Slip into an incense shop, and your senses will soon be inundated with sweet, smokey fragrances. In many cases, that’s palo santo—a South American tree whose wood, resin, and essential oil have long been used to cleanse homes and cultivate a sense of the sacred.
What does palo santo really offer, and how can you be sure you are using it respectfully? Let’s look at palo santo’s health and spiritual benefits to learn more.
A History of Palo Santo Ceremonial Use
Literally translating to “holy wood” in Spanish, palo santo (Bursera graveolens) trees grow throughout Peru, Ecuador, and other pockets of dry tropical forests in South and Central America. The tree is a member of the citrus family and a distant relative to frankincense and myrrh—a fact you’ll believe as soon as you smell its grounding, woody fragrance.
Palo santo is often compared to white ceremonial sage, as both have long histories of use in cleansing ceremonies throughout the Americas. For centuries, palo santo has been the tree of choice of Amazonian shamans for performing sacred plant ceremonies to clear away negative thoughts, bad luck, and evil spirits. It’s also frequently used as incense within the region’s Catholic church services.
Palo Santo wood needs to age before it has any value as a fragrance. Traditionally, dead trees or fallen branches are left undisturbed for two to eight years before processing so that the wood’s oils mature enough for use as incense or smudging sticks.
Seven Benefits of Palo Santo Wood
Burning palo santo wood or using it as an essential oil offers many benefits for both your mind and body.
1. Enhances a Meditative State
Smudge some palo santo before you begin to meditate, and its grounding scent will relax your mind so you can better concentrate on the present moment. Some say that palo santo also enhances their creativity when they are thinking through challenging problems.
2. Clear Negative Energy in a Room
Palo santo wood has a high resin content that, when burned, is thought to release its purifying properties to cleanse its immediate surroundings. Many people smudge small sticks to remove negative energy in their homes and attract good fortune into the space instead.
3. Great Source of Limonene
Palo santo contains large amounts of limonene, a potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antifungal benefits. Applied topically, limonene is excellent for your skin and may speed up wound healing. Some people also claim it eases their arthritis symptoms by reducing inflammation.
4. Reduce Stress
Palo santo’s scent is naturally relaxing for many people, thanks to the high limonene content. Research shows that inhaling the compound can reduce anxiety, and a 2014 study on rats found that ingesting some decreased their physical signs of stress.
5. May Relieve Headaches
Burning palo santo wood or smelling the oil helps many people relieve headaches. The wood’s natural scent seems to help release positive mood neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin into the brain while stimulating your body to produce endorphins as a natural pain killer.
You can rub a few drops of the oil onto your forehead where the headache is focused to ease some of the headache pain.
6. Repels Mosquitos
One traditional use of palo santo wood is repelling insects. It’s considered effective against mosquitos, ants, termites, and some flies. Again, this is likely due to the limonene content, which has natural insecticide properties.
7. May Ease Stomachaches
Palo santo’s ability to reduce inflammation and improve your system’s response to histamines may help relieve symptoms of bloating, nausea, and cramping. To experience these benefits, you need to take it orally or breathe it in from an oil diffuser.
How To Use Palo Santo
Palo santo is most often available as resin, essential oil, or as small sticks or wood chips.
You can diffuse the essential oil or add it to a carrier oil for use directly on your skin. The wood itself works best when burned as incense.
To use, light the end of a palo santo stick and hold it downward at a 45-degree angle. Let it burn for 30 seconds before blowing out the flame. Set the stick in a fireproof dish so it continues smoldering, or wave it around your room to waft the scent into the air.
You can use palo santo powder the same way. Pour some into a dish, light it, and let it burn for 30 seconds before extinguishing the flame. The resin should only be heated in a resin burner that safely melts it to release the aroma.
Is Palo Santo Endangered?
Reports abound online that palo santo’s newfound popularity has led it to be harvested to the brink of extinction. Thankfully, that’s far from reality. In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Nature ranks palo santo’s conservation status as “of least concern,” meaning that its population is stable.
Part of the misinformation stems from species confusion. Another South American tree (bulnesia sarmientoi) is also nicknamed palo santo, and it is threatened. There’s also pressure on this tree’s natural habitat—tropical dry forest—that puts every species within its ecosystem at some level of risk.
But perhaps counterintuitively, palo santo’s popularity may help support and preserve the forest system it comes from. The wood needs to sit undisturbed for years before harvesting, which protects the surrounding natural space by default. So long as your purchase palo santo from a reputable seller, you can feel confident your purchase isn’t contributing to destructive dedeforestation.
Note: All Auravive’s palo santo wood is sustainably sourced from Peru from naturally fallen trees and in strict accordance with governmental guidelines. We support responsible, regenerative practices that protect this tree for future generations.
Try Palo Santo for its Cleansing Powers
Add some sacredness to your life by experimenting with the properties of palo santo wood. Burn some, and its cleansing fragrance may revive and refocus you while helping you foster a sense of positive energy in your space. So try it today, and you’ll experience a spiritual ritual that has survived for thousands of years.