The Everyday Lore Project

13 June 2020 – Incense

13 June 2020 – Incense

Today I made some incense. It’s St Antony of Padua’s Day which has nothing to do with incense and everything to do with lost things. It’s said that if you ask St Antony to find something misplaced, you will. Except I couldn’t think of anything I’d lost. It’s also the 98th anniversary of the start of Charles Osbourne’s record breaking 68 year bout of the hiccups. But I couldn’t make myself hiccup to try out a cure either. I did swallow an awful lot of air, tickled my inner ear with hair, and ate my lunch very quickly, but to no avail. And not forgetting WB Yeat’s birthday. He was fascinated by the occult and magic, producing almost 4000 pages of automatic writing. But I’ve already done that. So I made incense.

There are a lot of methods, some involving essential oils, others using pre-made sticks, and a lot of them needing a gum or a resin. Instead I found one that I could crib from my kitchen cupboard, adding some marshmallow root to glue it all together. The website had several recipes, so I mixed and matched, deciding on rosemary (helps with ‘stupidness’ according to Culpeper), juniper (lifts moods and good with snake bites), and lavender (might see off the sodding boomerang moths). The marshmallow is said to be good for ‘torments of the belly’ and ‘swellings of the privities’, Culpeper again, although I shall just be burning it. It shan’t be applied anywhere, this isn’t Goop, you know.

Not for one second did I think about using a pestle and mortar to pound everything to powder. Life is far too short. They all went in the grinder. The rosemary was quite tough and the marshmallow got all tufty and fluffy, but it was all done in a relative trice. I had a sniff of the marshmallow, not having smelled it before. It’s a treacly, Soreen kind of smell, very fruity and a bit malty, rich. Not at all what I was expecting. 

Then came the mixing. Using a pipette I dropped in some water. My mixture didn’t look anything like the pictures, far too much texture. It did smell really lovely though. I so want this to work. Once it was sticking together, although not like a dough as per the recipe, I shaped it into cones. There was supposed to be enough mixture for 10-12, but I made four chunky ones instead. Maybe I should have asked St Anthony to find my patience. And now they’re drying, ready to be tried out in about 5-7 days. Woo hoo! They’re already scenting up a storm. From a distance, it’s all about the juniper, but closer to, the lavender takes over, with rosemary as the base note. So I’ll either be craving gin or falling asleep. But given that rosemary is supposed to ‘quicken the senses and memory’ (Coles), maybe this is a little homage to St Antony after all…

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Coles, W (1657) Adam in Eden, or, Natures paradise: the history of plants, fruits, herbs and flowers, London, John Streater

Cooper, Q. and Sullivan, P. (1994) Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: 366 Days of British Myths, Customs & Eccentricities, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Culpeper (1995) Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, Ware, Wordsworth Editions Ltd

Hazlitt, W.C. (1995) The Dictionary of Faiths and Folklore, Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, London, Bracken Books

Simpson, J. and Roud, S. (2001) Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Vickery, R. (2019) Vickery’s Folk Flora, An A-Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Published by Liza Frank

Author of My Celebrity Boyfriend. Obsessed with hula hooping, sons of preachermen and fresh dates, sometimes all at the same time. Curator of Folklore Agony and The Everyday Lore Project.

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