Gathering Smoke~Making Incense from the Land
I recently made a new batch of kyphi style incense from ingredients that I gathered all year long in my bioregion. Kyphi is a type of incense, originating in ancient Egypt, that is made with honey, mead, or some other sweet liquid that is usually alcohol based. There are many Kyphi recipes and, the incense I make is simply derived from this general style that I adapted to my local plants and the consistency I prefer. I have posted my Kyphi recipe in the past, but on recently referring to it for my current batch, I realized that I have changed some things. I also didn't think it was "user friendly" enough. When I cook or concoct, I have a habit of not really measuring; a quality that drives my students crazy and I have been sincerely trying to change how I convey my recipes so that anyone can use them. This is one such attempt, however, I truly believe that, once you get the hang of any recipe, there is room for artful intuitiveness and I encourage everyone to find a comfortable balance between proper proportions and how they personally would like the incense to end up.
Many Kyphi recipes require that the dry and wet ingredients are mixed and left to steep and converge for a week or so. I have done this, as well as mixed the dry and wet ingredients both on the same day. Letting the separate mixtures set enables the scents to infuse into each other. I like both methods. I suggest you try both. The recipe below is my own personal choice of ingredients and my individual process. I use plants, resins, honeys, and elixirs in my incense that I've gathered or made all year long. I realize that not everyone is able to do this so, of course, some or all of these ingredients can be purchased, although there is a very special magic that occurs when we use what is locally available. This makes an unstandardized, non-generic, uniquely scented incense that wefts smoke, the sacred, people, and the land.
For those who are interested in using local plants and want to be prepared for the upcoming gathering season, I have made a list of what I collect and store through the season. Each year is a bit different based on what's abundant and what I happen to find during my regular herb harvesting walks. I have put the approximate flowering time for here in Central New York State, but it's different each year and in each place.
Flowers; gathered, dried, and stored
- Hawthorne~May, I use the leaves too
- Wild Roses(I use Rosa multiflora)~June
- Mugwort(Artemisia vulgaris)~leaves and flowers, mid to late summer
- Wild Cherry Blossoms~May
You can use any flower you'd like here; Lavender, Chamomile, other local scented blossoms
Roots;dug, washed, chopped, and stored
- Elecampane (Inula helenium)~ Dug in the Spring
- Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea L.)~Dug in the Spring. This is our local, native Angelica. Also know as purplestem Angelica.
I use both of these roots because of scent as well as their medicinal and sacred uses. Angelica is well known for it's use for protection and as a clearing/purifying plant, and Elecampane is a lung remedy that smells musky, resinous, and earthy.
Barks;scraped and dried
- Yellow or Black Birch~Spring or Fall, Winter if I'm in a pinch
Conifer needles~ I gather these any time of year and use them fresh or dried
Pine and Balsam are my favorites
Resinous buds; gathered,dried, and stored
Tree Resins;Gathered any time of year but I prefer winter because they're not as soft and sticky as in summer
- I usually use Pine resin but any conifer resin will work. Please note that tree resin is not the same as sap. The resin occurs where the tree has been injured and is an effort for the tree to heal itself much like our bodies develop a scab or scar tissue. Please be careful to only gather the excess and loose resin so as not to further injure the tree.
Berries; can be used fresh, frozen and thawed, or dried
- Hawthorne Berries~late August-early September
- I usually make a Wild Rose honey or elixir during the summer. Sometimes I'll also add some cordial that I've made. This time I used Hawthorne Berry cordial and Elecampane Root honey. In the past I've used locally made mead.
My Incense Recipe
- 2 metal mixing bowls
- baking sheet
- coffee grinder
- spoon and fork
- parchment paper if desired for ease when removing incense from baking sheet
I suggest dedicating some tools to incense making because the resins can be really hard to scrub off. I have spoon, fork, a couple of bowls, and resin grinder. The resin grinder is just a coffee grinder. You can use the same grinder for flowers, buds, leaves, and barks as long as it's all going into the incense. I have two grinders, one for resin and one for leaves and flowers because I make teas and other products that I don't necessarily want to taste like Pine resin.
Mix Dry Ingredients(all ground in coffee grinder)
- 1/4 Cup of Resins~Pine, Spruce, Poplar bud
- 1/2 Cup of leaves and flowers
- 1/4 Cup of roots and barks
Set aside. At this time you can place this all in a glass jar to "mingle" for a week or just set aside to be mixed with the wet ingredients.
Mix Wet Ingredients
- 1/2 cup of dried berries ground to a powder or fresh (or frozen and thawed) and mashed
- 3/4-1 cup of mead, wine, honey, or herbal elixir or any combination of such
These can be put in a glass jar to "mingle" if desired. Otherwise proceed to the next step. If you decide to wait, go to Step III after about a week
Mix Dry and Wet Ingredients
- This is where I start ad libbing. You should end up with a consistency that you can shape. I think of it as the same consistency as meatballs. It should hold together. If it doesn't, I'll add something so that it will. If it's too wet, add more dried ingredients, if it's too dry add more honey or mead.
- Spread onto a baking sheet so that it forms a layer about 1/2" thick.
- Place in a place where it can dry. I put it above my woodstove but any warm, dry place will do.
- Leave for about a week or until dried and hardened. Then it should break easily into chunks.
- Burn either by using a charcoal incense burner or simply lighting it!
That apple that crossed my path the other day wasn’t just an apple. It was one of those flares from what I call the “understory” but what some might call the unconscious, the dreamtime, or the imaginal realm.
Or it may also be considered “the world behind the world”
I don’t always notice these flares because I am often so focused on the tension and cadence of the pace of time that I lose myself to the sharp shooting, sympathetic neural bolts that send my mind convulsing around “important” and immediate conditions and concerns.
My daily walkabouts around the valley where I live, within the noble, wandering oscillations of the Adirondack foothills, provides me much needed respite from these daily, mundane imperatives.
This is often when it happens that something breaks through, usually unexpectedly but, still as equally, that same something is not new even slightly incongruent amongst the tablature of nature and, once noticed, seems to me to be an obvious and inextricable truth of existence.
On this day it appeared as an apple. A perfect red gem that I almost stepped on in the woods where there were not just this one apple but hundreds upon hundreds of apples hanging above and falling down from the limbs of an orchard like the sweet, juicy seeds of grace that fall down into the human heart so peaked in fertile ripeness mixed with the smell of wild, dying sugar that I lost, for just an instant, all sense of myself and everything else.
And I became that apple.
And then, in another instant, back into myself but slightly bewildered by the space in between that is only informed by instinct and archetype.
That popped an unsolicited question into my mind.
Where is everyone?
Good yummy food
Poor, forgotten apples
We, well at least a vast majority, get apples from the grocery store.
Wild Sarsparilla Digging
While on a mushroom hike, my friend Dottie and I stumbled upon a large stand of Aralia Nudicaulis(Wild Sarsaparilla). Luckily, we are always prepared for an unexpected plant find and had our packs and a trowel. If you'd like more detailed info about Wild Sarsaparilla go to my previous post HERE