Traditionally people have used charcoal to heat incense resins and herbs into smoke. This technique has been used since ancient times for spiritual, therapeutic and aesthetic purposes.
Light a piece of natural charcoal on top of a bed of insulating material like sand or fine gravel, or unscented kitty litter. Once the charcoal is hot, sprinkle a pinch of incense on it.
1. It Burns Cleaner
Most stick and cone incense is charcoal-based meaning the fragrance ingredients are mixed with charcoal to allow them to burn evenly. You can find a roll of charcoal tablets (or “self-lighting” charcoal) for a few dollars anywhere that sells resin incense. You’ll also want a burner and a set of tongs that you can safely use to hold the charcoal tablet once it’s lit.
The charcoal itself is made from organic matter like wood, brush, or grass that is heated in the absence of oxygen to drive off most complex molecules as a vapor, leaving behind pure carbon. It’s an ancient process, evidence of which goes back 30,000 years.
Resins, agarwoods, and herbs have been sprinkled into charcoal fires since early human history for religious, therapeutic and aesthetic purposes. They are a beautiful way to harness the power of scent in a smokeless, environmentally friendly manner. Burning resins on or near charcoal produces a fragrant and pleasant smoke that is safer and more gentle than most other incenses.
2. It Burns Hotter
Charcoal burns hotter than other types of incense. This heat helps to vaporize and release the scent of resins and herbs that are added to incense sticks for their fragrance.
To use charcoal tablets simply fill a heat resistant bowl with some sand or salt to help absorb the heat, place the charcoal on top and apply a flame (lighter, matches or a candle) to one end of the charcoal tablet. This causes the tablet to crackle and spark as it ignites. Once the charcoal is fully lit and a grayish ash has formed, add a pinch of resin or herb powder incense.
Be careful when handling the hot charcoal as it can get quite warm and may even glow red. A bit of patience is required as it takes a few minutes for the charcoal to heat through and reach its peak temperature. This is when you can safely spoon incense onto the coal and it will begin to smolder.
3. It Burns Longer
Compared to the other types of incense, charcoal burns much longer. This means that less smoke is released into the air and the fragrance lasts longer, too. The long burn time of charcoal also makes it a good choice for use with high quality resins that require more burning time to fully release their scent.
When you are ready to burn incense, simply light a charcoal tablet with a lighter or match. It may give a slight spark as it begins to ignite and will then start to smoulder, after about ten minutes you should see white ash on the charcoal.
Once the charcoal is red-hot, place a pinch of your preferred herbal or resin incense on top. The incense will begin to smolder and release its fragrance through the smoke. Add more incense as needed, each resin and herb has a different aroma that can invoke different moods. The endless combinations make burning incense a truly unique experience every time.
4. It Can Hold More Scent
Scents, aromas, fragrances—whatever you call them—are known to trigger specific responses from humans. They can encourage relaxation, aid sleep, promote concentration, increase creativity and even heighten sexual desire.
Charcoal can hold a larger quantity of incense oils or resins than wooden punk sticks, allowing more of the scent to be released when burned. This means you can use less incense while still enjoying the benefits.
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that charcoal absorbs moisture, so it may be unable to fully ignite if it’s too moist. If you find that your charcoal has trouble igniting, it’s best to dry out the coal by spreading it on baking paper and placing it in direct sunlight for one or two days. After that, match light the coal to determine if it’s ready for use. If not, it’s time to buy a fresh bag of charcoal.