Blackbird Incense ~ home fragrance review

Blackbird incense cones

The summer I turned seventeen, I had a new friend who liked to scent her room with incense sticks and cones, which she burned in an assortment of small pottery vessels that she had crafted in a ceramics class. I was impressed by her bohemian style — she also had wonderfully eclectic taste in clothing and music — and I soon adopted the incense-burning ritual for myself, at home and then in my college dorm room.

The incense we used in those days was run-of-the-mill stuff purchased at record stores or from street vendors, either heavy and harsh with synthetic sandalwood or sickly-sweet with fruit scents or soapy lavender fragrance. I later made the switch to candles, and I haven't used incense cones for longer than I can remember. When I found out about the Blackbird Incense line, I remembered my teen years (and my strongly scented dorm rooms) with fondness, but I wasn't sure whether I could pick up the incense habit again.

Blackbird is a Seattle-based business, currently offering accessories and toiletries in addition to its namesake incense collection, with an industrial/rustic, modern/gothic aesthetic. I like the way their incense cones are packaged, in hand-labeled metal tins, and I like the scents I've tried so far. They tend towards the earthy and dark side of the fragrance spectrum, and they're definitely more sophisticated than the cheapie cones that were my introduction to incense. 

Izba, for example, is a "woody lavender," with an emphasis on the "woody" part. It actually smells like a burning fire, with an almost meaty pungency. An izba is a traditional type of Russian peasant cottage, and you can imagine yourself sitting inside one of these little houses on a cold night, warming yourself at the smoking fireplace. 

Nahk is a "spicy leather," named with the Estonian word for leather. It has an intense, almost dirty leather fragrance with a rubber-tire note; I've never tried a leathery home fragrance before, but on a cold night, this one is oddly appealing.

Ozo has notes of rose, sandalwood, and anise seed, and its name was inspired by "Rozo," the Esperanto word for "rose." According to Blackbird, it "may also be used to replace negative energy with an air of hope." Sounds good to me! Ozo gives off a feminine tea rose scent, but the licorice-like anise note is also noticeable. (If this were a perfume, I'd wear it.)

Hibernus caught my interest because its name means "winter" in Latin, and because I've never come across a wintergreen incense before. This seems to be one of the lighter incense scents in this line: its minty heart is combined with a hint of honey and quite a bit of resin. It works nicely for combating cooking smells or anything else that calls for a little atmospheric freshening.

Roheline (Estonian for "green") is another herbal scent, with a different emphasis: this is a garden-like blend, with tomato leaves and bitter ferns over an earthy base. I can imagine using this one year-round, even in summer when some of the others (like Izba or Nahk) might feel too dense. 

The five other scents in the Blackbird Incense collection are Ai (mossy geranium), Blood Countess (sweet resin), Muru (earthen roots), Sepulchre (herbal floral), and Sofia (green amber with violet). I'll be trying a few of them soon. Come to think of it, I've revived and refined more than a few of my late-teen tastes over the years; it's not surprising that I've come back to incense cones in this way.

Blackbird Incense sells for $28 for a tin of 20 cones, or $3 for two sample cones of the same scent. A sample set with 2 cones of each of the lines's 10 scents is also offered for $30. Additional information is available at the Blackbird website.

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  1. Marjorie Rose says:

    Hey, that sampler sounds like it could be fun!

    I believe Blackbird occasionally hosts local perfumers to discuss their latest scents and to allow the intentionally hip to mingle. Pretty sure I’ve been invited up there for an event or two. . .

    • nancyg says:

      I think I might have to get one – all the scents sound delicious.

      I’ve gotten back into the incense habit, too, and buy a lot of it in our Chicago Indian neighborhood. My favorite is Khus aka vetiver.

      • Jessica says:

        From what I’ve gathered, Blackbird is a big supporter of area perfumers! It’s always nice to see local businesses banding together, right?

  2. olenska says:

    Ooh, these sound terrific. My husband and I burn quite a lot of incense to scent our abode, and cones really do keep the ash more neatly contained than sticks. In keeping with the season, we’ve been on a pine/cedar kick lately… but evergreen doesn’t work as well during hotter months. Blackbird’s sampler might be a good springtime gamble for us– thanks for the review!

    • Jessica says:

      I’ve been having fun with these samples — the scents aren’t as fancy-pants as the Fornasetti incense sticks that I reviewed last year, but they really are interesting and well-done, and there’s enough of a range so that you can pick something woody, or something herbal, or something a little more floral.

  3. perthgirl says:

    I was one of those 17yr olds too :) I don’t burn as much incense as I used to but I’ve also been reviving some of those things I used to do and miss too. You’ve inspired me to light one of the L’occitane Green Tea incense cones I still have, it’s going to be a scorching hot day today and it seems perfect..

    • Jessica says:

      Perthgirl, I completely forgot that L’Occitane used to offer incense! They don’t have it any longer, do they? I like most of their home fragrances blends…

  4. Holly says:

    Thanks, Jessica. I happen to love incense, and this sounds like a company I’d like to support. Cones are definitely so much tidier than sticks! I love to place my incense (sticks or cones) on a base of sand, salt or pebbles. Sometimes I buy inexpensive (Nippon Kodo) incense sticks and infuse them with an essential oil or perfume, let dry and then burn. Sometimes I infuse the sand or pebbles with an oil or perfume, and let that act act as a base note. The possibilities are endless…

    I miss my New York apartment radiators, believe it or not. I always placed leftover wickless scented candles (in glass or metal) on them to scent my apartment, or used empty cheapo metal tea candle holders placed on them filled with water and whatever perfume or oil I chose.

  5. freskagirl says:

    These sound really lovely. Your description of Izba is particularly evocative. I remember the incense of college days (I feel like one scent might have been something like “Spring Rain”–???) and the heavy nag champa-y stuff they burned in the vintage store I worked in when I first moved here. I have some nicer scents from Juniper Ridge, Esteban, and L’Occitane that I haven’t burned in ages. I’m intrigued by this Blackbird sample set, though I clearly have no business buying more incense!

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