Herbal Vapours

In the winter I often enjoy burning herbs and recently the spicy scents of Frankincense and Myrrh have been wafting around our apartment.  All of the senses are emotive and can conjure up long forgotten memories but for me the sense of smell is most potent.  The scent of a particular time of year, the plants in bloom, humidity levels and so on, can combine and take me straight back to a unique event or emotion.  Frankincense and Myrrh resin, burned over a candle on a dark winter day, do just that and they make useful room fumigants.  I also enjoy the smell of good quality incense and of several dried herbs as they are directly warmed or gently burned.  I am not a smoker but enjoy the smoking blend mentioned below by adding a little to the top of an aromatherapy oil vapouriser.  In this case and when burning resins, I first cover the top of the vapouriser/burner with a little aluminium foil, it prevents cracking of the ceramic and makes cleaning much easier.

Inhaling herbal vapours allows them to enter the bloodstream and reach the brain quickly.  Care should be taken to select herbs for this purpose wisely and it is best to begin with a very small amount, to see how you react.  Some herbal vapours can quickly lift your spirits, such as Fennel seed.  Others can be relaxing or overstimulating.  If you are feeling exhausted or stressed out, you are more likely to react strongly to inhaled herbs.  Be cautious and respectful of them.

There is a lot of folklore associated with burning herbs. Smudge sticks to cleanse spaces, moon lodges & sweat lodges where herbs are heated over hot stones, herbal fumigation in Chinese traditional medicine and herbal smokes to induce visions in spiritual aspirants are but a few uses for burning herbs.  Sage commonly features in recipes; it burns well and in many cultures is believed to ward off evil. It is often used to “smudge” or cleanse spaces. Some communities burn it in the presence of new born babies, to prevent evil spirits from entering the child’s body via the cut umbilical cord.  Other commonly used herbs are Frankincense, Myrrh, Artemisia spp., Fennel seed, Aniseed and Thuja (Cedar).  I find that gently inhaling the vapours of herbs, feels more healing and natural than using concentrated essential oils.  I am interested to know of your experiences.

If you are interested in making your own incense there is a lovely book by Scott Cunningham which details dozens of recipes. You can see an extract here: Scott Cunningham’s Incense Book
Several years ago I bought a few kilos of hand made incense sticks from Mysore market.  They were apparently rolled from a blend containing honey and sandalwood. They smell absolutely divine, very clean burning with no hint of chemicals (which many commercial versions seen to contain). I only have a few sticks left so will try to find a recipe in the Cunningham book to match it.

Honey cured herbal smoking blend
This is a simple recipe which works well. Just preparing the herbs makes me feel good, warming or burning them feels soothing and a sprinkling of the mix goes well with a few grains of Frankincense and Myrrh.

  1. Powder some fennel seeds (this is tricky without a spice grinder). I do this with a food processor but always end up with two grades of fennel – fine powder and bruised seeds (which is good for tea or bread).
  2. Add 2 teaspoons of fennel powder to 12g of chopped dried sage.  Mix together.
  3. Separately, mix one teaspoon of honey with 4 teaspoons of water.
  4. Gradually add the honey water solution to the herbs.  You will need to rub the solution into the herbs so that they really soak it up evenly.
  5. Stop adding the solution when you feel all of the herbs are damp.
  6. Spread out the damp herb mix in a bowl.
  7. Leave the bowl uncovered (or perhaps covered with a muslin or clean tea towel) for about 48 hours.  Turn the herbs now and then.
  8. When you feel the herbs are almost dry transfer to an airtight container and label.
  9. If you find the mix is too dry for your needs you could add a little more water and shake up in the container OR add a potato peeling or two a few hours before use.  The herbs will absorb the water from the peelings.
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