The important uses of Incense for wellness purposes in ancient and modern times

Photo: By Fabio Pozzebom/ABr - Agência Brasil

by Sudhir Ahluwalia | |

Plants have been in use since time immemorial for their scent. Incense, a material derived from plants that emits an aroma when burned, has had many uses throughout history. Nearly every religion throughout the world has used incense in religious or spiritual rituals to propitiate gods, raise spirits, and purify souls. Incense also cleans and freshens temples and homes. It has also been used in offerings to royalty, perfumes, food, and drink.

Flowers with aromatic scents like marigold, jasmine, and mahua were included in temple offerings and secular and religious events in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and other Eastern religions. The oldest Veda, Rig Veda, mentions the use of incense in the Yagya fire ritual.

Greece, Rome, and Egypt also used incense in religious worship, daily life, celebrations, and medicine. There are multiple references to frankincense, myrrh, cedar, cedar, cinnamon, cloves, balsam, aloes, pine, myrtle, benzoin, labdanum, mastic, juniper berry, cardamom, and calamus in religious and secular literature of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians.

Many of these herbs were also ingredients in Kyphi, the incense used in Egyptian temples and homes, indicating the cultural influence of the Egyptians on the Jews and other peoples under Pharaonic control.

Unlike perfumes today, however, the perfumes of antiquity were oily ointments, dense pomades, and balsams (syrupy mixtures of tars and etheric oils). The Bible, the Quran, and the Hadiths also contain numerous references to the use of incense. The traditional use of incense for worship ebbed with the rise of Christianity, but its value in the pre-Christian era continued until the birth of Christ and for centuries afterward.

There are also multiple references to the use of various herbs and spices to perfume clothes, to commemorate burials, and to express love, romance, and joy. There are 21 references to incense burning in the Bible, including Luke 1:8–11, Hebrews 9:1–4, and Revelation 5:6–8.

Incense was also used in the embalming of Jesus’ body. Initially, the early Christians forbade the use of incense in churches. Today, the Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches continue to use incense for religious purposes. Incense was a symbol of prayer for the Jews. In Psalm 141:2, David says “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”

About Sudhir

Sudhir Ahluwalia is a business consultant. He has been management consulting head of Asia’s largest IT outsourcing company Tata Consultancy Services, business advisor to multiple companies, columnist and author of upcoming book on herbs-Holy Herbs. He has been a member of the Indian Forest Service. His webpage is: