The ritual use of herbal sticks and resins has been part of the healing traditions of traditional cultures on every continent of the world, continuing still today. Beyond the “smell good” feature and occasional bug repelling qualities of incense, medicinal smoke can actually offer physical and emotional benefits to users. Our favorites are Sage, Palo Santo, and Nag Champa incense, which we will discuss individually below.
The ancient burning of certain herbs, resins, and woods was part of a larger spiritual and healing arts system that included other ritual and curative techniques, such as meditation, yoga, sweat lodges, ritual dance, and sacred drama. By burning medicinal herbs, the properties of the herbs and their scents are immediately diffused into a material space and the body for a variety of physical and mental benefits. Sage, for example, as with many medicinal herbs, has an anti-bacterial quality that physically purifies the air and surfaces of a space. When burning sage is inhaled it can ease asthma and bring greater mental alertness. The aromas of burning essences act quickly upon the brain and create immediate mental and emotional responses according to the properties of the particular essence. Instructions for clearing space with smoke and more discussion on research and possible contraindications of herbal smoke, as well as links to related articles can be found at the bottom of this blog.
My favorite incense products are white sage bundles, Palo Santo wood, and Nag Champa incense. I certainly use a variety of other medicinal herbs as incense and in sprays, but I consider these three to be essential. Click on the pix to see buying options.
White Sage has anti-bacterial properties, but also has a scent that leaves a space feeling clean and fresh. It produces a strong scent and a great deal of smoke, so if you burn a fat bundle, be sure to burn early and let the heavy smoke dissipate before using the space. This heavy smoke is especially good though for thoroughly smudging rooms, cars, and people. In addition to disinfecting, it makes a great smoke offering with which to start or finish a ritual, supports mental alertness, and in general, helps make any space feel more sacred and special before a personal or group event, bringing everyone to a similar state of preparedness.
Palo Santo is a mystical tree that grows on the coast of South America and is related to Frankincense, Myrrh and Copal. In Spanish, the name literally means “Holy Wood.” It is part of the citrus family and delivers a milder version of the woodsy quality of sage with light accents of pine, mint, & lemon.
As with sage, Palo Santo offers up a variety of benefits, including calming asthma, anxiety, and inflammation, and it always helps to bring me quickly into a meditative state. It is a nice alternative to sage when you want to create a milder and lighter smoke for your space. I prefer to use the less smoky Palo Santo to clear shared spaces, such as an office or a hotel room. I also prefer Palo Santo to be used during a ritual once people are gathered, to keep the smoke factor to a minimum in a closed space.
Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa Incense:
My favorite incense is the Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa incense from India. It has a complex scent with floral overtones blended with earthy hints of sandalwood & more.
Description by Satya Brand:
Mood/Inspiration: The tranquillity and adventure of a mist laden morning.
Description/Key Notes: Harmonizing, Potent
Use: The Nag Champa blend can be used to sanctify or purify a space and is a good aid to meditation or deep relaxation.
The Satya brand was founded in 1964 by Shri K.N. Satyam Setty who was a keen innovator and used his power of imagination to evoke powerful moods through his recipe blends. Of particular interest to Setty was a practice used by monks in medieval times whereby the key incense ingredients were incorporated and massaged into a special container resin which was then hand-rolled into incense. This technique called “masala” or “flora” incense became the prime driver of production at Shrinivas Sugandhalaya. Over the years, “masala” incense has established itself to a global audience as lasting longer and stronger per stick than its “dipped” counterpart. The first blend from the house was the Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa, which to this date is the most sought after and commercially successful masala/flora incense blend across the world.
Some concerns have been raised about the negative effects of burning incense & herbal or wood sticks. The two primary concerns seem to be 1. Particles released into the air that could end up in one’s lungs, causing issues, and 2. Unhealthy chemicals used in incense manufacturing that could be released into the air. Regarding the first concern, this is an area in which there has been very little actual scientific study, so as users, we must determine what works best for us, opting instead for essential oils or other devices if smoke causes problems. However, regarding the second concern, as consumers, we can make certain that we buy the highest quality and most natural incense or smudge sticks to be sure we are not burning harmful chemicals with our incense.
Research–Medicinal smoke reduces airborne bacteria:
The following is a quote from one scientific study that verifies benefits of medicinal smoke. See links at the bottom of this article for more information.
“We have observed that 1 hour treatment of medicinal smoke emanated by burning wood and a mixture of odoriferous and medicinal herbs (havan sámagri=material used in oblation to fire all over India), on aerial bacterial population caused over 94% reduction of bacterial counts by 60 minutes and the ability of the smoke to purify or disinfect the air and to make the environment cleaner was maintained up to 24 hours in the closed room…. We have demonstrated that by using medicinal smoke it is possible to completely eliminate diverse plant and human pathogenic bacteria of the air within confined space.”
Discussions on Medicinal Smoke Scientific Research: