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Incense stick origins, lighting and safety

incense stick holder
incense stick holder

Incense stick origins

Throughout the world from the earliest times, a form of incense has been burnt for its scent or cleansing properties. The more modern term “incense” derives from the Latin word for “to burn”, incendēre. Indeed, the word “perfume” comes from the old French word perfumar – per “through” and fumar “to smoke”. We normally picture incense as being the modern incense stick and cones, it does refer to anything that is burnt for its aroma or cleansing properties e.g. sandalwood, Palo Santo etc.


The Ancient Egyptians were very proficient in using all types of incense from oils, waxes and fragrant woods. These were taken to the east via the silk road to other countries. Archaeologists have found Incense burners for oils in the Indus Civilisation which existed 3300–1300 BCE in the northern Pakistan, Nepal areas.


In Ancient China around 2000 BCE, the use of incense for religious purposes became established. Their earliest documented use was of cassia, cinnamon, styrax, and sandalwood. Ganjin, a Buddhist priest, reached Japan in 754 AD. Alongside introducing Buddhist beliefs but also introducing incense for religious and medical purposes.


It is from these countries that our current style of sticks and cones became established. The most popular form of incense used today is incense sticks. These are in two variants solid sticks and those with a hollow core. The main difference being the solid and often longer sticks take longer (40 minutes) to burn through whilst the hollow ones typically 20 to 30 minutes.

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Sian Evans
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