November 5, 2014

9 Herbs You Can Burn as Incense - Photo by knitting iris/Flickr (HobbyFarms.com)

We use plants in so many ways for health. Most of those that come to mind are internal: teas, syrups, tinctures and capsules. While aromatherapy has become a popular health and wellness buzzword, we tend to think this healing only comes with the high cost of a tiny bottle of essential oil—not so!

Long before we had the technology to distill the fragrant plant particles into liquid form, people were still able to seek wellness through aromatherapy. Walking through your flower garden in the morning, just as the first rays of sun warm its colorful petals, will transport and lift your mood. This is perhaps the first aromatherapy experience that captured humanity’s imagination.

If you’ve ever burnt herbs for incense in your home, you’ve experienced yet another simple way to interact with the beneficial aspects of plants. When we use incense in a purposeful way it’s called smudge. Smudging is the burning of herbs in a ceremonial way. Most of the herbs that have been used around the world have a beautiful scent that you’ll love to have throughout your house.

When you burn dried herbs or resins, you’ll need a heat tolerant vessel. Traditionally this is an abalone shell with a bit of sand in the bottom. You might also use a charcoal disc beneath the herbs to keep them smoking, especially in the case of resins. Here are some plants commonly used as incense and why they are burnt. Try growing some of them on your own property.

1. Cedar (Thuja spp.)
A sacred plant to many cultures, cedar has been used both to purify and drive out negative energy, as well as bring in good influences. It is often burnt to bless a new house just as people are moving in.

2. Sage (Salvia spp.)
Quite possibly the best-known ceremonial smudge plant, sage used for meditation, cleansing and purification. Many people burn it throughout their homes after a fight or to cleanse the energy left behind by a negative person.

3. Sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata)
This plant was sacred to the Native Americans. It’s often braided before it dries, which is how you will find it for purchase. Sweetgrass has a light, sweet scent when burnt and is often used in conjunction with sage. After sage has chased out bad energy, sweetgrass attracts positive energy into the space. It is good for cleansing sacred space and is burned by many during prayers.

4. Frankincense (Boswellia spp.)
Frankincense is the dried resin of an African tree. Once prized equally with myrrh and gold, it’s used in meditation and healing. This herb has a long history, especially known for cleansing and protecting the soul. I have heard of it being used to help ease the transition into death when it’s necessary for someone to let go.

5. Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
Myrrh is another valuable resin, which comes from a nearly leafless Middle Eastern shrub. Ancient Egyptians used it for healing and to embalm bodies. It is currently used for meditation, spirituality, happiness, transformation, strength, confidence and stability.

6. Rose (Rosa spp.)
Who knew people burn dried rose petals for incense? In this form, this beautiful flower retains its abilities with attracting love and enhancing a romantic environment. It is also used for meditation and encouraging peace.

7. Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)
The dried flower buds of lavender have a light refreshing scent when burned. They’re often incorporated into ceremonies that are focused on peace, restful sleep and happiness. Lavender can be burned therapeutically to address insomnia, depression, grief, sorrow and anxiety.

8. Juniper (Juniperus monosperma)
The branches of this evergreen were once used for temple purification rituals. Juniper is especially helpful to invigorate your mind and body when tired. It was also burned during the plague to resist illness.

9. Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
Mugwort’s dried leaves are used to cleanse space of negative energies. When burned before bedtime, it’s known to stimulate dreams.

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