Using locally harvested or grown herbs for incense is an empowering and economical alternative. You can make many of the recipes below with common herbs that are easy to find in your own neighborhood.
Pulverize the herbs and resins into a fine powder. Add makko powder, a combustible binding material made from the bark of tabu-no-ki trees, and a little water.
There are so many herbs available to use in incense recipes, and it’s easy to find plants that are local to you. Using herbs that are common in your area is an empowering and meaningful way to make incense. And it’s a great way to ensure that your incense botanicals were harvested sustainably and with good intentions.
To make herbal incense, simply powder your herbs into a fine powder and mix them together. To make incense sticks, trails or cones, you will also need a gum binder (like makko) and a fragrance oil.
If you’re making pellets, you will need a pliable binding material like labdanum or a resin that permits molding into pellets (like neriko). Combine your ingredients and grind to a powder using an electric grinder or mortar + pestle. Add sandalwood powder and essential oils and stir to combine. Then, slowly add water a few drops at a time until you have a play dough-like consistency that can be molded.
2. Gum Binder
A gum binder is used to hold together the incense ingredients you’ve blended. It is the glue that holds incense sticks, cones and pellets together as it dries.
Gum binders are odorless and help other ingredients blend and stick together as they sculpt into the incense shape. It’s an indispensable tool for making your own incense at home.
Makko powder is a great option for incense recipes that require both a base and a binder. Alternatives include tabu no ki or laha powder, jiggit powder, marshmallow root, or guar gum.
Another common choice is xanthan gum, which can be found in many food-making supplies. You can also find it as a liquid binder for paints. It enhances the gloss of watercolors and works well for gouache. You can add it to individual colors as they’re mixing, or to your water before brushing onto the canvas. It’s quick, easy and a powerful addition to the natural incense maker’s toolkit.
3. Fragrance Oil
If you’re making kneaded incense sticks, trails, cones or molds you’ll need to add fragrance oil. This is what gives the incense its aroma and properties when it burns.
Use a few drops of your favorite oil to create scents that you love. For example, cinnamon essential oil is a popular choice because of its ability to help reduce stress and promote better sleep.
You can also make your own incense fragrance oil by crushing and grinding fresh herbs like sage, lavender or thyme and adding them to a mixture of equal parts makko powder (from the bark of the Machillus tree) and coconut oil. This is an easy and inexpensive option that can produce a variety of different scents. Try out different combinations to find the ones you prefer! If you don’t have makko powder, try using cedarwood powder or sandalwood powder instead. Be sure to use ingredients that are still potent and fresh; over time they can lose their aroma and affect the smell of your final incense.
4. Incense Cones
If you like the idea of making your own incense, but want something more portable than a stick, try your hand at incense cones. They’re easy to make and are perfect for carrying with you on your travels.
To create these herbal incense sticks, combine nanmu powder, a few floral incense powders and scented resins with a bit of herbs for a unique blend. Then, using a mortar and pestle (or clean coffee grinder), grind all ingredients to a fine powder.
Add a little water a little at a time, stirring and kneading the mixture until it takes on a dough-like texture. When it’s ready, use your hands to shape the incense into a cone. Once done, allow the incense to dry for about a day before lighting it. As with all incense, be sure to keep it away from flammable objects. And, if you have allergies or respiratory issues, consider consulting your doctor before burning incense.