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Incense Ingredient

Japanese: Jako

The use of Musk goes back at least 5000 years; used in medicine and as a perfume, it has also been used in pouches and as a talisman. The Japanese Samurai carried a pouch of musk to protect against evil, and use a spiritual food during battle (see: Kodo the way of Incense--David Pybus) It is in most of the ancient Japanese incense recipes I have seen. It is also a prime ingredient of Tibetan incense. It is an important ingredient in Ancient Chinese medicine, and is still used today in many formulas.


Genera: Moschus


Species: moschiferus (Siberian) chryogaster (Himalayan Musk Deer). fuscus. (Black Musk Deer)


The word "musk" derives from the ancient Indian word Muskáh meaning "testicles". This probably alluded to the musk sac of the male musk deer which is located close to the male genitals. The musk sac contains the musk substance which is secreted into the sac by musk glands.


It has good fixative properties. The aroma is dry, sweet, faunal, sensual, and is believed to be a relaxant.


About twenty years ago, the Washington Treaty prohibited the trade of Musk, and Baieido stopped using musk in their incense, and fully support efforts to protect this resource. Today they are making incense using their traditional techniques without the replacement of musk with either synthetics or natural substitutes.

Siberian Musk Deer - Photo by Erik Adamsson - Public Domain

Although some people believe musk can only be obtained by killing the deer, musk can be harvested from living male deer. A mature male deer can produce up to 30 grams of musk per year. Because of the high price of musk, this has led to musk farming in both China & Russia. This is a promising potential resource. Today the trade of musk coming from breeding deer by the Chinese government is legal. They are producing about 10 kilograms per year. Legal musk from this source must be labeled "Musk from breeding deer" by the Chinese government. It is very expensive.


Synthetic musk is not well suited for making incense, but some companies do use it. Other roots, seeds, and plants are sometimes substituted, and Spikenard has a close resemblance to the musk aroma, and is sometimes referred to as Musk Root.


© Kyozaburo Nakata (Baieido Inc.) & David Oller (Esoterics LLC)



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