It is almost incomprehensible to modern man that incense has had such influence throughout history. Its smoke connected people with the gods, cleansed, healed, because of it the first trade routes were established, gifts were given to emperors, it was worth like gold, and it brought wealth to those who collected it and sold it. It was used in the temples and houses of the Old World since the 2nd millennium BC.
Incense is a fragrant resin of the Boswellia sacra tree. This unusual tree grows only in the desert rocky areas of southern Arabia (Oman) and the horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia). All previous attempts to transplant the plant to other sites with similar climatic conditions in order to increase yields and preserve the plant were unsuccessful. Because incense in a foreign land withers and dies. It binds to the rocks on which it grows unusually, a kind of rubber, and resinous pads are formed at the root, with which the wood adheres elastically to the base. Five petals of a small flower change color, from yellow through orange to dark red.
Due to the unusually fresh, citrusy, and at the same time sweet, a spicy scent on the intoxicating balsamic base, today incense is mainly used in the cosmetic industry, but also in traditional medicine because it has an antiseptic effect, soothes anxiety and tension. It can slow down and deepen the breath, and mixed with a bit of wine, it causes mild euphoria. It is used equally by the Eastern and Western Christian churches in all their rites.
Many myths have been woven around this unique plant. The Egyptians considered balls of incense to be drops of the sweat of the gods that fell to the ground. They used it for mummification, cleaning, and consecration of temples and houses of the rich, healing wounds and tightening wrinkles. Incense filled the garden of paradise with its smell, and when the gates of heaven closed forever for Adam and Eve, Adam prayed to God to allow him to bring out only two plants that would remind him with their scent of the time spent in it. That plants were incense and myrrh.
Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba, coming to examine the famous wisdom of Solomon, brought with her a lot of gold, precious stones, and incense. Thus, it opened the way for new caravans, which will transport precious goods to the peoples of the Mediterranean twice a year. A gram of incense was worth as much as gold.
It is interesting that both then and now incense was collected in the same way. Dhofar, a small area of the Arabian coast on the border of today’s Oman and southern Yemen, once a year, from July to September, floods the Indian monsoon Karif, turning the dry stone desert into green forests. Streams flow from the mountains towards the sea, while the mountain tops remain in a thick and humid fog. These fumes for incense are beneficial. The best resin is given by those who stay out of the reach of rain, high on limestone rocks, in “foggy oases.” In the Caribbean, collectors used special knives to scratch the tree’s bark, and resin began to be shed at that place. After ten days, the drops take the form of a sizeable pale tear, carried to the mountain caves, where they remain until winter. The bigger the tears, the more precious they are. It is possible to collect several kilograms of incense a year from one tree.
In the Middle East, high-quality incense tears are also used to infuse the water. It is customary to soak a small piece of incense in a water bottle overnight and the following day strengthens the whole body with a delicious balsamic taste.
For many perfume lovers, the smell of burning incense and the smell of its smoke is enchanting. As a perfume note, incense is highly versatile, as it is equally suitable for dark oriental scents as for the effervescent sparkle of citrus cologne. In its pure state, the smell of incense oil is initially reminiscent of freshly ground black pepper, with a hint of lemon peel in the background. As the oil dries, it reveals its dry woody character. In a heavier register of oriental scents, incense gives a mild glow to lavish accords of spices, vanilla, and patchouli.
Perfumes with incense fragrance note are:
- Acqua di Parma Mirra
- Aesop Mystra
- Amouage Interlude Men
- Amouage Jubilation XXV Woman and Man
- Amouage Lyric Woman
- Amouage Memoir
- Amouage Opus VI
- Andy Tauer Incense Extreme
- Annick Goutal Encens Flamboyant
- Armani Aqua di Gio Profumo
- Armani Bois d’Encens
- Atelier des Ors L’Armes du Desert
- Chanel Bleu de Chanel eau de parfum
- Clinique Aromatics Elixir
- Clive Christian V
- Cloon Keen Terre de L’Encens
- Comme des Garcons 2 Man
- Dior Sauvage Parfum
- Frederic Malle Dawn
- Gorilla Breath of God
- Gucci Intense Oud
- Guerlain Arsene Lupin
- Heeley Cardinal
- Jo Malone Incense & Cedrat
- Kilian Back to Black
- L’Artisan Mechant Loup
- Lancome Magie Noire
- Papillon Anubis
- Parfum d’Empire Wazamba
- Tom Ford Sahara Noir
- Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme