Chances are, for good or bad, you've experienced fragrant incense before. In the West, we tend to think og incense as a way to cover up bad smells or bring perfume-like fragrance into a space; but that's just one small part of the big blessing that is incense!
Who doesn't love a good Nag Champa, Sandalwood, or Cedar incense? While burning these classic fragrances can change the whole feel of a space, they're just the tip of the incense cone. The oldest uses of incense are actually medicinal and spiritual in nature, and that's what I'd like to explore with you here today.
When pure herbs are burnt, their many active constituents, oils, and energies are released into the atmosphere as smoke. This smoke is inhaled by us and works directly on the brain and heart center before working on the whole body system. One of the reasons why incense is such a popular addition to meditation, spiritual work, and mental balance work is that it tends to affect these areas of the being first and most strongly.
Scent in and of itself is medicinal. The right fragrance can calm the limbic system of the brain bringing emotional calm and harmony. Scents can often call up pleasant memories that help us immerse ourselves in the good feelings of those associations. They also cause active cascades of change in the body system which can affect emotions, mental state, immunity, digestion, stress response, mental clarity, and more. The whole art and science of aromatherapy is built on the power of scent, and it has its own roots in the raw burning of plant materials.
BENEFITS OF MEDICINAL INCENSE
NOT SO SWEET
Did you know what most commercial incense varieties include materials like glue, rubber, saltpeter, charcoal, chemical combustibles, and industrial adhesives? Not to mention the fragrance more often than not is not plant derives but comes from complex chemicals that give incense its strong, sometimes overwhelming scent profile.
When working with incense for wellness, or just when you want to enjoy something that's doing more good than harm, it's important to choose blends that are made only from plant materials and have been formulated for balance and ease on the body system. There's such a thing as too much smoke and a suffocating level of scent. Gentleness, balance, and ease are hallmarks of a good medicinal incense.
In our housemade medicinal incenses, we use only whole plant materials. We start by grinding the herbal blend down to a fine powder, then add gums and resins like copal, myrrh, and dragon's blood. Next up we mix in organic hydrosols and spring water. We blend each small batch by hands following lunar tides, and work only with organic herbs. Enjoy!
LEARN INCENSE CRAFTING
Join us at this year's DIY Festival for an immersive workshop on incense making with Herbalist Josh Williams.
Sunday August 11, 2019 @ 5:00pm
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is in full bloom all around Salt Lake City right now- well, the second-year plants are, anyway. This is easily one of my favorite medicinal and magical herbs and I'd like to share some of my favorite aspects of this plant with you here.
GROWTH & IDENTIFICATION
Mullein is a biennial plant which means that it takes two years for it to complete its full life cycle. On the first year during growing season, Mullein appears as a whorl of velvety-soft leaves that spiral along the ground. The leaves are larger than those of another common local plant, Lamb's Ear, and don't attach to a long stem the way Lamb's Ear does. On the second year of growth, Mullein sends up an eye-catching stalk that tapers up with more fuzzy leaves and ends with a burst of popcorn-shaped yellow blossoms. We use every part of the Mullein plant for medicine, but the leaves and flowers are the most common and most used. At the end of the second year's growing season, the plant dies back and relies on tiny black seeds to rest over winter and sprout up for a new tw0-part cycle next year.
Here in Salt Lake City we've all experienced the after-effects of inversion season; and of hot, dry summers. Many of us are left with dry, sore, inflamed lungs that feel as though they need a good slathering of lotion. We also experience lingering coughs and respiratory soreness after seasonal colds and flu which can be incredibly annoying. You feel that you've recovered only to have your lungs continue to give you trouble for weeks on end.
Mullein is my trusted go-to to help with these respiratory situations and many others. Mullein falls into a category of medicinal herbs called demulcent. Demulcent herbs, when steeped as a tea, release a mucilage that soothes, coats, cools, and protects the delicate linings of both the respiratory system and the digestive tract. This soothing, coating effect can create just the right environment for the lungs to do some deep repairative healing while being supported in getting all the gunk out through the coughing process.
In addition to drinking Mullein leaves and flowers as a tea with other lung-loving herbs like Elecampane Root, Hyssop, Holy Basil, and Elder Flowers, it can also be used in medicinal smoking blends and steams as it has for ages.
Mullein can be a good healing ally when the lungs feel dry, stuck, hot, irritated, or weak. For lungs that feel damp, phlegmy/mucousy, wet, rattly, or cold we use other herbs to help balance that situation, often adding a bit of Mullein just to keep things in harmony.
As mentioned above, the first year of Mullein's growth creates a whorl of giant, flannely leaves that rest on the earth. What tends to happen is that the leaves grow in circles of 8 with a leaf pointing at each of the 8 cardinal and intercardinal directions. I often find first-year Mullein with leaves aimed perfectly to the North, East, South, and West and Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest. For this reason, I love working with Mullein to help find direction, get bearing, and decide what the next step in life might be. This is a fantastic plant ally to help us when we aren't sure where to go next- or even where we're at right now in life.
On the second year of growth, that giant stalk shoots skyward and lights up with vibrant yellow flowers. From a distance the stalk can look like a torch set ablaze with yellow blossoms. In ancient days, Mullein was known as Torch Weed, Witch's Torch, and much later on, Jacob's Rod. These folk names all point at the deeper energy of Mullein- that it acts like a torch and helps us find out way in the dark times, when we're lost, or when we simply aren't sure where things are at the moment in any aspect of our lives. At one time in Europe, dried Mullein stalks were dipped in tallow and actually used as flaming torches!
