Palo santo, meaning “holy wood” in Spanish, is a tree native to South America belonging to the same family as frankincense and myrrh. Its fragrant wood has been considered precious for centuries. The ancient Incas used palo santo ceremonially to cleanse themselves of bad spirits and energy. In shamanic tradition, the wood was used for spiritual purification, energy cleansing, and healing. Today, palo santo is commonly used in aromatherapy and naturopathic medicine. It is believed to have healing properties that relieve stress, anxiety, and promote relaxation. The wood, which must be harvested only from trees that have died naturally, is used in a variety of ways, including making medicinal teas, extracting essential oils, and being cut into sticks or shavings that can be used to burn as incense or for smudging to clear a room. When burned, the sweet-smelling smoke from the wood carries notes of citrus and mint.
2. WHERE IS PALO SANTO WOOD FROM?
This holy wood is indigenous to the west coast of South America, primarily in Peru, Ecuador, and parts of Colombia. It can also be found in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Galapagos. In some of the regions that it is grown, because of its cultural significance, the tree is protected by the government and can only be harvested from deadfall and dead trees.
Aging palo santo wood before harvest
Palo santo must be harvested in a very particular way to ensure that it is of the highest quality. If the wood is harvested too soon it it will look lighter in colour, burn much faster, and contain fewer beneficial properties. The wood needs time for the natural aromatic oils to develop and mature. An ideal aging process involves a naturally fallen tree aged a minimum of three to five years, and often up to 10 years. Over time, the wood becomes more oil dense, burns slower, is more fragrant, and the grain of the wood takes on a darker amber appearance.
Palo santo has historically been used for an array of healing applications including treating colds and flus, anxiety and depression, respiratory ailments like asthma and bronchitis, and headaches. The wood has also been used for pain relief due to its ability to act as an anti-inflammatory. The mature wood also contains high concentrations of a compound called d-limonene, which is used by natural medicine practitioners to treat gastrointestinal ailments and heartburn. Limonene has also been found to have potentially chemopreventive properties for the prevention of a variety of cancers.
The smoke of palo santo when it is burned as incense is said to create feelings of peace and clarity, making an ideal compliment to a meditation practice. In some traditions, palo santo is believed to have the power to dissolve negative energy and increase vibratory levels. When burned during meditation as incense, it can increase creativity and feelings of peace and groundedness.
Smudging is a practice meant to clear a space of negative energy to make it feel like a more comfortable, tranquil space. Much like sage, sweetgrass or cedar, palo santo can be burned, and its smoke used to smudge a room, to attract positive energy and let go of the negative. To smudge a room with a palo santo stick, the end can be lit and kept in flame for about 30 seconds before blowing it out and letting the smoke fill the room. Some people like to set their intention on what they are clearing out of the home, and how it will feel after the cleanse. The person smudging can gently blow the smoke in different directions to allow it to reach each corner in the room.
The essential oils extracted from palo santo wood can be used for aromatherapy. The fresh-smelling woody, citrusy notes from the oil can help brighten the energy in a room, and promote feelings of positivity and contentedness. The scent can be helpful to easing the symptoms of anxiety, reducing stress levels, and enhancing clarity and concentration. The oil can be combined with frankincense and myrrh to create an olfactory experience that induces a meditative, reflective state.
How do you use palo santo? Let us know in the comments below!
MORE FROM OUR BLOG:
- 5 of the Incredible Benefits of Palo Santo
- An In-Depth Look At Smudging With Palo Santo Wood
- How To Use Palo Santo Wood