This post was researched, written, and redacted by a fellow herbal enthusiast and SCA member from the kingdom of Trimaris ( Florida), Amenhotep ne Waset. He has very generously agreed to share this recipe with us. I get asked about incense quite often and thought this might satisfy those who wish to make their own.
Being several millennia-old, there are many extant recipes for the preparation of kapet spanning different time periods and cultures, from the works of the 12th century Alexandrian perfume-maker Nicolaus (Manniche, 1999, p. 56), to the papyri of the pharaohs. As such, the exact ingredients and techniques used in producing kapet can be quite varied.
Since my sphere of interest lies primarily in the religion and magic of pharaonic Egypt, I sought to use a recipe as close to that source as possible; however, finding complete or near-complete extant recipes from such an early time was somewhat difficult. The earliest mention of kapet can be found in the Pyramid Texts, though it is named only and no recipe is given (Manniche, 1999, p. 55). In the Papyrus Ebers (1500 BCE) a recipe is given (Manniche, 1999, p. 55), though it is intended purely for medicinal uses and thus outside the scope of this particular project. In the Papyrus Harris I, dating to the reign of Ramesses IV (1145-1141 BCE), there is recorded a number of ingredients donated to the temples specifically for the manufacture of kapet during the reign of Ramesses III (1182-1151 BCE). These ingredients include mastic, pine resin, camel grass, mint, sweet flag, and cinnamon (Manniche, 1999, p. 54). Although these ingredients may be involved in the preparation of kapet, comparing this list to later sources revealed that they are almost-certainly not the sole ingredients used.
One such source – ultimately the one I based my kapet on – is the recipe recorded on the walls of the temple Philae (Manniche, 1999, p. 51). I chose this source for several reasons: first and foremost, it is the source that is closest to the original culture, time, and intended setting that is also the most-complete. The recipe of Philae contains a complete list of ingredients used (including exact amounts) as well as methods of production; it is also specifically stated to be used for temple rituals. Another reason was that this recipe had the benefit of centuries-worth of prior research, study, and experimentation as compared with earlier recipes, such as the recipe recorded in the Papyrus Harris I. Finally, I considered the great historical importance of the temple at Philae. A sacred place to the Egyptians, Philae was the site of a Ptolemaic-period temple dedicated to the goddess Aset (Isis) which became the last bastion of pharaonic religion in history; the temple was not closed by the Christians until well after their rise to power
The Philae recipe lists the following ingredients (in addition to those mentioned in the Papyrus Harris I) as being used in the preparation of kapet: raisins, wine, ‘oasis wine’, honey, frankincense, myrrh, ‘aspalathos’, cyperus, juniper, pine kernels, and ‘peker’ (Manniche, 1999, p. 51). To ensure the utmost historical authenticity of my kapet, I cross-referenced the Philae ingredient list with the ingredient lists of other sources. I examined the recipes of Dioscorides and Manetho as recorded by Plutarch; both of these recipes describe kapet as temple incense, and list raisins, wine, and honey as being ingredients (Manniche, 1999, p. 49) (Plutarch, 2012). It has been suggested that the absence of raisins, wine, and honey in the Papyrus Harris I can be explained in that the temples would easily have had access to these ingredients – their use is assumed, and they would not have been donated with the other, rarer ingredients listed (Manniche, 1999, p. 54).
To make Kyphi or Kapet:
Start by mixing the following ingredients together in a large bowl, in order:
8 tbsp ground frankincense
8 tbsp ground myrrh
4 tsp ground mastic
4 tsp dried & ground calamus root
4 tsp dried lemon grass
4 tsp dried mint leaves
4 tsp dried & ground juniper berries
4 tsp ground cinnamon
This dry mixture is then set aside for later use. Next, mix the following ingredients together in a bowl or other container with an airtight lid:
½ cup raisins
1 cup wine (or enough to just cover the raisins completely)
1 tbsp honey
This wet mixture is then set aside to steep for 5-7 days. While the wet mixture is steeping, be sure to check it periodically, stirring it and adding enough wine to keep the raisins covered since they will absorb the wine as they steep.
When the wet mixture is finished steeping, pour it into a food processor (or mortar) and macerate until well-blended into a smooth fruit paste. When the fruit paste is suitably blended, stir in 6 tbsp honey and pour the mix into a pot, setting it to a low simmer and stirring every so often. Once the mixture reduces by about half, remove it from the heat and leave it to cool to just above room temperature.
When the wet mix is cooled enough, pour it over the dry mix prepared earlier. Work the wet and dry mixes together until they form a consistent dough. If you need to add extra moisture to help form the dough, add a little extra honey; be careful not to add too much moisture, as doing so will prevent the dough from curing and thus ruin the batch!
Once the dough is mixed evenly, you can begin rolling it into small pellets, placing them onto parchment- or wax paper-lined trays to cure. Pellets should be about the size of a fingertip, and no bigger than your thumbtip. When all the dough has been rolled into pellets, place the trays in a warm, dry place to cure – this can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks, depending on your location and climate.
After the pellets have finished curing, store them in an airtight container with a light dusting of powdered benzoin to keep them from sticking to each other. The pellets should be good for 6-12 months. Be aware that the incense is made of all-natural materials and thus can grow mold if not properly stored.
To burn the incense, use charcoal disks (obtainable from most New Age, herbalist, or hookah shops) in a heat-safe container half-filled with salt or sand. This incense produces a good deal of smoke, and should not be used in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation, or around smoke alarms. An average household fan should be enough to disperse the smoke if necessary.
Sacred Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy, and Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt
By Lise Manniche
An in-depth, scholarly treatise on the perfumes, unguents, and incenses produced by the ancient Egyptians and their successors, this source was, by far, the most useful and the one I relied most-heavily upon. I chose to use it for several reasons, the primary one being that the book is incredibly comprehensive; it is written in a technical yet easy to understand manner, presents information in an organized fashion, includes excellent period documentation, and allows for quick and easy cross-reference among the different kapet recipes. Another reason is the august credentials of its author. Although actually researching Lise Manniche was somewhat difficult (her entire website is in Danish), I managed to discover that she has a PhD in Egyptology with an extensive background and knowledge in the subject. She has written numerous books on pharaonic culture ranging in topic from music to statuary to sex & love. She is also a member of the board of the Danish Egyptological Society, and editor of Papyrus – the society’s magazine. Most importantly however, the information in Sacred Luxuries is drawn directly from translations of period sources (as cited in its bibliography) and in many cases is one of the few ways one can access that information without being fluent in other languages beyond English.