When Spanish monks discovered the wood and experienced its ability to cleanse and heal, they named the tree “palo santo,” which means “holy wood” or “the wood of the saints.” The scientific name of this tree that grows in the South American rainforest is bursera graveolens, or “a bag of oil” and the naturally aromatic wood from this truly unique tree is used in several ways for energetic and healing purposes. Its primary use is to burn small palo santo sticks as incense but keep on reading to discover its other uses.
Those who harvest this wood discovered that not only are there male and female palo santo trees, but that they grow in groups of one male and eight females. The lone male outlives his female counterparts by a long shot. While female trees tend to live around 40-50 years, the male can live up to 200 years. Their wood also has distinct characteristics. Wood from female palo santo trees is yellow, solid and heavy, whereas that of the male is white, hollow, fragile and light. Shamans teach that these trees have a distinct spirit that lives in the wood long after the tree’s life has ended. It should be no surprise that shamans treat this tree as a living entity!
One of the most stunning qualities of palo santo wood is its inherent ability to purify all that it comes in contact with on an energetic level. Wherever its smoke goes, it cleanses and purifies, so it can be used to purify a room, an entire home and especially people. But there’s a bit more to it than that. Shamanic wisdom explains that an attraction to the aroma of palo santo is a sign of emotional and spiritual purity. There are some, however, who feel a peculiar discomfort when in the presence of its aroma. If this happens to you, do not be discouraged! This is all part of its purifying effect and gradually you will also enjoy its natural fragrance as the wood’s cleansing and purification takes effect. Just try, try and try again, and you will soon find the palo santo aroma irresistible and enjoy a feeling that can only be described as being lighter (energetically, of course!).
While some smudging herbs are used solely to cleanse a space from negative energy and others are then used to attract positive energy afterward, palo santo is rare in that it does both at the same time. It both purifies and attracts positive energy. Palo santo’s spirit is often generous with its healing powers as its smoke enters the energy field of those it reaches to clear negative thoughts and misfortune. It is through the process of burning, much like smudging herbs and incense, that it releases the sacred wood’s oils that cleanse the space and people it comes into contact with, attracting positive energy, and even healing people on both physical and more subtle levels. This increases the ability for people to concentrate and it enhances their meditation.
or centuries, before it was introduced to North America, it was used by shamans to clear negative energy, attract positive energy, re-establish peace and balance, enhance concentration and meditation, and heal people on physical and spiritual levels. The ancient practice of shamanism believes that plants have spirits and that the spirit can be a strong medicine. The shaman turns to the spirit of the plant and lets this spirit do the healing. The spirit of the palo santo tree carries a wisdom that enables the smoke of just a tiny piece of wood to heal people physically, emotionally and spiritually. This spirit must be respected, however, and never misused. This is one of the reasons that the tree cannot be cut down and we must wait years after it has fallen on its own to harvest it.
There are strict local laws that forbid the logging of palo santo in the Amazon rainforest and these sacred trees cannot be removed until they have rested on the forest floor for several years. On top of this, the tree can never be cut down. It is only permitted to be harvested long after dying a natural death. And though this may be enforced for environmental reasons, spiritually it’s a must. The tree simply doesn’t give us what we need unless we respect it and harvest it in a sustainable manner. It’s through the process of this natural death, followed by years on the forest floor that its essential oils and healing properties develop, giving the wood the power to purify, attract positive energy, heal and smell, well, simply amazing. While we cannot guarantee that everyone adheres to sustainable harvesting, we can tell you that Prabhuji’s Gifts palo santo sticks are harvested in this way that does not interfere with the trees’ natural cycle. On top of this, every fallen tree is replaced with a seedling to rejuvenate the palo santo population as well as natural biodiversity. It is a delicate process of not only respect for the environment, but also for the powerful and generous palo santo spirit.
Palo santo wood undergoes an impressive transformation that gives us humans unimaginable gifts. Unfortunately, there have been palo santo trees that have been cut down, but they taught a valuable lesson. These trees did not contain nearly the amount of oils of those that had fallen naturally and spent years on the ground. We now know that palo santo must undergo a metamorphosis that starts with falling in its own due time and resting for years. It’s during this time that a concentration of aromatic oils develop, intensifying its unique fragrance and healing properties.
Want to improve your life? Chances are that palo santo can help. Using palo santo sticks as incense and aromatherapy is known to improve people’s meditation and concentration. Its natural properties, released in its gentle and light smoke, purify space and people on an energetic level as well as attract positive energy. It is also used in various ways to heal people from many different illnesses by shamans. It is widely used as a great insect repellent.
How to burn
Are you wondering how to burn palo santo sticks as incense, in order to smudge or simply enjoy its aroma? Hold a piece of wood slightly upside down and light the tip until there is a small flame. After 1 minute, blow it out so only smoke is produced. Place it on an angle embers-down in a fireproof bowl in a way that will allow it to continue burning and gently blow on the embers when needed. This is called smudging. It may need to be re-lit several times so it will continue to release its essential oils and energetic properties. Some prefer to keep small rocks in a fireproof bowl and the put the embers into the rock bed in order to put it out when finished. The stick can be reused several times until it is all gone. The aroma is similar to tree resin.
Another supposed benefit is pain relief. People use palo santo to treat different types of pain, including:
Again, this effect may be related to limonene. A 2017 reviewTrusted Source states the substance has analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory properties.
Limonene can provide relief by inhibiting certain neuronal pathways, according to a 2016 studyTrusted Source on animals.
There’s no hard proof that palo santo has this effect, though. The benefit is theoretical and anecdotal, so additional research is needed.
Improve stress response
Many people find the aroma of palo santo relaxing, so it’s commonly used to ease stress. It’s thought to have a purifying, cleansing effect on the body and mind.
This might also be due to limonene. In a 2013 animal studyTrusted Source, inhaled limonene exhibited anti-stress and anti-anxiety properties.
A 2014 studyTrusted Source also found that ingested limonene decreased signs of stress in rats.
Despite these findings, human studies are needed to determine how palo santo affects stress.
Palo santo isn’t associated with any major side effects.
However, it’s important to use caution if the following scenarios apply to you:
- It’s your first time using the oil. Do a patch test first. If your skin becomes irritated, stop using the oil immediately.
- You have lung or breathing problems. Avoid burning palo santo, which may worsen your symptoms.
- You’re pregnant or breastfeeding. It’s recommended to avoid using palo santo oil or incense in this case.
Is the palo santo tree endangered?
Although palo santo has become very popular, the tree isn’t endangered. It’s listed as “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conversation of Nature. This means the palo santo population is stable and not endangered.
Still, it’s important to buy palo santo that’s been ethically and sustainably sourced.
For many years, palo santo was harvested by deforestation. Deforestation has negative environmental effects. It also reduces local people’s sources of income.
But palo santo can be harvested without removing trees. The wood can be obtained from fallen branches, while the oil can be extracted from fruit. These methods leave the forest unharmed.
Before buying palo santo, make sure it was responsibly produced. This will help support the preservation of the palo santo species and the livelihood of the native peoples.
There are many uses of this resin, make sure you do your own testing before using.