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Incense sticks

Incense with a long tradition

Perhaps you have experienced something like the following. You walk into a room and notice a strange yet pleasant smell. Some feel immediately picked up by it, others remember something and still others react curiously and openly. But what is behind it?
Incense sticks – they are loved by many people and smiled at or viewed critically by others. But what exactly is behind the mystical incense? In the following article you will learn more about it.

What are incense sticks?

In the early history of mankind, the discovery of fire also marked the beginning of the use of ritual incense. Of course, at that time it looked different from today’s incense sticks or incense cones. However, it is a fact that incense with dry herbs, resins, grasses, barks and seeds was practised in all advanced cultures. In most cases, incense was used to honour gods or to drive away evil spirits and negative energies. Even Christianity adopted the pagan Roman custom of burning incense.

Mainly in Asia – here especially in India, Nepal and Tibet – incense is traditionally used in the form of incense sticks. The first of their kind were made in Tibet in the early 7th century. They are used in various religious movements such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Daoism. Although the use of incense had a religious origin, nowadays, especially in the western world, incense sticks are also used simply to scent rooms. 
In Hindi, incense sticks are known as ‘Agarbatti’ (अगरबत्ती). It means something like:
  • Agar = Wood
  • Bathi = Sticks

Therefore, the word Agarbatti/Agarbathi is often found on the packaging of Indian incense sticks. Often, the word Agarbathi is therefore mistakenly used as a name for a brand or an aroma.

One example is the well-known incense sticks of the Goloka company: Nag Champa Agarbathi (translated: Nag Champa Incense Sticks).

What do incense sticks look like?

Incense sticks are incense in the shape of a stick. They can be of different lengths and usually consist of a filigree stick made of wood or bamboo to which an aromatic incense paste has been applied. Depending on the origin, there are also incense sticks without a wooden stick.
When the incense paste is lit, it slowly burns together with the stick it contains and releases its pleasant aromas. 
In most cases, the thin sticks with their fine plumes of smoke are placed securely on an incense holder. This not only provides a secure hold for the incense, but also catches its ashes. 
The production of traditional incense sticks differs depending on their origin.

How are incense sticks made?

In the traditional production of incense sticks, spices and herbs are mixed with barks, flowers, tree resins and essential oils and then processed into a paste. A lot of knowledge and experience is needed to combine the ingredients perfectly. 
The finished spice paste is then pressed together by hand and applied to the filigree carrier stick. The dexterity required for this – especially when rolling the stick – requires not only skill but also a lot of experience, because it ultimately has a great influence on the burning time and the uniform distribution of the aroma. 
There are centuries-old recipes for making incense sticks with a high recognition value – for example, the typical Nag Champa fragrance.

What are the differences between incense sticks?

In different areas, incense sticks are produced in different ways. Roughly speaking, you can distinguish between:

  • Incense Sticks with carrier stick
  • Incense Sticks  without carrier stick 

There are further differences between these two manufacturing processes:

  • Dipped incense sticks

In this process, the carrier sticks are covered with a substance made of charcoal and sawdust and then dipped into essential oils or other liquid fragrance mixtures, which nowadays are not infrequently of synthetic origin.

  • Masala Incense Sticks

Masala sticks are traditionally rolled – either around a carrier stick or as small noodle-shaped rolls without an inner stick. Only pure substances are used, which guarantee the special quality of the Masala incense sticks. 

There are also other regional peculiarities:

  • Vietnam

Here, coloured bamboo sticks are coated with the spice paste, each colour representing the mark of a very specific scent.

  • Japan

Japanese incense sticks usually do not need support sticks. To shape the spice paste, it is pressed through a nozzle and then dried. Japanese incense sticks are considered to be of very high quality, as they often contain up to 20 valuable components. 

  • China

In China, too, the paste is pressed into a stick shape and no stick is used to support it. 

  • Tibet

In Tibet, incense sticks have always been rolled by hand. In contrast to Japanese sticks, Tibetan incense sticks are thicker and coarser-grained. However, they are also said to be of particularly good quality. 

