I love incense just as much as I love perfume. There are packages of it scattered throughout my apartment and a big treasure trove in the living room. I’ve got Japanese incense, Indian incense, Mexican incense, incense made from ethically foraged plants in the pacific northwest, and now, I have my very own homemade lavender incense.
I’ve wondered about making incense for a while, and when I managed to accidentally kill a lavender plant in record time over the winter, I saw opportunity rather than loss. (Aren’t I the optimistic one!) The plant hadn’t gotten around to flowering yet, but the leaves were full of that familiar, soft, floral scent, which remained even after it had died and dried up like potpourri.
So I had to wonder what would happen if I were to burn them.
Among my incense collection are a number of baggies of things like straight resin, dried sage, and shaved palo santo, along with the appropriate coals and fire-proof vessels to use for loose incense. I could have easily used this method to burn my dried up lavender, but I was curious about the process of making incense cones.
I did a little research and found a great resource at the Learning Herbs website. I learned it’s evidently quite simple to make incense cones at home, and all you need are three ingredients — a botanical powder, a binding material, and some water. I ordered some Marshmallow Root Powder, having learned that this demulcent is a good binder, and then I was off.
I took my failed house plant and begin the process of turning it into a botanical powder. I picked off all the dry, crinkly leaves. This was a pleasant tactile experience, although in hindsight I wish I’d been more careful about avoiding stems in the process because I had to deal with those later.
Once I had my dish of lavender leaves, it was time to turn them into a powder. My plan was to use a mortar and pestle, which could have gotten the job done with enough patience, but I was also curious how fine I could get it if I cheated.
Enter the basic coffee bean grinder. You can clean the coffee out of one of these by grinding about a tablespoon of rice in it, then wiping it down. I chose to leave the lavender residue in there afterward to see if it would give my next morning’s coffee a little twist (which it did, but barely).
The lavender that I ran through the grinder was coming out a little finer, so I decided to do the whole batch. Afterward, I ran my fingers through it and picked out the stems that were in there.
Now I was ready to mix the ingredients. I did a 1:6 ratio of lavender to marshmallow root powder and combined them well. Then I added about a half teaspoon of water at a time. I think the amount of water will vary depending on what ingredients you’re using and how fine your powders are. I wanted my mixture to be sticky, but not wet. Each time I mixed in little water, I would take a pinch of the powders between my fingers and see if it could hold together. My estimate is that I ended up adding 2-3 tablespoons by the end. Once I had the right consistency, I used my fingers to form the powders into small cones.
DIY incense cones should sit for at least a week before burning so that they can dry out. I was excited to give my first cone a try yesterday and was pretty pleased with the results. It took a few tries to get the cone lit to where it would continue burning, but once it got going it saturated the air with a sweet and smoky scent, not unlike sage.
Straight off the plant, the lavender leaves smelled like lavender, but on fire, the scent is a little different, although still really pleasant. Maybe there would be a scent more like traditional lavender if I were to use the dried flower instead of the leaves. I may get around to finding the answer to that musing someday — but first I plan to make some cones with a dead rosemary plant that’s sitting in my kitchen. My track record with keeping herbs alive and thriving isn’t the best, but if I can keep turning their carcasses into something magical I won’t feel so bad about it.
by Katrina Eresman