The ritualistic burning of herbs and resins has been observed worldwide in a myriad of ways and practices, both cultural and religious. Many witches burn herbs in their practice, and there is a certain satisfaction in burning herbs you grew yourself as well. While burning them loose over charcoal works just fine, I wanted that picture-perfect herb bundle I had seen so easily available commercially. And I learned a lot in the process.
An herb bundle is really only comprised of two things: herbs and a flammable string. I did find though that adding wire to the process gave the final bundle the tightness it was lacking before. The process is a few steps more involved, but the outcome has been worth it.
Plant matter shrivels as it loses water and dries, so it is important to make your bundles twice as thick to almost three times as thick as you want the end product to be. Typically, the woodier the pieces the less shrinkage you will face, but the greener and softer the more they will shrivel up. As an example, garden sage seems to compress more than rosemary or lavender.
The first step is collecting the herbs. Look for at least semi-straight pieces about the length of your choosing and gather as much as you feel you will need. Next, we’ll move right into bundling the sticks up while they are still fresh and pliable. To keep the bundle more uniform in shape, I alternate the direction I lay the herbs while carefully pressing them together and rolling them slightly with my hands into the shape I want.
Once satisfied with the thickness, it’s time to wrap them up for the drying stage. For this step, I use a soft craft wire and spiral it quite tightly around the bundle and make a little loop on one end to hang it by. Store them in a dry place with enough airflow to prevent mold, and every week or so go back and continue to press them into tight cylinder shapes with your hands as they dry. The wire wrapped around them will help them conform to the tightening shape as they lose water and shrivel.
Once they are completely dry, sometimes a few months, it’s time to replace the wire with your string or cord of choice. When unwrapping the wire, the dried bundle should hold its shape quite well on its own. Make sure to save the wire for your next batch as well! The string can be tied at either the middle or the end of the bundle. Tie the first loop tightly and leave a long tail on either end of the knot. With tight and consistent tension, wrap each tail spiraling up the bundle in opposite directions so they crisscross in that signature incense-herb-bundle-look and tie them off again at the opposite end or back in the middle. If you want to chop one or both ends clean, I have preferred doing so with a sharp kitchen knife, like cutting a cucumber, rather than scissors.
A full bundle of one herb is very appealing, but try different combinations of herbs as well! Sage and rosemary have cleaning and protective energies, while peppermint and lemon grass have energizing properties. Choose different colored threads to represent the bundle's purpose, or even try some knot magic and braid your intentions into the thread before wrapping your herb bundle. Have fun with it, and happy cleansing!