Incense sticks

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Ignition of incense sticks in a temple in Malaysia
Incense sticks are lit in the courtyard of the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai.

Incense ( English Incense Sticks ) are Räucherwerke in rod form. Incense sticks are made either by applying (rolling) the active ingredients to a wooden or bamboo stick or by pressing or kneading the mixture in the form of sticks. They are used in all Asian countries in Buddhism , Hinduism , Confucianism and Daoism in temples , in ceremonies and meditations . The smoke is said to have a cleansing effect. Compared to smoking loose incense on charcoal or a sieve, sticks are easier to use, economical in use and fragrance compositions are easier to produce. Incense sticks with wooden supports develop more smoke and have no pure scent due to the co-smoldering wood .

Regional differences


Indian incense sticks are made by applying a paste made from wood powder, oils , a little water and incense to a thin wooden stick. In addition to traditional resins, woods and herbs , inexpensive Indian incense sticks also use synthetic odorous substances (such as musk and ambrette compounds) whose health safety is not guaranteed. The incense sticks, called agarbattī ( Hindi : अगरबत्ती), are traditionally made by hand. Incense sticks are used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. The smoke of individually selected ingredients is supposed to bring the three doshas into balance.


In China , incense sticks were introduced centuries ago by Buddhist monks and are particularly used in Feng Shui . Often the Chinese chopsticks are also referred to as “joss-sticks”, which translates as lucky or fateful chopsticks. The smoke is assigned to the Qi .


Japanese incense sticks

Japanese incense sticks are made without wooden supports. A paste is made from water , wood powder and fragrances, pushed through a nozzle, cut and dried. High-quality Japanese incense sticks often contain up to 20 components and have to mature for several years. Chopsticks with a high proportion of agarwood are particularly expensive . The standard length is 14 centimeters with a burning time of 30 minutes. Well-known manufacturers are Baieido, Kokando, Kunjudo, Kunmeido, Kyukyudo, Nippon Kodo and Shoyeido.


Incense sticks have been made in Tibet since the 7th century. They mainly contain herbs and are traditionally rolled and dried by hand. They do not have a stick and are usually thicker and coarser-grained than the Japanese. Incense sticks from Tibet have a reputation for being of particularly good quality.


In Vietnam , bamboo sticks are used as carriers, onto which a base paste made of wood powder, vegetable glue and a little water is rolled up by hand on inclined tables. The bamboo sticks are colored. Each color stands for a specific fragrance. Red bamboo sticks are sandalwood. In Vietnam, incense sticks are burned during ancestor worship. You can often see them in the house or ancestral shrine. But they are also ignited on curbs, in flower beds and other places.


Large incense sticks in front of a temple in Malaysia

In temples , incense sticks are often placed in bowls with sand . There are holders in the form of bowls or figures made of metal , ceramic or soapstone for burning individual sticks . Holders made of wood are usually made from dense tropical woods . They can be made like a simple board with an incorporated channel or in a box shape with openings for the smoke to escape.

Health hazards

Burning incense sticks increases the level of fine dust in the room air by a multiple of the legal limit of 50 μg / m³. Fine dust are particles that are smaller than ten micrometers and penetrate deep into the lungs. Particulate matter can cause allergies, asthma and lung cancer. Connections with cardiovascular diseases are assumed (see particulate matter # Effects on health ). In addition, carcinogenic substances such as benzene and formaldehyde are released, which can bind to the resulting fine particles. "The smoke from incense sticks and other incense can contain more cell-damaging substances than tobacco smoke" ( ). According to a study published in the British science magazine New Scientist , a temple in Taiwan where incense sticks are burned had 40 times higher concentrations of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) than in the homes of smokers. Studies in Hong Kong have shown that smoked products are the largest source of carcinogens in living space there. At first it was unclear what effects the substances contained in the smoke had in the end.

  • A long-term study has shown that people who were very frequently exposed to smoke from incense had an up to 80% increased risk of developing cancer of the upper respiratory tract.
  • A study from Singapore found that 8% of deaths from coronary artery disease and 12% of those from stroke are due to exposure to incense sticks.
  • The French government regards dangers from incense sticks as serious. A ban on incense sticks is planned in France.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Federal Office of Public Health FOPH: Information sheet on fine dust in indoor air. (PDF, 121 kB) accessed on June 8, 2017.
  2. Bremen environment advice: Incense sticks can cause cancer. December 20, 2011, accessed January 5, 2018.
  3. a b Incense smell is cancer-causing.
  4. Clodagh O'Brien: Holy smoke . In: New Scientist , 2001, vol. 2302, p. 5.
  5. Linda C. Koo , JH-C. Ho u. a .: Is Chinese Incense Smoke Hazardous to Respiratory Health? In: Indoor Environment. 4, 2016, p. 334, doi : 10.1177 / 1420326x9500400604
  6. Jump up ↑ JT Friborg, JM Yuan, R. Wang, WP Koh, HP Lee, MC Yu: Incense use and respiratory tract carcinomas: a prospective cohort study. In: Cancer. Volume 113, number 7, October 2008, pp. 1676-1684, doi : 10.1002 / cncr.23788 , PMID 18726993 , PMC 2559972 (free full text).
  7. ^ Incense Use Linked to Cardiovascular Disease. In: Asian Scientist, August 20, 2014 (English).
  8. ^ Pan et al .: Incense Use and Cardiovascular Mortality among Chinese in Singapore . In: Environmental Health Perspectives: The Singapore Chinese Health Study . 2014 (English) doi : 10.1289 / ehp.1307662 .
  9. New Germany: France wants to ban scented candles and incense sticks. October 25, 2013.
  10. Bougies parfumées et encens vont être interdits. In: France Bleu, October 24, 2013 ( French ).