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Ancestral Herbalism and Samhain: Working Deeply with Rosemary

Rosemary from the Plant Spirit Oracle

Rosemary Card from the Plant Spirit Oracle

As we quickly approach Samhain, it is a useful practice to spend some time with rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and build her into your Samhain practices. In this post, we look into some of the magic and medicine of Rosemary, and I share a number of ancestor and Samhain-focused practices that you can use with Rosemary.


An Ancestral Ally of Humans: History, Medicine, Magic

Before we get into what you can make or do with rosemary, let’s spend some time exploring and understanding this ancient herb. Rosemary has been with humanity almost as long as we have written records. Native to the mediterranean region, rosemary was first found referenced on cuineform tablets from Ancient Egypt that are from 5000 BCE–thus, humanity has at least an 8000 year old relationship with this herb (but I suspect it is much longer than our written history!). It was spread to China as early as the 2nd century CE, and to Europe in the middle ages.  It came to North America and South America in the 1700s and now has global reach.


The “officinalis” in Rosemary’s latin name indicates that this was an herb used as of the materia medica in ancient Rome and beyond. While Linneaus in the 18th century came up with the Latin taxonomy of naming plants, and thus gave Rosemary her official “officinalis” designation, the uses of this plant go back quite further.  In fact, the term “rosemary” derives from Latin, ros marinus (“dew of the sea”).  Even the word itself has a wonderful history.


Rosemary has been considered by many cultures as a sacred herb tied to memory and remembrance, and love. This was certainly known in Ancient Greece and Rome as well as in much of the other cultures in the Mediterranean, where rosemary was used both for weddings (in the form of sprigs or wreaths) as well as for funerals to honor the dead.  It is burned as incense, used in cooking, used as medicine and used in funeral ceremonies–a tradition that continues to modern times in Australia and other nations. Thus, you might say that Rosemary is an ally to us both in life, and in death.

Rosemary in flower

Grieve speaks of the different rosemary customs in her entry in A Modern Herbal, particularily surrounding memory and rememberance. This is a common and well known use, such as represented in Ophelia’s line in Hamlet, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.”  Many herbalists recognize the usefulness of rosemary both for strengthening the memory, but also working with us a plant spirit ally in helping us remember. Memory can be a fickle thing this day and age, especially with phones rather than our minds and hearts doing the rememberance.  Rosemary, thus, is a potent ally for us, particularly at Samhain when reflecting back, honoring the past, and honoring those who came before us is central. 


Rosemary is also an incredible herbal ally. Pliny the Elder was one of the first to write of Rosemary and its many uses.  Modern herbalists recognize rosemary as useful both as an essential oil as well in its plant forms.  Every part of the plant can be used medicinally. Both the oil and the herb can be used as a carminitive, that is, offering beneficial and healing action on the digestive system and aiding in the reduction of gas and digestion of food (in fact, you will find that many culinary herbs aren’t just for taste, but have these same kinds of actions–which is probably why they were traditionally used in cooking!)   Rosemary, in tea or tincture form, can also be used to help calm the nerves.   Finally, rosemary is very useful in a hair wash to strengthen the hair and encourage new hair growth (I use a vinegar infused with rosemary often!)  Research has also shown that rosemary oil can be used to increase alertness and cognitive function, which is pretty cool!


There’s a lot more that could be said about rosemary’s virtues, but I think you get the idea–Rosemary is an amazing Samhain herb for so many reasons.  So let’s get to some of the stuff you can make and do with rosemary as a focal herb for this time of year.



Rosemary Smudges and Incense

Rosemary smudge for ancestor altar

Rosemary (on its own or combined with other herbs) make fantastic herbs for doing any kind of memory work or clearing work. Make sure you use fresh rosemary for your smudge stick making–dried rosemary is brittle and easily falls off the branch. I usually gather up rosemary in the weeks before hard frost (for me in Western Pennsylvania on the US East Coast, this is usually 1-2 weeks before Samhain arrives).  Some I save for culinary use, and the rest I use in smudge stick making. I have full details for how to make your own smudges and a list of recipes for smudges. For Samhain, and ancestor work, I like the following combinations:

  • Rosemary (alone) for deep ancestor work or memory work (such as working with the ancient art of memory mansions, etc)
  • Rosemary, Lavender, and Mugwort for deep dreaming work (which is best done between Samhain and Imbolc)
  • Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme for helping me shift my energies from the light half to the dark half of the year, and accept the frost and cold that is to come.

If you are growing rosemary itself, don’t overlook the roots as another useful part of the plant for incense and smudges–it has a more woody and deep aroma and is excellent!

Rosemary Oil for Visioning and Past Life Work

You can construct an herbal oil using rosemary leaf and rosemary essential oil that excellent.  I like to use a combination of rosemary and borage for this work, but you can use other plant combinations.  To make your oil, crush fresh or dried rosemary and borage and place in a small mason jar.  Cover the jar with fractionated coconut oil (prefered over olive oil for this recipe, but you could also use almond or olive oil–whatever you have around).  Wait 1 week (for fresh herbs) or one moon cycle (for dried herbs) and then strain.  For a bit of added punch, add rosemary essential oil (2% dilution, or about 10-15 drops per cup of oil).

Keep your rosemary oil in an oil roller or jar and rub on your temples and heart for any kind of visioning or past life work.  It also doubles as an excellent “memory” oil for wanting to jog the memory or wanting to hold something important in your memory and not lose it.


Rosemary Tea for Tea with the Ancestors

One of my very favorite Samhain traditions is to invite my ancestors to tea.  For this, I typically make a tea of three herbs: rosemary, lavender, and mugwort (small amount of mugwort because it can be bitter) and I sweeten it with honey.  To make the tea, boil water, add your herbs (about 1/2 tbsp of herbs per cup of tea), let seep for 5-10 min, and then strain and stir in your honey.


The ritual is simple and can be performed anytime around Samhain (I like to do this Samhain eve).  To set up the ritual, you will need a teapot and two teacups and candles.  I start by  then light a candle and leave it in my western window (also traditional).  I light candles around my space and place a blanket on the floor for me to sit on.  You should also have a large empty bowl.


To begin the ritual, I open up a sacred space (using AODA’s Solitary Grove ritual) and when opening the space, indicate that the sacred space is traversable by any ancestor who wishes to visit.  I then pour myself a cup of tea and wait. When an ancestor arrives, I likewise pour them tea and we sit and converse using spirit communication techniques (if you haven’t yet honed your skill in this area, a divination system like an oracle deck would work great).  After we are done conversing, the ancestor has taken their tea energetically.  I then pour it into the bowl and see if another ancestor wants to come and have tea.  I have met many fascinating ancestors this way–of land, tradition, blood, and bone.


Samhain Cooking with Rosemary

Samhain is one of my favorite times to really “cook” for a festival, particularly cakes, breads, and other doughy goodness.

If you are lucky enough to have chestnut flour available (which you can create yourself if you have access to some chestnuts), this is an amazing cake for Samhain that combines rosemary with the hopeful and strong chestnut.

For those who aren’t off hoarding and cracking chestnuts, I highly recommend this rosemary bread that you can make in a dutch oven.


Concluding Thoughts

Rosemary is such a powerful and potent plant ally for us, particularly at Samhain.  Dear readers, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences with Rosemary.  Let me know if you try anything here!

Sacred Tree Profile: Juniper’s Medicine, Magic, Mythology and Meanings

Here on the East Coast of the USA, we are still in deep winter. Soon, the maples will be flowing.  Soon, the winter snows will melt.  Soon, spring will return.  But until that time, the conifers, particularly offer strength and wisdom.  One of my favorite conifers is Juniper, also known as Eastern Red Cedar.  It is delightful to come across a wild juniper in the winter months, with her sweet and pine-scented berries and her delightful sprigs that offer friendship and hope through the darkest times.  So come with me today as we explore the sacred Juniper tree.

Juniper here on the land

Juniper here on the land

This post is part of my Sacred Trees in the Americas series, where I explore sacred trees within a specifically American context, drawing upon folklore, herbalism, magic, and more!  I think it’s particularly important that US druids and those following other nature-based paths in North America understand how the trees here might be different and just as magical as traditional European trees.  So this series does just that–providing research and insight on the many trees here in the US East Coast.  Previous trees in this series include Birch, Elder, Walnut, Eastern White Cedar, Hemlock, Sugar Maple, Hawthorn, Hickory, Beech, Ash, White Pine, and Oak. Let’s delve into the magic, medicine, and mythology of the Juniper tree!


In Eastern North America, our dominant Juniper variety is Juniperus virginiana, also known as Eastern Red Cedar. Other names for Juniper include red juniper, baton rouge, pencil cedar, savin, or just cedar. Despite being called a Cedar, Juniper is actually in the cypress family, offering different kinds of needles (which are technically leaves)-very sharp, pointed, and prickly when they are young, and flattened, scale like, and overlapping as they age. These older needles are reminiscent of Eastern White Cedar, perhaps this is why the two are sometimes both called cedar.

According to John Eastman, Juniper is a long and slow growing tree.  It can live 200-300 years, and prefers open fields and other sunny locations. Junipers can produce cones starting between age 10 and age 25; some trees bear female cones and other trees bear male cones and the cones are wind pollinated. The tree is not very shade tolerant, so needs the sun in order to thrive. According to Grimm, Junipers can grow up to 30-40 feet high with a trunk diameter of 1-2 feet. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Juniper that large here in PA, as it is often instead found on dry or rocky soils, on limestone outcroppings or soils, and in abandoned fields. Unlike many conifers, Juniper cannot handle fire and can’t rehabilitate or re-establish after fire-burned sites.  However, Juniper is great at helping repopulate what are often called “wastelands” – overfarmed and abandoned fields, old gravel pits, and the like. At a distance, the Juniper tree looks like a flame, blazing up on the landscape–they are easy to spot and since they are conifers, they stay green year-round.

In the summer, you might come across a Juniper that looks more like an alien, with strange orange tentacles coming out of it everywhere! I remember the first time I saw this and I had no idea what i was seeing! Turns out it is the Cedar apple fungi (G. Juniperi-virginianae), which is largely harmless to the Juniper but which infect apple and hawthorn trees with a gymnosporagium rust. The rust is very detrimental to harvests of both apple and hawthorn, meaning that many who have orchards prefer to cut Junipers down rather than let them grow and possibly carry the rust.  You can tell whether or not a Juniper is infected with the rust–it will have large brown galls on it on the outer branches that have small holes within them, almost looking like potholes all over the gall. The orange alien-like tentacles come out of the nodules to spread the rust once a year–quite a sight to behold!

Dried delightful juniper berries!

Dried delightful juniper berries!

Juniper produces leaf litter that is high in calcium, creating slightly alkali soil (as compared to most conifers, whose leaf litter produces a more acidic soil).  Because of the increase in calcium, it is also an excellent place to find earthworms if, say, you wanted to go fishing.  Here in Western PA, we have particularly acidic soil, almost too acidic, so juniper leaf litter is very useful for helping bring the acidity back into balance.

Further, almost 90 different birds feed on the fruit of Juniper, Birds help disperse the seeds, which require cold stratification to sprout.  Others who eat the delicious fruit include chipmunks, mice, and opossums, voles, coyotes, red squirrels, and foxes. In the late winter, you will often see multiple species feeding on a juniper tree when there is little else to be found!

Regenerating Damaged Landscapes

Juniper is quite good at growing in thin or depleted soils, or soils that are polluted.  This makes it a critical tree for replanting and regeneration of the land, particularly in the rust belt region of the USA.  In the Rust Belt, three centuries of heavy mining activity has left a lot of boney dumps and other kinds of wastelands–places where there is only shale, no soil, and it gets hot and its hard for any plants or trees to take root. Thus, we often see this tree planted as part of replanting efforts after mining efforts; the tree’s roots help hold back erosion and over time, build soil, and slowly regenerate the land.  I’ve been to areas where there are hundreds of acres of juniper and scrub pine (pinus virginiana) and little else. Eventually, these two trees will help replant the entire landscape, but for now, I’m glad there is *something* that can grow there and begin nature’s healing process.

Juniper Berries and Wood Uses

The heartwood of Juniper is a beautiful red, with the outer wood going to cream or white, making it a highly sought after wood for a variety of woodworking endeavors.  This includes making “cedar” chests and other furniture as well as using it for decorative wood paneling. A lot of pencils are made from the Juniper wood; you might remember those nice smelling #2 pencils from your childhood! “Oil of Cedar” which is frequently used in polishes, medicines, and perfumes is distilled from the leaves and the wood of the Juniper tree.  The inner bark has also been used to make a reddish dye–it is a very beautiful dark red and just delightful.

Mortar and pestle use for mixing up incense with Juniper!

Mortar and pestle use for mixing up incense with Juniper!

Probably the most famous use of Juniper berries is for flavoring Gin. Juniper berries are used for flavoring in many contexts. Juniper oils in the foliage are toxic in higher doses, so the berries are used almost exclusively for this purpose

Juniper berries are ripe when they are a dark purple/black, often with a white residue on the surface.  You can eat them throughout the late summer and into the late winter, and on an abundant and mature juniper, the tree can produce hundreds.  They do contain a center seed, which you want to remove, so you are essentially nibbling on the fruit on the outside of the seed (which is like a thin skin).

You can do a variety of wonderful things with the juniper berry, and wild foraged ones are oh-so-good!  One of my favorite things to do is to make an infused vodka by taking a nice high-quality vodka and putting in a good handful of berries.  Let macerate for a month, and you have this delightful beverage to share with friends.  Another favorite of mine is including them in a tea, particularly with nettle leaf, mint, and oatstraw.

Tarot of Trees Incense with Juniper Berry

I developed this incense recipe as the perfect complement for the Tarot of Trees. This incense blend is a non-combustible powdered incense blend that you will need to burn on a charcoal block. Charcoal blocks can be purchased at most metaphysical stores and also online. You will need a mortar and pestle to grind your ingredients and tin or jar to keep the incense dry and fresh. The recipe is as follows:

  • 2 parts frankincense
  • 2 parts sandalwood (powdered)
  • 1 part cinnamon (powdered)
  • 1⁄4 part sweet orange Essential Oil
  • 1 part juniper berries (dried or fresh, see below)
  • 1⁄2 part lemongrass (dried)
  • 1⁄2 part yarrow (dried)

In a mortar and pestle, powder your frankincense as finely as possible. Combine the frankincense with the sandalwood and cinnamon until blended. Set aside. In the mortar and pestle, crush the juniper berries. They will be fairly easy to crush if they are dried. If they are fresh, freeze them for 30 min or more and then crush them–they will crush much easier. Crush your lemongrass and yarrow separately. Combine all ingredients, including sweet orange essential oil, in the mortar and pestle and blend thoroughly. Enjoy!

Herbalism and Juniper

Juniper has been used in multiple traditions (western, TCM, Ayurveda) as a blood tonic and blood purifier.  In folk herbalism, it was considered a “fall tonic” plant, to compliment Dandelion and other spring tonics, and would be used to help support the kidneys and “clear” or “thicken” the blood.  What this essentially means is that in both spring and fall, our bodies need to prepare for the extremes: the heat of the summer sun and the work of planting and harvest, and the cold of the winter with less food and activity. Juniper, as a fall tonic plant (along with Sassafras and Sarsaparilla) helps prepare us for the cold of the winter.  Most of the fall tonics are warming and are said to “thicken” the blood (in folk herbal terms) so that you will stay warm and healthy during the winter.

Translating that folk wisdom into modern herbal practice, we know that Juniper has a diuretic action on the kidneys, meaning it helps flush the kidneys through urine production.  Stagnation is one of the worst things you can have in terms of the body, and keeping the kidneys moving and healthy is key to a healthy elimination system.  Juniper is a wonderful complement to that system, along with a number of other herbs such as dandelion leaf and nettle.

Juniper also has strong anti-inflammatory action, with at least three specific chemical constituents that help reduce inflammation in the body, and it is often taken for this purpose as well.

Magic of the Juniper in the European and Western Traditions

In the Western Esoteric traditions, Juniper has a long history of use, particularly tied to the work of fire, as a purification herb, and as something used to drive away disease. Its interesting always to see how the herbal wisdom ties to the magical uses and practices surrounding plants–and we can certainly see that at play with Juniper. We’ll now consider some of these uses:

John Michael Greer in the Encyclopedia of Natural Magic suggests that Juniper is tied to the element of fire, with its astrological aspects being Mars in Aries (can’t get much more fiery than that!) Juniper was traditionally used in spells to get back property that was stolen and as a deterrent to theft. It was also used in purification rites, as it both helps purify and drive away lingering spirits. We can see this from its use in the Key of Solomon (which lists Juniper as a herb tied to invocations of Saturn). The purification uses of Juniper go back to the Greeks, who burned it and to the Egyptians, who used it both medicinally and to embalm their dead.

Amazing cultivated miniature juniper tree

Amazing cultivated miniature juniper tree; it is often used as a bonsai

Culpepper suggests that the Juniper is a “solar shrub” and the berries are hot in the 3rd degree and dry in the first degree.  He notes that they were used as a counter poison, against venom and other kinds of poison.  He also notes that they are “as great a resister of the pestilence, as any growing.”

Juniper seems to have a connection to animal purification as well. In Scotland, a tradition developed of fumigating animals, barns, and homes to prevent disease.  In “A Journey in Southern Siberia” Jeremiah Curtin (1909) describes how the Siberian Shamans used the smoke of juniper to purify animals prior to their sacrifice.


A book specializing in lore from Italy, “Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition” (1892) from Charles Godfrey Leland describes a charm.  In the book, a woman has a beautiful baby and it is attacked by a cat; she believes this attack was caused by witches.  She creates a charm to protect her child, and that charm includes the protection of the juniper berry, along with the cat’s hair, frankincense, cumin, salt, bread crumbs, iron filings, and much more.

Magic of the Juniper in North American Contexts

In an North American context, Juniper has uses in folk magic, hoodoo, and Braucherei, particularly surrounding getting back stolen property. Juniper is used in Hoodoo, and is interchangeable with any other Cedar.  It is used, according to Cat Yronwode’s Hoodoo Root and Herb Magic, when a “benevolent power” is needed for various activities: to rent one’s home, to get someone to move away (like a neighbor), or to get your love to move with you.  This same kind use of Juniper can be seen in Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Magic, or Braucherei, as described in Long Lost Friend by John George Hopman.  In one particular charm, a juniper tree is used to help get the Thief to return stolen goods.  In this case, the tree is bent towards the rising sun with the left hand in a kind of sympathetic magic (which is a lot of what Braucherei is). As the Braucher bends down the tree and ties it fast as part of the magic, the magic will bend will of the thief to return the stolen goods. Finally, Juniper berries in Hoodoo are also used for romance and sexuality-oriented workings.

In some Native American legends, juniper berries are featured prominently as nutritious food important to the people.  This is the case of the the Hopi Legend Balolookongwuu and the Coyote, as well as the Apache legend, Turkey makes the Corn and Coyote Plants it.  Another Hopi Legend notes that Juniper is one of the chiefs of the world.  In one Navajo legend, Juniper helps two monster slayers overcome noxious vapors from a monster that they killed. They chew on the juniper and it offers them recovery. In a Blackfoot Legend, Sacred Otter, it describes an altar to the sun, with juniper laid upon it. In one of my favorite Seneca legends, one I’ve written about on the blog before, the Junipers are one of the many conifers who stand against old man winter and bring the return of spring.

Juniper’s Magic and Meanings

To summarize, Juniper, particularly through her wood and berries, is an absolutely wonderful tree with a wide range of uses.  In terms of overall meanings in a North American context, we might summarize with the following:

Juniper here on the land ...

Juniper here on the land …

Juniper is about warmth and fire. Juniper helps warm people up and is a strong fire-dominant tree, suggesting many associations with fire: passion, energy, warmth, and the sun.

Juniper offers hope in dark times.  Juniper’s berries have long been a staple through the darkest of winters, and I see this both physically and metaphorically.  Culturally, we are in a period of darkness, and trees like Juniper can help see us through.

Juniper offers regeneration and bringing things back. Juniper’s ability to grow in places few other trees can demonstrate that this tree is a true land healer, offering us hope in these dark times and sharing the critical message of the healing power of nature. I also think this is tied to its sympathetic magic uses in the American magical traditions–Juniper helps bring things back.

Dear readers, I hope you enjoyed this exploration of the juniper tree!  I would love to hear any stories or additional insights about the Juniper tree that you are willing to share. Blessings of the Juniper!

Incense Recipies for Druids and those doing Druidic Studies

Extruding Incense sticks

Extruding Incense sticks

Incenses for Druids

The following recopies are most appropriate for druidic work, or those engaging in reading, study, grove leading, serious ritual work, or other work.  I also have posted an introduction to incense making as well as recipes for bards and ovates.


I suggest growing and/or wildharvesting as much of your ingredients as you possibly can (ethically, of course). This allows not only for more sustainable incense making, but also for you to work with the energies of the plants throughout the process.  See my previous post for more information. These recipes were created by myself and members of Crescent Birch Grove; some of them were adapted from other sources (as noted) and the rest are fully original creations.  I hope you enjoy!


Notes: Cone/stick incenses form a incense clay that you can then shape into cones, sticks, spirals etc.  They need about a week to two weeks of drying time before you use them.  If your incense doesn’t burn, or won’t stay burning after lit, it needs more woody materials (base materials).  Please see my earlier post for more details.  Powder incenses must be burnt on a charcoal block; they will not burn by themselves.


 Incense for Intellectual Purposes

An incense for reading, writing, focus, and serious study.

  • 1/2 part sassafras root (dried and ground) (success)
  • 1 part juniper berries (strength, fire, will, communication)
  • 1 part sage (air, communication, intellectual freedom, wisdom)
  • 2 parts benzoin (air)
  • 1 part frankincense (courage, focus)
  • Orange essential oil (several drops, to your preference) (physical energy, purification)

Grind up all ingredients and add essential oil last.


Druid Grove Incense (powder)

An energy-raising incense appropriate for grove work.

  • 4 parts frankincense
  • 4 parts myrrh
  • 2 parts benzoin
  • 1 part sandalwood
  • ½ part cinnamon
  • ½ part rosemary
  • ½ part bay
  • ½ part yarrow or vervain
  • ½ part white willow


Focus Incense (Cone/Stick)

For clearing the mind, grounding, and focusing for various activities. This is really nice for reading and study as well as discursive meditation

  • ½ part vanilla essential oil (empowering, mental powers)
  • ½ part violet (peace, protection)
  • ½ part lavenar (peace, purification)
  • ½ part Cedar (removing negativity, spirituality)
  • ½ part Vervain (grounding, earth-based for calming)
  • 4 parts Makko (binder/base)  (you can use 4 parts cedar + 1 part guar gum if you don’t have Makko)
  • Use vanilla brandy to put it together if you have it, if not, water will work fine (water)


Unblocking Incense (powder)

Incense to unblock you and get you moving forward.

  • 1 part pine resin (I use scotts pine I gather locally)
  • 1 part benzoin
  • 2 parts dragon’s blood resin
  • 3 drops sweet orange essential oil (1 part = 1 teaspoon, add more if you are using a larger part measure)
  • 1 part frankincense
  • 1 part cedar


Honoring Spirits and Guides Incense (Cone/Stick)

This incense was formulated for regular burning in honor of spirit guides and spirits of the land. 

  • 6 parts sandalwood (spirituality)
  • 1 part lavender (raise and summon spirits)
  • 1 part thyme (for nature spirits)
  • 1 part sassafras bark (for connection to the land; substitute bark appropriate for your area)
  • 1 part frankincense (offering itself)
  • 1 pinch agrimony (druid herb, protection for spirits)
  • 1 part guar gum (binder)
  • Ritual water for binding (should be water that has been consecrated or used in a ritual space.  Our grove has a yearly Imbloc ritual that combines waters, so we usually make our incense from this water).


Mixing cone incenase

Mixing cone incense

Wealth of Vision Incense (powder)

For seeing in multiple ways and on multiple realms.

  • 3 parts red cedar
  • 2 parts cinnamon
  • 3 parts eyebright
  • 2 parts mugwort
  • 2 parts lemongrass
  • 2 parts dandelion
  • 2 parts orange peel
  • 2 parts sandalwood
  • 12 drops apple blossom essential oil (assuming 1 teaspoon = 1 part)

Incense Recipies for Ovates and those doing Ovate Studies

Incenses for Ovates

The following recopies are most appropriate for ovate work, or those engaging in divination, mysteries, and other spiritual pursuits.  I also have posted an introduction to incense making as well as recipes for bards and druids.

I suggest growing and/or wildharvesting as much of your ingredients as you possibly can (ethically, of course). This allows not only for more sustainable incense making, but also for you to work with the energies of the plants throughout the process.  See my previous post for more information. These recipes were created by myself and members of my grove; some of them were adapted from other sources (as noted) and the rest are fully original creations.  I hope you enjoy!

Notes: Cone/stick incenses form a incense clay that you can then shape into cones, sticks, spirals etc.  They need about a week to two weeks of drying time before you use them.  If your incense doesn’t burn, or won’t stay burning after lit, it needs more woody materials (base materials).  Please see my earlier post for more details.  Powder incenses must be burnt on a charcoal block; they will not burn by themselves.


Incense in progress

Incense in progress

Tree Divination (Ovate) Recipe (Powder)
This is a recipe I created for use with the Tarot of Trees. Its also an all around wonderful smelling and working for any kind of divination or psychic work.

  • 1 part frankincense (powdered)
  • 1 part red sandalwood (powdered)
  • 1 part cinnamon
  • 1 part crushed juniper berries
  • 1/10th part sweet orange essential oil (or to your scent preference)
  • ½ part lemongrass (or less)
  • ½ part yarrow (or less)

Powder the frankincense and juniper berries separately first. Resins are tricky to powder–a circular motion works best.  Juniper berry likewise can be tricky–sticking it in the freezer for about 20 min makes it way easier to make smaller – it doesn’t really ever “powder” completely.  Once you have those two ingredients prepared, add the rest of the ingredients except the essential oil.  Add the oil after the rest and grind well.  Best made around Beltane or Samhuinn, as this is when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest.


Tree Divination (Cone Incense)

This is a very similar recipe to the one above, but this one is combustible, so it burns on its own and does not need a charcoal block.

  • 1/8 part yarrow – powdered
  • ¼ part lemongrass powder
  • 1 part frankincense
  • 2 parts sandalwood powder
  • Tiny bit of sweet orange oil
  • ½ part pine resin
  • 8 parts Makko (can replace with 1 part gwar gum and increase sandalwood powder to 6 parts)


Spirit Guide Incense

An incense for working with and honoring spirit guides and totem animals.

  • 3 parts frankincense
  • 2 parts sandalwood
  • 1 part pine/conifer resin
  • 2 parts sweetgrass
  • 1 part sage
  • 1 part pine needles (white pine works well)
  • ½ part white willow
  • ½ part sassafras root
  • 1 part cedar
  • 1 part lemongrass
  • 1 part lavender essential oil


Healing Incense #1 (cone/stick)

An incense that Reiki Master Briel created for use with Reiki healing sessions.

  • 7 parts sandalwood
  • 1 part myrrh
  • 1 part Juniper Berry
  • 1/3 part peppermint
  • 1 part guar gum binder
  • 6 parts water (preferably rain water)


Dreaming of What May Come Incense (Powder)

To encourage prophetic dreams.

  • 1 part mugwort
  • 1 part hyssop
  • 1 part canadula flower / marigold
  • 3 parts osha root
  • 3 parts dragon blood
  • 3 drops lavender
  • 7 drops orange oil

Based on a ½ teaspoon part (for oils).


Earth Liberation and Happy Trees Incense

This incense was formulated to burn to help lift sadness and anger from the land; to replace it with peace and happiness. 

  • 4 parts sandalwood – protection, wishes, healing
  • 2 parts lavender oil – when mixed with sandalwood, used to conjure good spirits
  • 3 parts cinnamon – healing
  • Pinch vervain – protection, purification, peace, healing
  • Pinch daisy – happy spirits
  • Pinch Thyme
  • 2 parts red amber powder
  • 1 pinch diamana
  • 1 pinch hibiscus
  • 2 parts dragon’s blood
  • 4 parts makko (or replace with 1 part guar gum, 3 parts sandalwood)


Red Moon Incense (Incense for Women’s Magical Work)

Created for some wonderful women in my life!

  • 3 parts sandalwood – moon energies, spirituality, meditation, protection, wishes
  • 1 part frankenscense – spirituality and meditation
  • 2 parts cedar – enhances spirituality
  • 1 part myrrh – healing, enhancing spirituality, meditation
  • ¼ part milkweed – draws moon, faeries, protection, dreams, divination
  • ½ part anise – protection purification, call forth spirits to aid in magical operations
  • 1 part ginger (powdered)
  • ¼ part eyebright
  • 1 part guar gum
  • Wine for mixing it up? (This made it smell weird, so maybe its not for everyone).

Ancestor Incense

For communing or working with your ancestors.

  • Graveyard pine or Yew (pinch); (e.g. some confier gathered in a graveyard or other sacred space where the spirits may be near)
  • Cedar  – ½ part
  • Mistletoe – pinch
  • Sandalwood – 1 part
  • Orange Peel – ½ part
  • Copal – 1 part
  • Lavender – ½ part

Healing the Sick Incense (powder)

An incense for healing the sick or purging oneself of illness.

  • 2 parts rosemary – sleep, purification, healing, protection
  • 2 parts osha root – healing
  • 1 part sweetgrass – call positive spirits
  • ½ part juniper
  • Orange oil (to scent level you desire)

Introduction to Incense Making for Druids

Tree Divinition Incense

Tree Divination Incense

The basis of this post is handout I used for the OBOD East Coast Gathering (2011) for my incense making workshop.  I added in additional details based on what we discussed in the workshop, and I wanted to expand upon this handout and provide some info on finding local materials and intentions.

This is an introduction to incense making. If you have never made incense, start here and then see my blog posts on Bardic Incense, Ovate Incense, and Druid Incense for more specific recipes.

Incense in the Druid tradition

Incense-making has a long history in spiritual, religious, and esoteric traditions.  In Druidry, we might use incense to help us enter a deep meditative state for working within our inner groves or to aid in our ritual activities.  Incense crafting itself can be a very personal and spiritual experience.  I use incense in my druidic practice very frequently, usually several times a week.  I have crafted a number of incenses for different purposes, including those for different kinds of work (Bardic Balance, Bardic Creativity, Ovate Divination, Ovate Healing, Druid Focus, Happy Plants, etc.).


Some of the best incense materials (energy and smell-wise) may be local to your area or grown in your garden.  For those that aren’t available locally or able to be grown, there are several good companies online who can sell ingredients.

Wildharvested Ingredients:  In South-East Michigan, I am able to find a variety of materials that can be used for incense recipes.  When you are wildharvesting, make sure you do not take the whole plant, but only a small part enough to allow it to continue to grow.  Only take plants that are numerous–check plants that are on endangered lists in your area and make sure you are taking only well-established species.  I also make it a point to ask and be thankful before I take; the plants and spirits of the land appreciate this. Here are some of my favorite wildcrafted ingredients:

  • Conifer resins.  We have a number of fantastic confiers that produce great resin incense.  White Pine is one of my favorites and produces a wonderful vanilla-pine scent.  Scots pine produces a much more musty scent, still very nice.  To harvest a conifer resin, you can just look for drips from a tree–a freshly trimmed branch will leave a lot of gooey resin; you’ll want this to dry hard before you use it like any other resin.
  • Sassafras Roots: These aromatic roots, when chopped fine, work wonderfully in non-combustible incenses!  Sassafras produces offspring by sending off “runner” trees–so you will likely find a ton of little sassafrass trees very close to a big one.  Usually harvest them by removing the runner shoots that would otherwise not make it.  You can also occasionally find a Sassafrass uprooted by a storm and have as much as you want.
  • Wild Rose Hips: We have many of these wild rose bushes in the yard, and the rose hips are smaller than traditional rose hips, but still wonderful for incense.
  • Yarrow and other wild herbs: A field or edge of a forest can be a wonderful place to find yarrow, nettles, violets, black raspberries, alfalfa, etc.  Many of these make wonderful incense ingredients–usually for their energetic properties rather than their smell :).
  • Juniper Berries: Even in areas it isn’t a native species, you can find juniper as an ornamental shrub or bush.  The berries have a wonderful piney smell that is just irresistible!

Ingredients You Grow: Many ingredients, especially herbs, can be grown in your garden.  You harvest, dry, and preserve these just like you would cooking herbs.  Some commonly used herbs in incense include: bay, sage, rosemary (smells wonderful when burned!), lavender, sweetgrass, lemon balm/mint, and basil.

Ingredients You Purchase:  Depending on where you live, there are a lot of ingredients you simply can’t grow or find–but these ingredients are often crucial to successful incense. You can purchase many incense making ingredients.  I try to purchase most of my ingredients through Mountain Rose Herbs, as they are an ethical and sustainable company.  If you are starting from scratch, a few good ingredients to have on hand are a few wood powders (Red Sandalwood, Cedar, Palo Santo wood), resins (Frankincense, Myrrh, Dragon’s Blood, Copal, Benzoin) and then other assorted herbs depending on your purpose.   Some can also be found at your local grocery store, such as star anise, cinnamon, or nutmeg.


Incense-Making Materials

In addition to materials, you’ll want a few other ingredients on hand.

  • A mortar and pestle is absolutely crucial.   If you are making incense and bulk, a dedicated coffee grinder can also be helpful.  I find it particularly helpful for juniper berries!  But I don’t use it much at all–I prefer the natural grinding of ingredients, which allows you to add your own energies as you work.
  • You also will need a censer and some charcoal blocks.  You can purchase the cheap self-lighting ones, which work fine if you are outdoors (these go most often under the “swift lite” brand).  These ones also really stink, which can reduce your enjoyment of the incense–and make it more difficult to smell the true smell of various ingredients.  If you are inside though, I strongly recommend purchasing pure bamboo charcoal–it has no nasty, carcinogenic smells (like the self-lighting ones have) and is fine for indoor use.  Here’s one such example.  You also need some small measuring spoons. I really like these ones for measuring out incense powders!


Energy and Intention

Before you make incense, you’ll want to think about what your goals are for the incense, and work to build in appropriate energies and intentions into it. If you are making a cleansing incense, you might want to create it during a waning moon; likewise, an incense that aids in balance or grounding might be made at the Fall Equinox.  Same with the actual movements you make in crafting the incense–clockwise motions add a different energy than counter-clockwise. With all things druidic, however, using your intention and experience is best.

Incense measurements

All of the recipes I’m posting here use a “part” as the primary measurement. A part can be anything–a 1/2 teaspoon or 1 teaspoon as a basic “part” works well for most.  If you go larger than that, you are apt to have a lot of incense–probably more than you can use!


Two Types of Incense

Scott Cunningham, in The Complete Book of Incense, Oils, and Brews, identifies two types of incense that you can make.  I think his descriptions are pretty useful.

Non-Combustible:  Non-combustible incenses are those that do not burn on their own and usually come in powder form. They may be resins, dried plants, herbs, flowers, essential oils or mixtures of various ingredients. They must be burned on charcoal blocks. These are easy incenses to make and great for the beginning incense-maker becuase you can have a wide range of experimentation and really create some beautiful blends.

Combustible: Combustible incense, in the form of sticks, cones, and coils, burn on their own without the aid of charcoal blocks.  When you buy incense sticks in the store, they are typical “combustible” incense.  Combustible incense is more challenging to make because it requires that you have a high ratio of burnable substances (8 out of 10 parts including woods or plant materials).   Combustible incenses typically have a base (the burnable wood substance); a binder (that which holds the incense together, typically Guar Gum or Makko); and aromatics.   When making combustible incense, it is very important to get everything powdered as small as possibly.  Large chunks of anything, especially resins, will prevent it from burning properly.

For combustible incense, you want to have 3-4 times more woody base than anything else.  You want to limit your use of resins, because they don’t burn well.  I usually have combustible incense recipes that look like this:

  • 4 parts base (sandalwood, cedar, etc.)
  • 1 part binder (usually guar gum)
  • 2-3 parts aromatics (rosemary, orange peel, etc.)
  • several drops essential oil
  • Enough water to make into a paste

If your combustible incense does not burn after you make it, you can grind it back up and add more woody base.

You can also use an extruder designed for polymer clay to help you roll it out.  I purchased my extruder from a local art supply store.

Two Druidic Incense Recipes

The following two recipes are original creations that I’ve made as part of my druidic work.  They are free to use for your own personal purposes :).

Tree Divination (Ovate) Recipe (Non-Combustible)
This is a recipe I created for use with the Tarot of Trees.  Its also an all around wonderful smelling and working for any kind of divination.

  • 1 part frankincense (powdered)
  • 1 part red sandalwood (powdered)
  • 1 part cinnamon
  • 1 part crushed juniper berries
  • 1/20th part sweet orange essential oil
  • ½ part lemongrass
  • ½ part yarrow

Directions: Powder the frankincense and juniper berries separately first. Resins are tricky to powder–a circular motion works best.  Juniper berry likewise can be tricky–sticking it in the freezer for about 20 min makes it way easier to make smaller – it doesn’t really ever “powder” completely.  Once those two ingredients are ground down, add the remaining ingredients into the mortar and pestle and grind them together.  A Once it is all nice and mixed, add the oil and ground together.  Let sit for a few weeks for the incense scents to meld.

Elemental Balance (Bardic) Recipe (Combustible)

  • 10 parts Cedar (Fire); Base
  • 6 parts Sandalwood (Water); Base
  • 1 part Honeysuckle (Earth); aromatic
  • ½ part lemongrass essential oil (Air); aromatic

To bind:

  • 1 part Guar Gum (Binder) (Guar Gum can be
  • Water to make the incense into a firm dough

Powder all ingredients very, very finely, again, adding the oil at the end of the grinding process.  Once all ingredients are ready, you can add Guar Gum, mixing well. Add enough water to create a firm dough–if you use too much water, you can add more cedar or sandalwood powder.  Once your dough resembles play-dough or sculpey, you can roll out and cut, or shape into small incense cones/blocks/sticks.  Allow it to dry for 2 weeks and then store in a nice container with a piece of quartz.  Quartz represents creativity and spirit!


Once you’ve created your incense, you’ll want to store it in a cool, dark place.  I like to use metal tins (as pictured in the photo above) and add little handmade paper labels to them or else find interesting bottles or tins at a thrift store.  You can also use wooden or glass containers–anything that keeps it sealed and dry.