE. There are historic documents from this age that confirm the prominent use of incense. The Chinese used the fragrant smoke for religious ceremonies. The burning of herbs was also administered to mark certain ceremonial rites. The Song Dynasty elevated the use of incense greatly owing to the many burning spots that were established during that time. Some of the most common incense used by the ancient Chinese included sandalwood, cinnamon and many more. Incense is also a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and today, sandalwood and agarwood are commonly used. Incense sticks are widely used in Modern China for various purposes ranging from medicinal, spiritual, religious and ceremonial rites.


Buddhist monks are believed to have introduced incense in Japan in the 6th century. The practice gained popularity in the years that followed and became a staple in popular culture. Using it became a symbol of nobility as the more affluent Japanese started using incense from around the 16th century. Today, incense in Japanese culture is intertwined with history and art. The most notable incense ingredients are agarwood and sandalwood. Kyara is a type of agarwood which is more valuable than gold, which goes to show the importance of incense in Japanese society. There are about five or six kinds of agarwood in Japan.


Religious scriptures have been used to study and follow the use of incense around the world. The most notable documents are found in the bible. The book gives a clear insight into the use of incense in Jerusalem and in Jewish culture at large. There are many accounts that refer to the use of incense and one example is the Book of Exodus. In the Jewish Temple, incense was offered for religious and spiritual purposes. This kind of incense was made of frankincense, onycha, and galbanum among other ingredients.

The evolution of incense

As highlighted above, different cultures, traditions and civilizations have their own way of using incense. Indigenous cultures used locally available herbs and plants for their incense. From Native America to ancient African practices, the use of incense was widespread, and today, more and more people are going back to these roots. Purification and cleansing was one of the most notable traditional use of incense. In this way, people sought to ward away evil spirits while welcoming good spirits and blessings into their lives. Many spiritual people still retain the belief of purification. However, scientific studies have brought a new angle where the use of incense is concerned. Below is a look at how people use incense today.

Purification and cleansing

Scientific studies done in 2006 and 2007 on incense and its use revealed that the fragrant smoke released can kill harmful microbes in the air. In fact, the study revealed that burning incense could eliminate up to 94% of harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi in a room for over 24 hours. To this end, modern use of incense has been accelerated by these findings. Burning incense can purify your space and leave you with clean air. In ancient times, this purification was given a spiritual and mystical explanation; but nevertheless, people were able to tap into cleaner air which impacted health positively. Today, air freshening can be done by lighting a fragrant stick in your home. To this end, incense is a great alternative to air fresheners. Many commercial air fresheners are packed with synthetic chemicals, artificial fragrances and other additives that you may not want in your living space.

Religion and worship

Even today, different religions utilize incense for spiritual reasons. The aroma is meant to please deities and create a harmonious and clean environment where a spiritual ‘mood’ can thrive. Some good examples of religious uses of incense are in the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches. Incense is also used heavily in Buddhism and Taoism. As a worship and religious tool, incense has retained relevance over the centuries. Cultures have typically developed their own unique blends of incense determined by locally available ingredients. Incense is also used in ceremonies like weddings and funerals for spiritual reasons.

To improve sexual desire

The erotic merits of incense are not new. Ancient Egyptians and Greeks used this fragrant smoke an as aphrodisiac. Today, many studies have been done to establish the effect of incense on sexual desire. Indeed, many herbs and plant resins can boost blood flow while reducing stress and anxiety. This effect can elevate sexual attraction for a more productive sex life. To this end, more and more people are investing in good quality incense. Some of the most preferred incense for this purpose include lavender, sandalwood and many more. There are many products in the market that are meant to ignite sexual arousal. The use of incense is a more natural approach that is unlikely to have any harmful side effects. Greek mythology is awash with the message on the efficiency of incense as an aphrodisiac.

To elevate the mood

One of the best uses of incense is aromatherapy. The fragrances and scents released work to elevate the mood and create more positive energy around you. Good scents send good messages to your brain and this will have a positive effect. This is also an ancient use where people used to improve their mindset and feelings by burning incense, and the burning of incense is often Incorporated in to many traditional mindfulness practices such as mediation, yoga, massage and certain martial arts.