Nowadays you can buy all kinds of chopsticks, both machine-made and handmade. 

What advantages do incense sticks have over other incense?

In contrast to incense cones or incense candles, incense sticks offer the advantage that they burn relatively slowly and evenly and their fragrance is thus pleasantly distributed in the room. 
In addition, the glowing sticks can be interrupted while burning and thus be used several times. This is particularly useful in smaller rooms and also saves material.  
Due to their different fragrances, they can be lit at any time of the year and on any occasion, and with the help of the incense holders, they can be placed safely in any room.

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What are incense sticks used for?

In earlier times, the incense of aromatic herbs, spices and resins was mainly used for ritual reasons, for spiritual ceremonies or to support mediation. 
Believers, priests and shamans have always used the sensual scents for their sacred rituals and as a support for meditation. In Ayurvedic medicine, traditional incense is used in aromatherapy – for example, to bring the three doshas into balance.
Used correctly, the diverse aromas promote different moods and in this way support the expression of emotions. They can have a relaxing or stimulating effect and, depending on the variant and ingredients, promote a wide variety of feelings and perceptual processes.
Because of these properties, incense sticks are also often used in aroma or hypnotherapy, the healing effects of which have been scientifically proven. In Feng Shui, they are used to cleanse the room of negative energies.
But even those who are less interested in spirituality and religion will find much to their liking in the small but powerful incense. They not only promote a positive room atmosphere through their versatile scents, but also ensure that mosquitoes and other annoying insects stay away, especially in summer.

The effect of incense sticks

There is no question that incense sticks influence people. This is shown by the fact that some people don’t like the smell of incense or have a critical attitude towards some types of incense. Our nose is a sharply tuned olfactory barometer that has important tasks to fulfil and should not be underestimated. 
Even if it is repeatedly claimed that the effect of incense sticks is pure superstition, scientific studies show a completely different picture. 
The fact alone that aromatherapy is playing an increasingly important role in psychotherapy, for example, and has been used as a natural remedy for centuries, should convince any doubters of the error of their ways. 
In addition, there is the finding that plants communicate with each other with flavonoids (fragrances) and terpenes (the main component of essential oils) and that the animal world also reacts to these scents, which in turn proves the power of aromas. 
In addition, there are more and more studies that show that fragrances or aromas influence hormone levels in humans and, for example, essential oils such as sweet orange, lavender and sandalwood increase oxytocin levels in women (1)
Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus and plays a major role in couple bonding, orgasms and the bond between mother and child. 
And last but not least, everyone can briefly recall for themselves the different emotions that scents trigger in them.
With their intense and varied aromas, incense sticks have a special effect on many people. The exact influence of the different sticks depends on the ingredients used in their production. With the right composition, you can use incense sticks to influence and support your own mood in a very targeted way.
There is an almost inexhaustible repertoire of fragrances among incense sticks. However, over the years, certain aroma compositions have proven to be particularly popular and proven:

Nag Champa

The most famous fragrance of Indian incense sticks

Nag Champa – a world-renowned aroma that is used for incense as well as in cosmetics.

Nag Champa comes from different sources. Depending on the origin, the aromatic oil is extracted from the blossoms of the ‘Nag Champa flower’ (Mesua Ferrea) or a magnolia species (Magnolia Champaca). 
Nag Champa smells sweetish, floral and soft. It is not so much a fresh scent as a sweet one, which has a calming and grounding effect. As incense, Nag Champa is often a mixture of the above oil with various herbs and resins. 
Nag Champa is often mixed with grated sandalwood, which gives a sweet and spicy note. The best-known Nag Champa incense sticks are those made by Goloka.

White Sage

Cleansing Incense of the Native Americans

White sage has always been considered one of the strongest plants for cleansing rooms and is still a popular incense herb today. It is even said to have antibacterial effects. White sage is very popular in traditional medicine. According to this, the plant helps with skin diseases and psychological disorders such as restlessness and insomnia.

In shamanic rituals, the plant known as American Indian sage is used to promote concentration and dispel negative energies. In addition to incense sticks, white sage is also available in the form of smudge sticks and loose incense.

