Resin incense is a term referring to the dried natural sap which extrudes from aromatic trees when they are sliced.
These resins are intended to help repair the tree from damage to it’s trunk and exterior limbs.
Upon wounding the tree, the sap is then collected and dried, whether by conventional or more modern methods, and is then sold at market.
Humans in ancient times must have noticed the healing powers induced by such resins, because they have a long history of use within many societies and ceremonial practices — from the ancient Egyptians, to the Turkish, to the Native Americans.
Frankincense and Myrrh even made an appearance in the bible when they were given to the baby Jesus.
Most commonly these resins were used as resin incense and burned on charcoal, although it is not uncommon to see them formed into incense sticks or cones as well.
These tree resins generally have quite pungent scents, and when burned are often thought to cleanse the surrounding area.
Below we list several common resins, and a bit about them.
Amber resin is an aromatic resin with a wonderfully rich scent. Sometimes referred to as the Nectar of the Gods or Ambrosia, amber resin has a long history in India and is often burned on charcoal and used for incense purposes. The ancient Egyptians made remarkable advances in the perfume industry and amber was a common ingredient in such perfumes. Some consider amber to be an aphrodisiac.
Today, the finest amber resins are thought to come from India.
Benzoin resin is harvested from the Styrax Tonkinensis tree, which grows in countries such as Laos, Burma, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Laos is one of the leading suppliers of this aromatic compound.
Benzoin is actually quite difficult to produce because Styrax trees can only be tapped for benzoin gum once every seven years. Some people may also refer to benzoin as Storax.
Benzoin has a wide variety of uses including as a resin incense, cosmetics, veterinary medicine, and scented candles. In some countries it is also used as a flavoring in foods, drinks, or even candy.
Copal is a term given to hardened tree sap from the copal tree (Protium Copal) and was often used by some South American cultures in religious ceremonies.
The very word copal is derived from the Nahuatl language word copalli which translates to ‘incense’.
Copal was used as an incense in many cultures within Mesoamerica and grew prevalent in reputation due to well-known ceremonies such as the sweat lodge and sacred mushroom ceremonies.
These resins come in a few different varieties, including lower quality yellow copal or black copal resins, as well as white copal, which is generally regarded to be a much higher quality variety.
Copal was also used in East Africa and from there introduced to Europeans who sometimes used it as a varnish.
It is still common for copal to be sold and burned as a resin incense in modern times.
Dragon’s blood is a bright red resin which is harvested from any one of the following plant genera, Croton, Dragaena, Daemonorops, Calamus rotang, and Pterocarpus. This resin has long been used for incense, varnish, dye, medicine. In China it was often used as a decorative wood varnish. Italians sometimes used it to dye their violins. Many people also attribute dragons blood resin to witch-craft and such practitioners sometimes use it in their spiritual practices.
In old times, there was some confusion as to what dragons blood resin actually was, because Romans sometimes confused with a dangerous mineral called cinnabar. Cinnabar is also known as mercury sulfide and used to be a somewhat common ingredient in red tattoo ink.
Thaspine, a compound isolated from the variety of dragons blood known Croton lechleri, is being studied as a potential cancer drug.
Frankincense is most well-known from the biblical story of baby Jesus, in which the three wise men gave gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold.
Frankincense comes from the Boswellia tree and has a long history in both the Middle East, as well as North Africa. In the Middle East, the raw resin was often chewed for it’s anti-inflammatory and dental benefits.
It’s also commonly believed that the Babylonians and Assyrians burned frankincense during religious ceremonies.
In addition, the ancient Egyptians were known to purchase entire boat-loads of frankincense and other resins from the Phoenicians. These resins were then used as incense, perfume, and medicine.
According to the Hebrew bible, frankincense was a component of a specific holy incense which was often lit in ancient Jerusalem.
Even in old Rome, Pliny the Elder, a famous botanist and historian, was recommending frankincense for hemlock poisoning.
Like frankincense, myrrh resin was also an important part of the biblical story of baby Jesus. Myrrh resin has a long history of use in other cultures as well. Myrrh was used in ancient Egypt in the embalming process, as well as for other rituals.
At some point in seventh century A.D., myrrh was added to both the Chinese and Tibetan medicinal systems. Around this time, a book known as the gyu-zhi, which was also known as the Four Tantras, was written by Chandranandana. This text was the earliest known Indian medical document to be translated into Tibetan during eighth century A.D.
This book was originally written in Sanskrit and described several uses for myrrh resin. The Chinese used this botanical as well and referred to it as mo yao. Myrrh has been used in Chinese medicine to heal wounds since before the rule of the Tang Dynasty.
Opopanax, which is also known as Commiphora guidottii, or sweet myrrh, is a flowering perennial tree which produces clusters of small yellow flowers.
This resin is well known for it’s warm, earthy scent. Many say it smells similar to a combination of balsam and lavender. In biblical times opopanax was used to help heal wounds but generally is not used much for those purposes anymore.
Sometimes this resin is also distilled into a potent essential oil and used for aromatherapy or cosmetic crafting. It is often considered that opopanax grown in cooler climates are of an inferior quality.
This article was last revised on 02/28/2020.