When you need a lift in your mood, reaching for some incense is a great option. Studies have shown that the cleansing effect of the fragrance will lead to inhalation of cleaner air which will affect your well-being in the right way. Therefore, the act of cleansing renews your mind and can boost your spirits and lift your mood.

Treat insomnia naturally

Certain types of incense contain compounds that have a sedative effect on the body. In this regard, people struggling with insomnia can find relief. In many cases, people who cannot get good quality sleep can develop stress or depression. Incense can reduce these problems by helping to restore sleep. In ancient times, people used incense to boost relaxation which would in turn treat problems related to insomnia.

Other uses

There are countless uses of incense today. Many use incense to control their anxiety and treat depression. Others use it to increase their focus and to tackle headaches caused by tension and stress. Incense can also be used to fight and prevent infection or to deter bugs and insects. Incense is used by many to promote creativity while boosting brain function. As you can see, the list of uses is endless. Having said all the above, buying the right incense is paramount. It has to be of high quality for it to give the best results.

Tips to choosing the right incense

If you are new to the world of incense, you must know that there are several types available in the market. The top three forms include incense sticks, cones and resin. All these types come with their own merits and demerits. Incense sticks are more convenient and easy to use. All you need is a stick holder to burn it in your space. A small dish will be needed to hold cone incense. When it comes to the resin type, you will need a dish and sensor to ensure proper and safe burning. Choose something that will work for you.

Not all incense is equal!

You need to choose the fragrance or incense you need based on the intended purpose. Many ingredients are typically combined to make up the scent profile of each incense, and different recipes will have different effects: calming, uplifting etc. You should always choose natural incense over synthetic options so you know what you are putting into your airspace. The key here is the type of binding agent used to hold everything together. Mass produced, cheap incense, will use synthetic chemical-based glue which is then burned up and released into the air! Utama Spice uses a 100% natural binder, made from plant extracts. It’s so natural in fact that it is edible, although we don’t recommend tying it due to the taste.


Incense safety tips

Using incense safely is very important. Because burning is involved, you must take extra caution to make sure that the flame is used as desired. Below are top tips in this respect:

  • The first thing is to buy high quality incense. This way, it will burn in a predictable way. Synthetic or mass produced incense may burn erratically due to impurities or irregularities introduced at the factory.
  • Always avoid sniffing incense sticks as they burn. They are supposed to spread the scent across your space, and getting too close can harm your nasal cavity.
  • Some people close all their windows and doors to contain the fragrant smoke as they burn. However, this is not correct. Allowing air to circulate freely will boost the effect of the fragrance. Therefore, make sure there is good ventilation.
  • Use the right incense tool to contain the ash. This will help contain the flame and reduce the risk of fire.
  • Burning incense in moderation is always advised.
  • You should never leave your burning incense unattended.

42 thoughts on “Incense: An Ancient Aromatherapy Tool That is Still Relevant Today

  1. Jemshiya says:

    Everyone in my family loves using Incense, especially the stick version. It’s soo calming and not too disturbing. Even though I use Incense, I didn’t know about most things you’ve mentioned, and it’s so fascinating to think about.

  2. Allie.B. says:

    I really appreciate all the research that went into this and that the information is broken down by country. It would be nice to see some cited sources for the information so I can do my own follow up research. 🙂

  3. Tracey Rae says:

    As a practicing witch, incense is used daily in my home. I can attest to it’s benefits for mental wellbeing as it is my go to when my anxiety starts to overwhelm.

  4. Sarah L says:

    I’ve stayed away from incense since it always gave me a headache. Now I know it was the chemicals and binders and not the incense itself.

  5. Trish F says:

    Interesting article with some very helpful information. I never equated incense with purification and cleansing, but now that I know this fact, I’m going to try it in my home. Thanks!

  6. Susan Biddle says:

    I didn’t realize there were chemical additives in some incense. I’ll be watching out for those now. Natural is best! Thanks.

  7. Chloe says:

    I love incense! I’ve been using them daily for several years now and I am always amazed at the benefits from them!

  8. Amanda B says:

    I love using incense, so it’s great to read of the benefits. This reminds me – I need to stock up on some more!

  9. Kristen H. says:

    I really enjoyed reading this blog post and learning a bit about the history of incense, an ancient aromatherapy tool that is still relevant today, what some of the benefits of using it are and how you should use it. I am definitely more interested in trying it out at some point in the future as a result of having read this blog post.

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