Sitting with Mullein and asking for guidance, carrying Mullein Flowers with you, or taking in Mullein as a tea or smoke with intention are all great ways to receive the medicinal and magical benefits of Great Mullein!
It Began In The Beginning
I'm often asked to define what Spiritual Herbalism really means. It's one of those elusive definitions that is probably a little bit different for each person who practices it- so here I'll share my definition and my approach to this work and it's magic.
For me, Spiritual Herbalism is rooted in the world's oldest and most essential spiritual perspective- animism. As Graham Harvey defines it, Animism is the belief that the world is filled with people, only some of which are human but all of which deserve respect. Animism allows us to see plants not just as things, but as beings with their own inherent spirit, consciousness, power, and wisdom. Sure, they aren't wise and powerful or even communicative in the same way we humans are- but that doesn't mean they aren't all of those things in their own incredibly important way.
In order to learn and practice spiritual herbalism, we have to understand that herbs have spirit. This means that while the chemistry and compounds are all important- it's the spirit of the plant we're really trying to connect with; that's where the deep medicine is.
Energy + Application
In spiritual herbalism, we shy away from the common practice of Western allopathic herbalism as much as we can. In that school of thought, an herb that has the medicinal effects of relieving a migraine is good for the migraine of all humans. No way. In spiritual herbalism, we recognize that each person's cause, manifestation, and experience of migraine is completely unique and that we must find the plant or plants that best speak to their unique experience. White Willow Bark might be great for your migraine, but Vervain might be the proper ally for someone else's.
We are challenged in spiritual herbalism to see people. We can't just look up the properties of an herb in a book and roll with it. Instead, we have to know the personality of the human and of the plant and play matchmaker. We have to intuit how the balanced energies of the plant can help the imbalanced energies of the human.
Medicine + Magic
Spiritual Herbalism doesn't stop at migraines or even mood swings. It goes all the way in. It speaks to the full narrative of the human experience in every single way from every single angle. We can work with the plants in this practice for the physical, mental, and emotional imbalances and also for the spiritual and energetic ones. In fact, they're usually all wrapped up together in a surprisingly neat little package.
The herbs can speak to the level of self-worth, abundance, calling, love, romance, protection, and intuition just as much as they can provide essential nutrients and anti-inflammatory effects in the body. The can help us sleep and dream, relax and learn to receive, digest better and process more efficiently, clarify our vision and find our way.
We call this process magic, but that word has a lot of misunderstandings these days. Essentially, it's the process of working with the natural energies of plants and other beings to effect needed change in our lives. It's not about rabbits being pulled out of hats or sleight of hand card tricks- it's about changing us deeply from within so that we can live and be the way we want.
The Power of Personhood
Have you ever had a relationship with a plant? Spoken to your Aloe Vera while you watered it, taken refuge under a giant Oak tree, or found emotional balance in a blooming and fragrant Rose bush? Allowing plants to have personhood means that we get to have relationship with them. We get to talk to them, vent to them even. Greater than this we get to learn from them. They are wise. They've been here a lot longer than we have- and in fact plants are very much our deepest ancestors. By opening up to the wisdom they bring we are connecting with intention and receptivity to the whole stream of human existence and we're tapping in to the code that shows how we can be our very best selves.
Play lightly with the idea of plants as people and see how it unfolds for you. Have a conversation, touch a plant with intention and kindness, explore aromas and textures with fresh senses, and most importantly quiet and still enough that you can perceive the stream of quiet but strong impressions they send into your thinking heart.
We're so excited to launch our brand new website! With the new portal you'll be able to sign up for workshops, purchase our handmade herbal products from anywhere in the country, and stay up to date with shop happenings. We look forward to connecting with you here.
Introduction to Herbalism - August 31 @ 5pm
Join us for our most popular class!
In this fun, fast-paced presentation we explore the many traditions, approaches, and gifts of herbalism all while experiencing many herbal remedies and meeting many medicinal herbs along the way. Each class is different and will often include seasonally-relevant wellness themes and lots of foundational herbal inspiration.
Saturday August 31
5pm - 6:30pm
Come get dig in to herbalism with us!
Herbal Magic Intensive - September 22 @ 3pm
Only a few left!
Join Herbalist Josh Williams for a special 3-hour herb magic intensive workshop that will take you on a deep, empowering journey into the ancient practice of working with natural herbal energies to call forth positive manifestation.
Sunday September 22
3pm - 6pm
This workshop is suitable for folks of all experience levels. We'll start from the beginning and give you powerful, solid wisdom and hands-on experiences from Josh's Green Craft tradition while exploring many magical herbs, spellcrafting techniques, meditations, recipes, and some very special bits and pieces of magical love.
Workshop is limited to 8 participants. Due to the complex preparations needed for this event, refunds will not be available. Please RSVP early to save your seat- this workshop always goes fast!
Medicinal Incense Workshop - September 14 @ 5pm
Join Herbalist Josh Williams for a hands-on, super messy exploration of medicinal incense!
In this class we'll learn about the history, traditions, and applications of incense as herbal medicine, then get busy creating our own hand-rolled herbal incense joss sticks made entirely of botanicals.
Saturday September 14
5pm - 7pm
We'll cover many of the best therapeutic herbs to use in incense, talk about recipes and formulas, learn about commercial incense, and finish the event with a magical incense ceremony.
This is a small class to afford space for everyone to create. Please RSVP early to save your spot.