Being a witch, I sometimes burn incense in my practices. Although I tend to burn and smolder ground herbs and other materials, sometimes I use preformed incense cones and sticks. The biggest challenge with the incense cones and sticks is that they tend to not be pure.
Don’t let the word “natural” confuse anything. Although these products might use pure and natural ingredients, they may not be what it is implied with the name.
Most of the “natural” incense will use a sandalwood base for its neutral smell, stability and availability. A well designed incense based on sandalwood can smolder for long periods.
The scent of these “natural” incense is typically accomplished using oils. In mass-produced incense, it is rare that the actual dried herb itself is included within the incense formula.
Scent is Subjective
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The same applies to other senses, like sound and smell. When it comes to incense based on “created” scents, the incense may not smell as expected. I’m not talking about the subjectiveness of “rain” or “beach” scents. I’m talking about even the most basic scents like “apple” and “rose”. Think about tasting and smelling fine wine or even coffee. Some people taste or smell “notes” of various products. I might sense citrus and rose, while you sense cinnamon and nuts. This difference in personal sense will influence incense.
Under most circumstances, an incense made from the actual material should smell the same as the actual product. As I already suggested, most mass-produced incense does not include the actual product in its ingredients. Instead the essential oils or essence is used. Using the essential oil is close to using the actual product, but when using essence, the carrier often influences the results. The oils or other materials used to cut the source become part of the end product.
An example of a product that is skewed by its materials is manufactured by nitiraj. Their “natural incense sticks” use sandalwood powder for the base and enhance it with oil. The box says “using the finest sage oil”, but I don’t know any sage that smells like this – definitely not white sage. The scent reminds me more of an overpowering woman’s perfume. Hoping that the smoke scent was different, I lit a stick and allowed it to smolder. The smoky aroma was just as potent as the stick by itself. After about 20 minutes, I snuffed the incense.
Mind the quality of incense and be sure to test them before purchasing large amounts. Mass-manufactured incense tends to not be a suitable replacement for spell work, mainly because the ingredients used likely do not match what is needed.
Local, hand-made incense usually contains better ingredients and possesses the energy of its maker. That could be the boost a spell needs.