After making arrangements to go to an Asian supermarket with my mother, I thought I would check my tea cupboard to see if there was anything that needed to be replaced. After clambering onto the counter in order to reach into the back, imagine my surprise and chagrin when I pulled out a bag of sencha that had to have been at least five years old! Certainly undrinkable, I was pondering what I would do with it. A few thoughts went through my head, but most of my current projects would need non-stale tea or herbs. Finally, my husband made a recommendation: Incense!

Incense is a perfect use for older herbs. While most of the health benefits fade with age, they usually still SMELL delightful! Many of my older herb stock ends up in my incense-making supplies. Thus I set out to make an incense with a sencha base.

Incense charcoal, already lit, in a ceramic bowl full of sand.
Tongs are highly recommended for handling hot coals. Cat lighter is optional.

Rather than deal with the hassle of using sticking agents, accelerants, shaping or dipping, and drying, I keep it simple and make loose incense. Loose incense is easy to burn by sprinkling onto hot charcoal, of which there are many indoor-safe options. For making this incense, I used a quick-light incense charcoal.

The first question I had to answer was: What does sencha smell like when burning? I threw a small amount into my mortar and pestle and ground it into a powder, then onto the charcoal it went. I admit, I was expecting a clean or astringent aroma and was surprised that it actually had a lot of depth, with an after-smell reminiscent of matcha. Pawing through my herbs to find what I felt would mix well, I gave a few a quick sniff to assess before finally settling on lavender and benzoin.

Lavender is — of course — a well-known powerhouse when it comes to herbal benefits. Studies have even shown that inhaling the oil has a relaxing effect (source). It’s also very widely used in bath and body products of every type for its sweet, intoxicating floral scent.

Benzoin, on the other hand, is a resin made from tree bark that is very commonly used in incense around the world for its heavy, sweet, vanilla-like aroma (source).

After grinding the sencha and lavender together, I sprinkled a generous amount of benzoin powder over the mixture and ground it a little longer. After sprinkling a little onto the charcoal, I added more sencha and lavender and ground some more. I continued like this, grinding and periodically checking the smell and making adjustments. The final thing I did was add more lavender that I mixed in without grinding. Strange as it sounds, lavender smells differently whether ground or unground, as grinding it releases the oils to mix with the other ingredients. While sitting in a sealed container long enough will cause the oils to infuse and “settle in”, adding the un-ground lavender means I can enjoy the fragrance now! And I did, adding more powder to the charcoal, fanning gently with a hand fan to spread the aromatic smoke toward my husband so he could enjoy it as well.

Unfortunately, I can’t really share the exact recipe considering the haphazard way that I mixed this incense. But with only three ingredients, it wouldn’t be too difficult to mix to your own tastes. And trust me: It’s a delightful sweet, floral, vanilla-like, matcha-finish incense!

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