Orgin and History
Unlike other substances used in the perfume industry, Incense is not a plant in itself, but a composition of biotic –or plant materials- that is burnt in order to release a fragrant aroma.
Incense is perhaps one of the oldest forms of aromatherapy used in several different cultures for centuries. Records of its use date back to ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians ancient China or the peoples in the Old Testament.
Taken from one continent to another, the practice of burning aromatic plants became widespread both in Eastern countries, as well as in the Old World. In later centuries, conquerors would discover that the natives in America also had a similar tradition of burning the aromatic plants available in their region.
Due to its diverse origin, Incense has generally been composed of various plants as well as essential oils, too.
Similarly, the shape or form incense has taken has also varied over the times, depending on cultural and geographical differences. What all forms of incense share in common however, is that they must have a combustible base that is used, not only to bind the fragrant material together, but also to provide a self-burning base that will keep the incense on until it is totally consumed.
Two main types of binders are used as a combustible base:
Natural Plant-based Binders: The composition of this kind of binding material is also diverse. However, biding elements usually include mucilaginous materials that stem from multiple botanical sources that are later on mixed with water and fragrant materials.
While the wet mucilage holds the fragrant powder together, the cellulose provides the optimal combustion material so that the ember remains stable once lit.
Fuel and Oxidizer Mixtures: These mixtures can be made from both, charcoal or wood powder forms, or else, natural gums, like the Gum Arabic or Gum Tragacanth that are used to keep the mixture together while the oxidizer is responsible for the actual burning of the incense.
In this case, the fragrant materials are combined into the base before the incense is actually formed.
Incense in Perfumery
Incense and fragrance have gone hand in hand for centuries. However, how is it possible to pigeon-hole such a diverse source into one type of category?
Even when incense-based perfumes can be regarded to as belonging to the balsamic and resinous groups, the scent will always vary depending on what materials are being used to make the absolute.
The most commonly used raw materials for incense-based fragrances:
Seeds and Fruits: nutmeg, star anis, coriander, juniper berries, vanilla and berries
Woods and Barks: cedar, agar wood, sandalwood, cassia, cyperus and juniper
Roots and Rhizomes: jatamansi, galangal, costus, orris, vevetier and calamus
Resins and Gums: benzoim, labdanum, storax, Dragon blood, amber, frankincense, elemi, kauri gum and mastic, among many others.
Leaves: sage, patchouli, baby leaf and tea
Depending on which ingredients are used to make the fragrance, the final perfume will be floral, woody, earthy. Even so, incense-based perfumes are usually regarded as opulent, romantic, sultry and powerful.
(also known as Olibanum)