Archeologists have found evidence of ancient incense in many forms and in nearly every culture. Incense seems to have been used extensively in the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Arabia, Egypt, India, Greece and Rome. Historians have also found references to incense in ancient texts such as the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh and even in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible! Remember that one of the gifts that the three wise men from the east brought to honor the baby Jesus was...you guessed it...incense! We know that incense was first brought to China by a monk around 200 CE and that by the Tang dynasty (618 - 607), incense was in common use and no longer restricted to religious or medical practice. Stick incense was developed in China during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Around this time, the art of making incense became highly developed in Japan where it became so popular that entire schools were devoted to the art, or Koh-Do, 'the way of incense'. Among their other incense accomplishments, the Japanese invented the cone form of incense popular today and introduced this form at the World's Fair in Chicago in the late 1800s. The principle of making incense combines aromatic ingredients and a flame or heat source. Typically, the ingredients are ground into a powder and then ignited to release the aroma. Some herbal incense is not powder fine, and more closely resembles loose-leaf tea. Powdered ingredients may be bound together by a neutral material in order to form sticks or other shapes. In addition to making the incense easier to handle, the binding agent allows the incense to burn more slowly and evenly. Modern fans of incense use it for many purposes, including some of the ancient ones. Incense has played a large part in the resurgence of aromatherapy and proponents of this alternative healing modality believe that certain aromas have beneficial effects on body and mind. Lavender for example is associated with a calming effect.
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