5 Best Chinese Incense Sticks (Plus 2 Incense Burners)

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Incense is not just a pleasing aroma, it has multiple uses such as aromatherapy, perfumery and spiritual ceremonies. Different types of incense are used for specific purposes. Currently, the most common use of incense is for aromatherapy.

In this post, we will explore the top Chinese incense sticks and burners and discuss the benefits and uses of these products.

The Chinese have used incense sticks for over 4,000 years, both in religious ceremonies and in their homes. Colloquially called ‘joss sticks’, this is in fact an English slang expression taken from the Portuguese word for god, Deos.

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In China incense is known as Xiang.

It has various ingredients, including sandalwood, cassia cinnamon, and camphor. A more unusual material sometimes used is Agarwood, a resin infused wood from the heart of the Aquilaria tree. It has a distinctive smell and is highly prized for incense.

Incense sticks are used in meditation to help relaxation. In Chinese medicine the burning of incense is also said to relieve anxiety, improve sleep quality, release fatigue, and sometimes serve as an insect repellent.

But for most of us, burning incense sticks does not necessarily have to have traditional religious or medicinal uses.

They can be used in the home as a type of aromatherapy in the same way that we use scented candles or potpourri, to change the air quality of a room, maybe to mask other less pleasant odors from cooking, or pets for example.

Types of Chinese Incense Sticks Available

There are two main types of incense stick produced in China. In one type, an aromatic incense paste is applied to a thin bamboo stick.

Another type of incense stick is made from natural woods without the incense coating, the most common being sandalwood. This gives the odor that we most commonly associate with burning joss sticks.

They are usually sold in packs of up to 400 individual sticks for around $16 per pack. This might seem like one pack would last a lifetime, but these sticks are usually burned in a small bundle, perhaps six sticks at a time.

This is the most common way to buy them, as illustrated here:

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Sandalwood Joss Incense Sticks 300g

Sandalwood

Sandalwood sticks can make a delightful gift for friends and are available in boxes of 100 sticks. The boxes are elegant with simple design and clean lines, and actually incorporate a stick holder in the box lid.

The item illustrated here is made from Shanggu sandalwood. Shanggu is the name of a province in ancient China known for incense production and now is part of the area around Beijing.

The boxed sticks make perfect gifts for friends or relatives who practice yoga or meditation, and can be purchased here:

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Chinese Quality Sandalwood Incense Sticks

Agarwood

If you are looking for something different, perhaps to impress friends with something a bit exotic, you should consider sticks made from Agarwood.

These have a light, woody, earthy scent and are considered to be the finest for relaxation and creating a soothing environment. Agarwood is highly prized and in its pure form is quite expensive, although as joss sticks the price is about the same as sandalwood, and is available here:

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WuChen Xiang Agarwood Joss Incense Sticks 300g

But they should be used sparingly – like any good perfume, the scent can linger, and can be noticed in a room for up to 24 hours after burning.

The following is an inexpensive alternative to this variant of Agarwood incense:

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ShinZuo Aloes Agarwood Incense Sticks 300 Sticks

Blended Chinese Incense Sticks

There is also a popular stick using a scent called ‘Tang Emperor’s Meditation’. This is made by blending various aromatic materials into a paste and applying the paste to a thin stick.

This particular scent is an exotic blend of sandalwood, Agarwood, frankincense, lavender and other herbs. This is a little more expensive, coming in a pack of 120 for around $16, under the Grand Wisdom brand name.

Each pack comes with a separate little stick holder, so it makes a wonderful gift.

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Grand Wisdom Incense Sticks, Tang Emperor’s Meditation

By the way, because all these products are fully organic and made only from natural ingredients it is worth noting that the ash from burning the incense stick makes a great fertilizer for your potted plants, although to be realistic you have to burn a lot of sticks to make more than the odd handful of ash!

Video: Da Ching Incense Making Factory

Chinese Incense Stick Holders (Burners)

Stick holders and burners come in many different designs and forms, from the very simple stick holder which can be a flat piece of wood with a hole to hold the stick, to the highly ornate objects which can be décor conversation pieces and can be designed to hold multiple sticks.

This interesting example, is in the shape of a dragon boat, looking remarkably similar to a Viking longboat but it is a traditional Chinese design.

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LYUS Retro Incense Burners Traditional Chinese Design Dragon Boat

It holds one stick, and the ash falls into the body of the boat. Made from ceramic it is textured to appear wooden and is aged to appear like an ancient artefact.

Although this particular piece is a little ornate and stylized, it represents a common design of single-stick holders, being a rectangular shape where the stick is inserted at one end at an angle so the ash collects in the body of the shape.

Another popular design is known as an ash-catcher. Usually a bowl or pot shape with holders inside the bowl to insert the sticks vertically, and the ash falls into the bowl around them. This example is a simple Celadon ceramic, Celadon being a common type of jade green-glazed Chinese pottery:

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wangstar Ash Catcher & 9 Hole Sticks Incense Burner

Bowls like this can hold multiple sticks, in this case up to nine at a time. If you are not completely familiar with the smell of incense you may want to avoid burning that many sticks together – it could be quite pungent!

Parting Words

Incense burning has a long history, believed to have originated in China.

Throughout the centuries, incense has been used in many cultures and religions and continues to be a popular practice today.

Chinese incense sticks, in particular, hold a significant cultural, religious and medicinal value in China.

Today, incense has evolved into a wide range of fragrant products, making it hard to choose the right one. With various incense products and burners available, Chinese incense can be used in various ways and for different purposes.

This article is meant as a guide for those interested in learning more about these items. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section.

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