SAMPLER NOTES: Ancient Forest

Ancient Forest Incense is created in the Southern Cascade mountains in Oregon. The incense the all-natural company creates is quasi-Tibetan, thick, short sticks that contain large amounts of woods and resins, however I’d say in many cases that the resin content is particularly high for its style and imparts to the incense a strength that most similar Tibetans don’t often reach. In fact the scents could be somewhere in between the Tibetan style and the deluxe, high quality sticks created by Mermade Magickal arts (think Earth Church), kind of like a combination of the wood base of the former with the pungent, evergreen touches often used by the latter. The incense is then distinctly natural and American with ingredients that range all along the West from Red Cedar in the Cascades to Mexican copal. The following five samples run the gamut of what they offer, all striking me as natural, authentic product. These can be purchases with crafted holders or as refill packages, I found them to burn hot but work well with an ash filled censer.

The Cedar/Sage combination is authentically North American if not Native American, like most incenses with sage there’s the flavor of a smudge wand at work, although it’s not quite as strong here as it is in the Sage Blend. As true with most natural incenses, this has a strong campfire-like woody center to it and perhaps the addition of sage covers up the most subtle notes of the red cedar (perhaps only Incienso’s Red Cedar quite captures them). However what’s replaced has a distinct evergreen tint to it, an almost oil-like strength that’s exceedingly pleasant. As is the warning with many Tibetan incenses, the woods can occasionally come across a touch harsh, although I suspect this could be circumvented by crumbling the stick and using a heater.

The Cultural Blend is similar, building on the cedar and sage combination but sharing time with sweetgrass and copal. This is quite a beautiful blend with even stronger hints of evergreen, which I’d guess is the combination of the golden copal strengthening the blend. With less volume of cedar and sage involved, the woodiness is tempered and there’s even a balsamic or possible amber-like note in it that seems a result of the incense’s combination. This one is perhaps the blend to start with, it’s really impressive and quite complex.

Unsurprisingly the Juniper is heavily woody in the same way the Cedar/Sage is, however a great deal of the stick seems to be created from Juniper tips, which gives it a very attractive and lovely evergreen essential oil like scent to it that really lifts it. In fact this is almost exactly what you want juniper to smell like and certainly the type of scent you get in the Pacific region rather than what tends to show up in the Tibetan blends. A very powerful and simple incense.

Lavender Dream goes for a very herbal and natural lavender flower scent rather than going the essential oil route. Anyone whose worked with fresh lavender in incense blends will recognize the scent here, a bit lighter and airier than the oil with an herbal note that shares some characteristics with the sage (or perhaps there’s a little sage in the blend, it’s hard to tell). However there still seems to be something of an evergreen note in the mix, which is quite complimentary and perhaps a moderate quantity of woodiness. Definitely something of a western take on a Lavender incense (the lavender coming from the high deserts of Eastern Oregon) and somewhat unique for it.

The Sage Blend (High Desert and White Sage) is not far from the Cedar/Sage blend naturally except this is even more in the direction of a smudge wand, with a noticeable element of the type of sage used in cooking, very savory. Of course being mostly sage, there’s no real overt woodiness here except what’s used in the base and binder and it ends up being the least woody and most airy scent of the group in question here, although as with all of the line there’s still a distinct evergreen backnote that I find very appealing.

Ancient Forest have quite a few more blends than this available and based on these five, I know eventually I’ll have to check them out. There’s something really unique about Western American incenses, a tradition that seems to combine Native American cultural elements and a real sense of partnership with nature, that seems to be emerging as a distinct corner of the incense world, one that seems to capture elements from our topical geography, deserts and forests with a true ecological respect.



  1. janet said,

    November 28, 2009 at 11:08 am

    The Cultural Blend was the first one I tried, and I loved it! As you said, all of these are somewhat reminiscent of Tibetans….but not exactly, they are unique. I also noticed the higher resin content, and found that really appealing, it seemed to balance out some of the harshness. I got a sample of the plain Copal stick, and it’s – obviously – more straightforward, but has a great, rich resin scent. To me, the lavender was really one-of-a-kind, in that it genuinely smells of the dried flowers, although that fragrance is relatively light and does have to compete a bit with the woodiness…I love lavender, so it was a winner. The only one I didn’t care much for was the Frank/Myrrh…I literally could not keep the stick lit. I tried and tried and tried…I’ve never had that kind of problem with any other. From what I could get, that particular resin combination didn’t work as well, for me, with the woody base, so it didn’t seem worth the battle.

    • Mike said,

      December 1, 2009 at 8:58 am

      Hi Janet, thanks for the extra comments on the Ancient Forests, I was curious about the two you mentioned. Especially the copal, which I love. Too bad about the frank and myrrh though, hope that was just an anomaly.

      • Janet said,

        December 2, 2009 at 11:25 am

        Yeah, it was strange, because the Copal really smelled strongly of the resin….not as much as a resin stick, the cedar base did come through, but it stayed in the background –
        I had tried this one first, and expected something similar from the Frank & Myrrh, and was really disappointed the the little i did get from it seemed to be that mealy kind of binder wood smell. I will say, in all fairness, that *maybe* the fact that I practically had to use a blowtorch to get this one to do anything meant that I was getting a lot more of a charred aroma than anything else, which might mean that a different batch might do better.

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