The 5 Best Incense Brands

Incense can bring a unique and pleasant element to your meditation practice and sometimes finding the best incense brands can be a challenge. The pleasant aroma from a myriad of different fragrances creates an ambiance of your own choosing. Through this, I will help you find the best natural incense that will aid in enhancing your meditation experience.

ProductOur RatingBest For
Shoyeido´s Nokiba (Moss Garden)4.5 / 5Best Overall
Nippon Kodo: Morning Star Sandalwood 4.2 / 5 Budget Friendly
JL Local Smudge Kit 4.7 / 5 Editors Pick
SHOYEIDO Plum Blossoms Incense 4.2 / 5 Alternative #1
Nippon Kodo: Morning Star Sandalwood 4.4 / 5 Alternative #2

Natural vs Synthetic Incense

A big question that comes up with incense is if it is healthy or not. Incense has 3 different forms that it comes in: Natural, synthetic, and synthetic/natural mixed. The difference between synthetic and natural incense is simply the materials used.

Natural incense uses things like herbs, tree resin, and essential oils. Synthetic incense uses things like charcoal and factory-made fragrances that can be harmful when you inhale them.

It´s safe to say we will be avoiding any synthetic brands so you are given the healthiest option. The synthetic incense sticks will have a stronger smell but it will be at the cost of your respiratory system.

Bamboo Core

Some incense sticks are designed with a bamboo core in the center to essentially hold up the incense while it burns. These are the incense sticks with the little wooden stick that you throw away when it´s done burning.

Incense sticks designed without this bamboo core are considered more of a pure incense because you do not have the smell of burning wood that is interfering with the aroma of the incense.

The bamboo core also creates more carcinogen-rich smoke that you are inhaling which is really an unnecessary health risk during your meditation.

Also, bamboo is a grass that can trigger allergic reactions in people from the burning of the smoke. The incense sticks we will review here today will be designed without a bamboo stick or core so you will be able to eliminate this problem completely.

Keep in mind that having no reinforcing bamboo core does make them more fragile! So remember to be gentle and calm when you are handling them.

Natural is still Smoky – But mostly the Wood

The incense sticks I will be showing you here will all be without a bamboo core. That mean´s no wood at all, just incense burning. So, you will cut down on the amount of smoke to almost none. Over time, your respiratory system will thank you.

To limit the amount of smoke even further while you’re meditating you can put a paperclip where you want the incense to stop and it will quit burning when it reaches the paperclip.

If you get the incense sticks recommended here that are natural materials and have no core then you can also just snap the incense in half or in quarters and light just a piece of it that way in your holder.

If you´d rather look at an alternative to incense altogether then you can look at the best non-toxic candles for meditation that will give you the same aromatherapeutic effects as incense but in candle form! These candles are also made of natural materials and completely free of toxic materials that are common in candles.

Fragrance of Life

Different smells will affect us differently. A bad smell will turn us away or a good smell will cause us to linger or move closer. Certain smells are designed to induce attraction, pleasantries, stress-reducers, or even to cover up odor. There are many different ways that smell affect our body and our mind.

This is why natural incense sticks are created to produce pleasant aromas and calming atmospheres. Each individual will be affected differently but with incense sticks, there are many different fragrances to choose from.

With such a large variety you may begin thinking of mixing aromas, although it might seem overwhelming at first. To make it easier, you can check out Michael Edward´s Fragrance Wheel for an easy visual guide on how to blend different fragrances together to create that blissful smell you´re looking for.

How It´s made

Natural incense sticks are handmade and the stick used is usually a stick called a ¨punk¨ stick that is made out of bamboo. The creator essentially pulverizes all the ingredients into a paste. Then, they will take the bamboo stick and a wad of the paste and roll it onto the bamboo stick.

After the paste is rolled onto the stick it can take a few weeks for them to dry. If you rolled it into a cone instead of an evenly distributed stick this will also take longer! You can check the bottom of the cone and if its darker in the center that would indicate it is still wet and needs more time.

