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Incensed: Culture mavens inhale history

2014-03-27 12:59:28

(Shanghai Daily)


Anti-flu incense

“In fact, one stick of our disease-prevention incense has the same function as a certain dose of TCM,” Fu says. The ash should be mixed with water and drunk, but not the sediment at the bottom. Agarwood, sandalwood and Angelica dahurica are some of the ingredients of this incense.

Fu once tested his herbal anti-flu incense on chicken and pigs, in cooperation with scientists in Shandong Province. In several controlled tests, the incense kept the animals disease-free, Fu says, adding that incense is superior to anti-viral drugs.

The health benefits of herbal incense were documented in 1625 by physician Miao Xiyong (1546-1627) in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

He stated, “All exogenous pathogens enter the body through the mouth and/or nose, the two gates of the yangming channel. If the channel is weak, pathogens will easily enter the body. With the help of clean and yang fragrance (from natural herbs), pathogens will be driven away and the spleen and stomach will be at ease.”

An expert on Chinese and Western cultures of fragrance, Fu says one big East-West difference is that traditional Chinese incense is more health-oriented, while Western fragrance is more pleasure-oriented.

Today, most modern perfumes — Western and Chinese — are made of chemical compounds of fragrance that mainly please the olfactory senses but can harm health. Some modern perfumes do use real flowers like lavender, but in many cases they are made of single ingredients.

“Traditional Chinese incense is made of multiple ingredients that combine to balance the organs and yin and yang,” Fu says. “Multiple ingredients are much more effective than single ingredients because they work synergistically.”

Though burning precious agarwood alone as incense is popular nowadays — and a demonstration of wealth and status — inhaling only agarwood for a prolonged period is unhealthy, Fu explains, saying it contains a lot of yang energy and needs to be balanced. Too much can cause disorientation and anxiety by upsetting the body-mind balance.

Partly because of its health benefits, herbal incense was already popular before 221 BC, around when Emperor Qin unified China. Incense culture advanced during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), when Chinese territory and trade greatly expanded to have access to more fragrant herbs.

Incense culture was consolidated in the Sui (AD 581-618) and Tang (AD 618-907) dynasties. In the imperial palace, incense was burned while Tang emperors discussed state affairs.

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