> Product recommendation: Incense sticks ‘white sageRäucherstäbchen ‘weißer Salbei’



The aromatic wood of the evergreen sandalwood tree has a calming effect and brings inner balance. Burning incense of the noble wood is said to help process negative experiences and release tension. Sandalwood smells sweet and spicy.

Genuine sandalwood always comes from the Indian tree ‘Santalum Album’, which is only found on the Indian subcontinent.

> Product recommendation: Incense sticks ‘Sandalo’ by the company HEM.

Palo Santo

The so-called “sacred wood” with the unmistakable aroma of the Palo Santo tree found in South America has been valued for many years. Shamans smoke or cook the sacred wood for their rituals.

Palo Santo smells sweet, spicy and balsamic. The essential vapours have a stimulating and euphoric effect. The hard wood often contains over 100 different essential oils, which interact to produce the intense smell.

The palo santo tree only grows in the wild and has been protected for some time, which is why only wood that has fallen on its own may be used for incense. Palo Santo needs several decades until the essential aromas have been formed.

> Product recommendation: Incense sticks ‘Palo Santo’ from the company Namaste India.


Those who want an activating and invigorating effect should reach for fresh aromas such as lemongrass. The citrus scent has a refreshing and cleansing effect on body and mind.

Lemon grass is not only used as incense. The fresh herb is just as good as a tea and is also used as a room freshener in East Asia. A great property of lemongrass is that the smell repels insects such as mosquitoes.

> Product recommendation: Incense sticks ‘Lemongrass’ by the company Auroshikha.

What are incense sticks made of and how are they made?

In the traditional production of incense sticks, various spices and herbs are used. These are mixed with natural tree resins, barks, flowers and essential oils. A lot of knowledge and experience is required here to combine the ingredients to create the desired fragrance profile. Many recipes are hundreds of years old and have a high recognition value, such as the typical Nag Champa fragrance.
Once the spice blend is made, it is pressed together and rolled by hand onto a wooden or bamboo stick. This also requires experience so that the incense sticks are rolled uniformly at the end and the scent and burning time do not differ from each other.

How do I recognise high quality incense sticks?

Natural Incense Sticks do not burn. They rather smoulder slowly and with little smoke development. Traditional incense sticks are made of natural ingredients and are hand-rolled, which gives them an individual appearance. Their smoke is thin, relatively light and not sooty. In addition, the aroma appears “natural and light” and does not cause an unpleasant burning sensation in the nose. 

Cheap Incense Sticks look perfectly shaped and always the same. This is due to the machine production used for mass production. Usually, these incense sticks are characterised by a very strong, almost artificial, smell and their smoke is rather black, thick and sooty, unlike natural sticks. This is a sign that contaminated oil/resin or additional perfume has been used in their manufacture.

Are incense sticks vegan? 🌱

All incense sticks in the Karmandala Shop are vegan. They do not contain any animal ingredients. They consist of spices, resins and dried fruits and flowers.

When buying incense sticks, you should always pay attention to the manufacturer and origin. Karmandala offers high-quality, hand-rolled incense sticks from renowned manufacturers such as Goloka, Satya and HEM. 

Safe burning with the right equipment

It’s best never to let smouldering incense out of your sight. With a suitable incense holder, your incense has a secure stand and the ashes are easily collected.
Incense holders are often made of hard wood, copper or soapstone and have a drilled hole for the respective incense stick. Alternatively, you can use a bowl with sand. As soon as the stick has glowed through, the embers extinguish of their own accord. 
With an open window, you can prevent the air from becoming too smoky and the fire alarm from sounding and disturbing your peace.
The aromatic scent sometimes attracts children and animals, who then run the risk of knocking over the scented stick or even injuring themselves. We therefore advise you to place smouldering incense sticks out of reach of children and animals.

Here you will find our selection of incense holders.

How long do incense sticks burn?

Most sticks are approx. 21 cm long and usually burn for approx. 45 minutes. The ideal length for an extended meditation or yoga practice.
Of course, you can extinguish a glowing incense stick at any time and use it again afterwards.


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