The Chronicle

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Incense

This week, Tetra launches a bounty of fragrant (and appealingly packaged, of course) scents for the home: Three stick incense blends (and a Big Sur-inspired candle) from the SoCal studio Norden, and cedar incense ropes and Palo Santo from Brooklyn design duo Fredericks & Mae. (They join Cinnamon Projects' bewitching, bestselling sticks, above.) To celebrate their arrival, here, seven fun facts about incense, a substance that has played an important role in cultures throughout history—and has never looked (or smelled) better.

The use of incense, both for aromatherapy and for religious or spiritual purposes, dates back to prehistoric times. The ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, the Indus civilization, and the dynasties of ancient China engaged in the practice.

Samurai warriors would smudge their helmets and armor with incense to achieve an aura of invincibility.

In China, incense was used as a timekeeping device. 

The signature aroma of Palo Santo develops only after a tree has fallen and lain dead for several years. Shamans believe that the spirit of the tree continues to live on long after it is felled, and that trees felled by lightning make especially potent Palo Santo sticks.

Palo Santo trees grow in groups of one male and eight females.

Frankincense, an aromatic resin from the Boswellia genus of trees used in incense, has been shown to alleviate anxiety and depression in mice.

A Japanese study found that people exposed to incense showed an uptick in brain activity.