Bamboo in human use is old. Really, really, old. Some of the oldest 'books' in china are written on slats of bamboo wood and woven together like a sushi mat. It's one of the oldest paper pulps along with papyrus, used for baskets, housing, weaponry, and anything else one could use wood for.


Though members of the bamboo family can literally be found all over the world, much of our museum examples of what this versatile plant can do come from Asia. While many know and love the backdrop this large grass offers a ninja movie fight scene, it's also known as one of the 'three friends of winter' along with plum and pine in japan because of it's resilience to cold. In china, it's one of the 'four gentleman', 'four noble aspects', and represents one of the four seasons along with plum, orchid and chrysanthemum.


Through out Asia, this plant comes up in folk tales, legends, and religion in addition to being in wide use as everything from the house itself to the day to day items used inside it, even in present day. It's not broken, so Asia saw no need to fix it, and recently the west has picked up a similar attitude.


In recent years, some members of this fast growing grass family have surfaced as more renewable replacement for wood. Knife handles, chopsticks, cutting boards, dishware, food skewers, flooring and furniture, and even rayon fabric can be found in many stores.


My bamboo comes from Walmart toothpicks that I ran through the coffee grinder. That said, in response to they Youtube poster who said “it physically hurts me to hear about people using a coffee grinder to prepare incense ingredients.”, I would like to point out that it took about 3 TV seasons of constant filing to powder hardwood by hand, and I only got 2 tablespoons to work with.


That's three seasons of 22 episodes at 45 minuets per episode. That's about 50 hours of work for two batches of incense. Its also not counting any other ingredient preparation such as resins or spices. Nor counting mixing, drying, testing, and remixing should it fail. Since she was sitting right on top of a self- lighting charcoal disk lit INSIDE a SMALL ROOM when the comment was made, I'm going to blame her time management failure on carbon monoxide poisoning and the probable brain damage it leads to.


I would also like to add that everything else in this household that happens to be made from bamboo is still in active household use, so I will not be taking a wood file to any of it. The Honduran rosewood may have a fragrance to justify keeping my hands busy, but I'll take my coffee grinder for this job, thank you.


The format I'm starting with is sold as 'Bamboo Food Skewers', the same thickness and count as a tooth pick, but a bit longer. Since Walmart sells both next to nearly disposable whisks and spatulas for the same $3 price, go longer. Unlike the large bamboo skewers mom uses for her knitting class, these break in half easily and can be run through a coffee grinder with no trouble, and have the advantage of being food safe.


The grinder will not fully break down the wood into fine powder, so it needs to be sifted through a fine mess before use. It needs to sit with water for about 45 minuets to give the plant fiber a chance to take up water, and can seem lumpy when that step is skipped. It will not remain fluffy once it's moist, so it allows for several binder options without sacrificing shaping.


Since it's a pale color, this base wood leaves room for tinting and coloring depending on other ingredients. My clove and saffron mix took on a lovely golden hue and my myrrh blend took on black food color in varying shades of gray. This leaves a great deal of room to play with visual concepts like bi-colored leaves, three colored braids, or even hand shaded flowers, and the price makes it reasonable for experimentation.


For fragrance, it's pretty much a blank slate. The toothpick makes a good burn test for fragrance oils to ensure carrier oils won't damage finished incense, and I also use the to sample a small bit of wet blends when I'm not sure my scent will burn true. Where several of my burn bases will add to the incense fragrance and need to be balanced with other ingredients, bamboo lets a single oil, herb, spice or resin take center stage. While I'm happy with some of my more complex scents, sometimes simple is just right.


In a non combustible blend, bamboo can help to thin down mixes that got overwhelming. It's also an option to control volume of more expensive aromatics. Since this style of incense doesn't require fine powder, scrap lumps from the coffee grinder or hand broken toothpicks are no problem, so if you use coal be sure to package sifter leavings.


Over all, bamboo has many benefits in making incense, and it's well worth a look.


Happy blending.

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