You can get more details on how its made if you´re thinking of making your own in the future. It can be a rewarding experience to burn incense that you made and rolled yourself! It is also fun experimenting with different local herbs to see what kind of incense is naturally in your area.

This video will show you the process of hand rolling incense onto bamboo sticks:

Incense Stick Holder

Remember to get the holder for the incense stick! In the excitement, you may forget that you´re going to need somewhere to burn the stick and catch the ash. You can get some really cool one´s nowadays too that actually use the smoke in aesthetically beautiful ways.

You can get an incense holder like this ceramic incense burner that channels the smoke like a small water feature. There are also standard stick holders but I would advise getting a wider one. The standard size has had the stick set in the holder lopsided in all different ways resulting with the ash all over the surface I was trying to keep it off of in the first place.

The Best Incense Brands

best incense brands

Now that you have a deeper understanding of incense sticks and the different brands available we can check out the best products we´ve found! These sticks come from Japanese manufacturer´s that use only natural ingredients in their incense. The result is less smoke and a beautiful, natural aroma.

Shoyeido´s Nokiba (Moss Garden) Incense Sticks

Shoyeido´s Nokiba (Moss Garden) Incense Sticks comes in a convenient dispenser box and each stick is about 5.25¨ long. Each stick will burn for about 30 minutes from start to finish and emits a low amount of smoke. Shoyeido uses a patented design to create their incense sticks with all natural materials to create a clean, natural incense.

All of Shoyeido´s incense sticks have no bamboo core in them giving you the freshest, purest aroma. The incense sticks are imported from Kyoto, Japan and are among the most popular brand in Japan due to their commitment to traditional and Eco-friendly incense stick creation.

The Nokiba or Moss Garden fragrance is said to have a strong but not overpowering ¨earthy¨ or ¨woody¨ smell. It also lingers for a while after the stick has finished burning which creates a cozy atmosphere.

It has also been said to be very distinct. You can even use these incense sticks in other ways than just burning them. If you break up the stick into little pieces and put it into some sort of breathable container (like a small open jar) you can place them in your car or laundry room to enhance the fragrance there.


  • All natural materials
  • No bamboo core: Low Smoke
  • ¨Earthy¨ or ¨Woody¨ smell
  • Strong enough to use without burning by breaking into small pieces and leaving in a room or car


  • Needs to be handled gently due to no bamboo core

Nippon Kodo: Morning Star Sandalwood

Nippon Kodo´s Morning Star Sandalwood Incense Sticks are designed without a bamboo core and emits a very low amount of smoke. They were created in Japan in the 1960s and have been loved all over the world since. These incense sticks are perfect for everyday use in meditation, yoga, or prayer.

Nippon Kodo is another Japanese manufacturer that only uses natural ingredients in their products. This Morning Star Sandalwood is made from floral essences and different types of wood to create the effect.

Customers state that the scent is not too sweet or overpowering and it also has the right amount of ¨musky¨ scent to give you that real sandalwood feel. One customer stated that he used to keep sandalwood lit in his college dorm in the ’70s and he´s pleased to find this incense has brought him right back to the ’70s, man.

The Morning Star Pack also comes with a ceramic holder so you don´t have to purchase a separate stick holder. Unless you want to! Keep in mind that without the bamboo stick these guys are a bit fragile too so handle with care!


  • All natural materials
  • No bamboo core: Low Smoke
  • A sweet and musky scent
  • Ceramic incense stick holder included


  • Needs to be handled with care due to no bamboo core

Shoyeido´s Baika-Ju Plum Blossoms Incense

Shoyeido´s Baika-Ju Plum Blossoms Incense is another one of Shoyeido´s magical creations. It combines an intricate blend of cinnamon with sandalwood bringing forth the scent of a spring forest. It feels very light, woody, and almost spicy from the cinnamon.

Some even say they get more of a baking smell, like cookies or cinnamon buns! Mmm.

These sticks will burn for approximately 30 minutes and also has no bamboo core which is standard in all of Shoyeido´s incense sticks. They use completely natural products and have been refining their family-owned design for over 300 years in Japan.

People say that one of these sticks may be tiny but it is enough to fill up a room. Some customers are even using 3 at a time to fill their whole house and report that the smell is sweet and welcoming and lingers subtly afterward.

A few customers have reported that this particular one is too smoky for them for such a small stick. With the size and fragility of them due to no bamboo core, it can be a deterrent for some customers as they have trouble with breaking them.


  • All natural materials
  • No bamboo core:Low Smoke
  • Light, woody, spicy or ¨baking¨ scent
  • Subtle scent left behind after burning


  • Reported to be smokier than others
  • Needs to be handled with care due to no bamboo core

Nippon Kodo Morning Star Incense: 12 Fragrance Assortment Pack

Nippon Kodo´s Morning Star Incense: 12 Fragrance Assortment Pack gives you the luxury of having a multitude of different aromas to choose from depending on your current mood. You can even get into mixing up some scents to see what scents you can find that go well together!

Each fragrance has 50 sticks and having such a large assortment will open the option of giving away incense sticks as a meditation gift! These 12 different fragrances are all made with natural materials and are all free of the bamboo stick.

This will mean that you are going to be experiencing a low-smoke meditation session which is ideal for your concentration. Each one is about 4.75¨ long and comes with its own ceramic holder to burn the incense. The holder doesn´t do much for catching the falling ash, though, just so you know.

People enjoy Nippon Kodo because they are absent of the synthetic smell and the smokiness that is common in Indian brands of incense. Again, handle them with care! They´re small and fragile little things.


  • Natural made material
  • 12 Assortment of fragrances to choose from
  • No bamboo core: Low smoke
  • Includes ceramic incense holder


  • Needs to be handled with care due to no bamboo core

JL Local Smudge Kit

Not feeling the natural incense from Japan? You can still experience incense in your meditation holistically by using sage and palo santo from the Native American culture. JL Local´s Smudge Kit comes with everything you need to begin.

Personally, palo santo is my favorite smell in the world. It has a rich, natural earthy scent that holds the richness of pine but with its own unique subtlety that makes it palo santo. The kit comes with two pieces of palo santo and a bundle of sage that fits into the included abalone shell that you burn in.

All the items are natural and also sustainably sourced from the planet. The abalone shell itself is strictly regulated to prevent overharvesting so we can maintain a sustainable relationship with the creature.

It also has an included feather which is used in Native American culture to ¨wash¨ the smoke over someone. This is going to produce more smoke than incense since you are burning straight sage and/or palo santo at any given time.

The smoke is said to be cleansing and purifying and to keep dark and evil spirits away. The kit also comes with a guide on how to use and the history of the practice.

Some customers have stated that it is smaller than they thought it was based on the pictures. Just keep this in mind! It will still have the same cleansing ability and the smell of sage and palo santo will still waft through your entire living area regardless of size.


  • Unique, aesthetic alternative to incense sticks
  • All natural sustainably sourced materials
  • Full kit with all required items
  • Used to cleanse yourself and space


  • Produces more smoke
  • Smaller than some have expected to be

Do I need to get a special holder for these natural, no-bamboo core incense sticks?

Nope! The incense sticks will fit in a standard holder so any holder you currently have is fine. The Nippon Kodo comes with a ceramic holder but they don´t catch the ash very well. I would recommend finding a different one for cleanliness reasons if you go that route, but a standard sized stick holder would be fine or any fantastical stick holder for that matter!


Now that the smoke has cleared you have a deeper insight on the best incense brands that are available. You´ve learned how to holistically use incense and what incense to buy without damaging yourself or the environment. You also know how natural incense is made and how to tell the difference between synthetic and natural!

From here on out you will be able to experience a calm, healthy, relaxing aromatherapeutic environment during meditation. Meditate well, my friends.

Leave a Comment