Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How Much Wood Could a Wood Chuck Chuck if a Wood Chuck Could Chuck Wood? And if a Wood Chuck Chucked Lots of Wood(s), Which Ones Would Kill Him?

For the past week or so I've been almost literally elbow deep in incense paste. I've got several batches done, with several more in the works. Before I begin any work on an incense, I research the ingredients I plan to use in them for issues of toxicity, and a few of the woods I have, like yew, cannot be used for incense making (or much else except wands) as they are extremely toxic. In the research I found, one source placed a little skull and crossbones next to the yew entry. That should tell you something. Despite this disheartening news (yew is a potent magical wood), I was surprised to learn that there are very few woods that are extremely toxic, and most are simply given the warning of 'irritant', as in breathe enough and it will irritate your lungs. Like smoking tobacco. Or huffing glue. If you're huffing incense, you need to be kicked in the pants. Either side will do.

“Not to omit any one of them, the yew is similar to these other trees in general appearance . . . It is an ascertained fact that travellers’ vessels, made in Gaul of this wood, for the purpose of holding wine, have caused the death of those who used them.”
–Pliny the Elder, from Naturalis Historia, ca. 77 AD

Most of the danger with these various exotic woods I'm using in incense is to me. I'm the one who is daily being bombarded with microscopic dust particles which manage to worm their way under the face mask. I'm the one blowing charcoal and sandalwood out of my nose every night before bed. I'm the one who suffers the low-grade sinus issues that persist. I am trying to remedy this exposure by also daily washing my sinuses, and now wearing a face mask any time I use the spice grinder or when mixing and stirring dry ingredients. The face mask basically hangs off my neck like a scarf all day long until I need it. What the long-term effects of near daily exposure to even the smallest bits of dust are having on my lungs is unknown at this point. I am lately being VERY serious about safety since I don't want what I love doing most in the world to ultimately be the cause of my early demise. In other words, I don't want to die from incense exposure. It seems an awfully silly way to go.

I'm less concerned about the resins since most of those are medicinal, but a mask is worn while grinding those as well. This has been a week of revelation for me. I've learned a few techniques for preparing the raw materials for inclusion into incense which I am not at the moment willing to share. Trade secrets and whatnot. What I will say is that a lot of the techniques I learned and use in perfumery are coming in handy with this current obsession. And I'm taking a lot of chances. My former modus operandi would be to research, research, research, find the most intriguing way to creating, modify it to my tastes, and then grind out the work. Now I'm doing a ton more research, on all varying forms and manner of creating incense, finding rare and unusual ingredients, and adding to my work things which no sane person would add -- like 50 milliliters of evaporated hyacinth extrait. Or a few milliliters of an extremely rare antique Mysore sandalwood, circa 1945. This makes the incense more expensive than your average joss stick, but the payoff -- man, I can't even tell you how gorgeous some of these pastes are turning out. I spent the better part of the early morning burning some of these newly born incense, and I am not disappointed. Someone used to Strawberry Fizz and Fairy Wings & Peaches would be disappointed by the work I'm putting out, but someone who knows oud from a potato peel would appreciate this stuff very much.

I'm off to the grind stone.

Source:The Wood Database, Eric Meier, Wood Allergies and Toxicity


  1. Anonymous9:46 AM

    That is Sprog's favourite thing to say when looking for something random to say! We've pondered the wood chuck's predilections and foibles for many years.

    Keep on keeping safe, please.


    Anna in (Ireland not) Edinburgh

    1. Ha! My mother used to sing it to me when we'd do dishes together, among other silly songs. At the time I thought she'd made it up and in my eyes she was absolutely brilliant.

      Thank you! I'm certainly trying to stay safe.



Related Posts with Thumbnails