Is incense ash good for plants? You may need to think twice!

I absolutely love the smell of incense. Burning incense in your home helps to create a calm and positive atmosphere while it can dispel negative energy or deflect it away from your living area. It can also be a great aid to healing. Once you’re done, however, you will be left with incense ash which you will need to clear away. A question I often ask myself is whether the incense ash is good for plants, so I dug a little deeper.

Incense ash can be a very good fertilizer for plants if the ash is natural. However, there are problems with many store bought incense sticks as they contain toxic chemicals which may be harmful to your plants.

Is incense ash good for plants?

Do you regularly burn incense paper? You might do this in a bowl or other receptacle specially designed for accommodate burning incense paper. You will be left with ash.

Incense paper is not made in the same way as incense sticks. Not all incense papers are made in the same way, nor have the same ingredients.

There is a risk that there might be chemicals used in the manufacturing process that will harm plants. There are hundreds of different incense papers available commercially. They originate in countries as far apart as Eritrea and Armenia. 

Incense papers can be made from wood pulp, although some people are turning towards tree-free papers. These can incorporate plastic and have chemicals in them. The ash from both of these components is not good for plants.

Incense sticks, on the other hand, are made slightly differently. The components are usually natural. The stick will be wood or sometimes bamboo. The incense mixture will be held together with a binder, and by dipping the stick into the mixture, a thin layer is left on the stick. This will burn initially on lighting and then smolder until the incense is burned away. The fragrant smoke perfumes a room and is claimed to have healing powers.

The ash left behind once the incense has burned is unlikely to contain harmful chemicals in damaging quantities. The website digitalbuddhaapps enthusiastically recommends using incense ash as a fertilizer. I would suggest caution, however. Ash of any kind will raise the pH level of any soil. Some plants do not appreciate a high pH level. 

Incense ash might also contain residues that are harmful, and we will discuss these later on.

Are ashes good for plants?

Before going on to discuss incense ash in particular, we do need to know more about wood ash as a garden fertilizer. Is ash good for plants? Generally, the answer is “yes” although care must be taken in its use.

Wood ash is a source of both potassium and lime. It also contains many of those trace elements plants need to grow well and thrive. If you are tempted to cast your fireplace ashes onto your garden, scatter them thinly. The soil will absorb them more easily, and the salts that exist in the ashes will be diluted.

The best way to introduce fireplace ashes into your garden is to compost them first. Making your own compost is great way to recycle kitchen and garden waste. Look on YouTube for some great ideas on how to set up your own composting system.

incense burning outside
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Scatter your fireplace ashes onto your compost heap and make sure it is thoroughly mixed in. This is a great way to add those valuable nutrients and trace elements that will boost your plants’ growth. If you regularly burn hardwoods, like oak, in your fireplace, then the ash will be richer in nutrients. Softwoods like fir or pine produce ash with lower levels of nutrients.

Another good use of fireplace is ash is to deter or kill pests like slugs and snails. Wood ash contains salts that actually kill these pesky pests. Sprinkle the wood ash around the plants you are trying to protect. If the ash gets wet, you will need to replace it, as the salts will have leached away. It’s the salts that the pests hate.

The acidity or alkalinity of your soil can also be changed by using wood ash. Wood ash will make an acidic soil more alkaline – it raises the pH level. Therefore, if you are growing plants that like an acidic soil – azaleas for example, or blueberries, don’t add wood ash to the soil.

Is incense ash toxic?

Before we can decide whether incense ash is toxic, we need to establish whether incense itself is harmful. 

Incense has been used in religious ceremonies across the world for thousands of years. Quite simply, incense is any plant-based material that is burned to provide a fragrance. Incense produces smoke when burned, and it is that smoke that can cause problems.

These days we burn incense for pleasure, so that our homes smell nice. We also use it to create a calming atmosphere if we are doing yoga or meditating. In some cases, certain incense can be used to disinfect a room where a person has been ill or has died.

While those are the pros to burning incense, there are cons to consider. When you burn incense, it is usually in your home. Therefore the space will be closed, poorly ventilated and already polluted from open fires or candles.

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When you burn an incense stick you are releasing pollutants into the air. Incense smoke can contain traces of formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide and worst of all, carbon monoxide which is a known killer. All of these are also irritants that can affect your lungs and so your breathing will suffer.

Incense smoke also releases particulates into the atmosphere. It has been proven that these occur at a higher level in incense smoke than they do in cigarette smoke. It is inevitable that these will also leave their mark in the incense ash.

Our advice is simple. Don’t put incense ash in your plants’ pots. You will risk their health and well-being should you inadvertently incorporate a toxic substance. There may not be enough to kill a plant, but you might make it sick.

What else can you do with incense ash?

Many people who burn incense do so to create a calm, benign atmosphere. Burning incense is an important aid to meditating for very many people. The burning of incense is also important to those who practice various forms and levels of witchcraft.

One way that incense ash can be used if you use the incense for any of these purposes, is to mix it with either soy or wax to make a candle. The incense ash will still have fragrance, and so burning the candle will produce an aroma. 

Whatever your view on some of the arcane practices where incense is burned as part of a ritual, many people gain comfort this way. If a way can be found to make use of the ash that is left then it can be used. Including it in a candle is just one way. 

Some people extend the life of the fragrance in their ash by sprinkling it on their carpet. Vacuuming it afterwards releases the fragrance. Use it as you would a proprietary carpet freshner.

Traditionally, incense ash can be put into a bowl, and then used to hold an incense cone or cube. When the bowl is filled with ash, the cone or cube will sit on the top, and be much more noticeable. Incense ash is too fine to provide a solid base for incense sticks to stand upright. You might manage it if the bowl in really full, but the risk of the stick toppling over is great.

If you want to collect incense, then it’s important to have a good collection tray. Here is one of my preferred trays, you can check the current price on Amazon.

What is the healthiest incense?

If you are keen to burn some incense, then it makes sense to choose one that is the least harmful to your health. We have already seen that burning incense can release particulates, toxic compounds and smoke. Incense does have other health benefits, though, provided you select those that are less likely to harm you in other ways.

Check out the current price of natural incense on Amazon

Frankincense is often listed as being one of the healthiest incenses to use. It has a glorious aroma and can help fight depression. Considered a great overall healer, frankincense has been valued for thousands of years, and is even mentioned in the Bible.

Lavender is also a good fragrance to have at home, and is considered a non-controversial incense to use. Lavender is a great aid to sleep, and can be used in dried form in lavender bags. It is not necessary to burn lavender incense to gain the benefits of lavender.

Vanilla and jasmine are also promoted as aids to a good night’s sleep. Other incense flavors that have been accepted as generally safe are sandalwood, which helps reduce anxiety, and blue lotus, which is considered to be an aphrodisiac.

You can try making you own incense if you want to bring a more personal touch to your incense.

Summary

We have seen that incense ash can contain pollutants, which can become concentrated in a closed space, such as a house. These pollutants are harmful to human health, and it is fair to assume that they linger in the incense ash. Using this ash as a fertilizer may well be a bad idea, as those pollutants might make your plants sick.

Normal wood ash can be used as a fertilizer with no worries. The only thing to keep in mind is that it should be spread thinly or composted. Composting incense ash might introduce some toxins into your compost, making it worthless. 

While most of us try not to waste anything that might be of use, if you have any doubts about incense ash, just throw it in the trash. Better that than risk the health of your plants.

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