Palo Santo, also known as "holy wood" in Spanish, is a fragrant wood that comes from the Bursera graveolens tree, native to South America. For centuries, Palo Santo has been used by indigenous cultures like the Incas for its believed energetic and healing properties.
Today, Palo Santo remains popular for its many proposed benefits. But what exactly is this sacred wood and how is it used? Let's explore the origins, meanings, uses, safety, and purported benefits of Palo Santo.
WHAT IS PALO SANTO?
Palo Santo literally translates to “holy wood” in Spanish. Also called the "wood of the saints" or "holy stick", Palo Santo is a natural wood that comes from the Bursera graveolens tree, a tree in the citrus family that is native to the coastal tropical dry forests of Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador. Growing up to 26 feet tall, the Palo Santo tree produces fragrant resin and oil-rich heartwood - the inner woody core of the tree containing dead xylem cells - that has been used for centuries for spiritual and healing purposes.
Palo Santo trees can live up to 90 years. The older the tree and the more resin it produces, the higher quality and more fragrant the Palo Santo wood. Only branches that have died naturally and have been aged on the tree at least 4-10 years are harvested. This aging process concentrates the wood's aromatic resins, essential oils, and energetic properties. The result is an intensely aromatic, light brownish-yellow wood that is then hand-carved into sticks, blocks, and various shapes for use.
WHAT IS PALO SANTO USED FOR?
Throughout history, indigenous South American cultures like the Incas, Quechua, and Spanish have used Palo Santo for a variety of traditional purposes:
- Cleansing and Purification -Its smoke is believed to clear away negative energy, cleanse a space, and promote positive energy in a home
- Meditation and Ritual - Palo Santo sticks or wood chips are burned during meditation to center the mind, and also commonly used in shamanic ceremonies and rituals for its energetic cleansing properties. (Palo Santo is burned during the yoga classes I attend)
- Aromatherapy - The wood's refreshing natural fragrance is used in aromatherapy and natural perfumery to evoke calming, stabilizing, and inspiring effects. (Check out our Palo Santo perfume, Sanctify)
- Medicinal Remedies - Historically, Palo Santo was used by indigenous cultures as a folk remedy to ameliorate various conditions like common colds, stress, and inflammation. It was also believed to act as a natural insect and snake repellent
- Mosquito and Insect Repellent - The smoke and aroma of burning Palo Santo can help deter mosquitos and other insects when enjoying the outdoors
Today, most Palo Santo use focuses on its aromatic and energetic cleansing properties during meditation, yoga, ritual, aromatherapy, and in the home.
WHAT DOES PALO SANTO SMELL LIKE?
Palo Santo has a unique woody, resinous aroma that is often described as sweet, welcoming, and mystical. The scent is similar to frankincense and myrrh, with fresh citrusy notes like lime, lemon, or orange. There are also subtle balsamic, spicy undertones like clove, mint, or pine.
When burned, the smoke of Palo Santo gives off a smokey, sweet, slight tealike fragrance that is calming and soothing. The aroma is often called meditative, healing, calming, or centering.
The complex natural fragrance comes from the wood's essential oil compounds like limonene, alpha-terpineol, and linalool. These create what is considered to be an elevating, cleansing scent that can enhance relaxation, awareness, and positivity.
The rich smell of Palo Santo is part of what makes it a popular incense for rituals, meditation, aromatherapy, and enjoying at home. Its mystical and intriguing aroma helps create the tranquil environment Palo Santo is known for.
PALO SANTO BENEFITS
What are the potential benefits of Palo Santo? Here are some of the main proposed wellness benefits of this sacred wood:
Stress Relief - The soothing natural fragrance of Palo Santo is believed to calm the nervous system and relieve stress when inhaled during aromatherapy or burning.
Energetic Cleansing - Palo Santo smoke is said to clear away negative energy and promote a fresh, positive environment.
Improved Mood - Inhaling Palo Santo essential oil or smoke may uplift and stabilize mood through aromatic effects on the limbic system of the brain.
Meditation Aid - The grounding scent can enhance focus and awareness when meditating.
Air Purification - The smoke may help purify indoor air of odors and some bacteria. However, research is limited in this area.
Inflammation - Historically used to ameliorate various inflammation-related ailments. Some recent research shows promise for Palo Santo for anti-inflammatory properties.
While empirical research is still emerging, the aromatic and potential medicinal properties of Palo Santo remain compelling and continue to be explored. However, it is important to keep in mind that the FDA does not monitor or approve the use of Palo Santo for any medical conditions or benefits.
PALO SANTO MEANING
So where did the name “Palo Santo” come from? What makes this aromatic wood so sacred?
For indigenous South American cultures like the Incas, Palo Santo was considered a sacred, spiritual wood. Its Spanish name literally means “holy wood” - “palo” meaning wood and “santo” meaning saint or holy.
This sacred meaning comes from the belief that Palo Santo has cleansing and healing energetic properties. It was traditionally used to clear negative energy from physical spaces as well as the mind and spirit. Even today, the cleansing smoke from burning Palo Santo is believed to purify a home or ritual space of bad energy and restore a positive environment. Many people prefer it to Sage.
Beyond the literal translation of the Spanish name, Palo Santo holds a deeper cultural and spiritual significance. For indigenous Andean cultures, the Palo Santo tree represents an important connection between man and nature. Using the wood continues cultural traditions connecting people more closely with the natural world.
IS PALO SANTO SAFE FOR CATS AND DOGS?
When burning incense or woods like Palo Santo, it's important to consider the safety of pets like cats and dogs who have respiratory sensitivities not shared by humans. Smoke from essential oil-rich woods may contain compounds that could irritate some pets' lungs when inhaled. The concern is greater for cats, small dog breeds, puppies and kittens, or animals with asthma.
To safely enjoy Palo Santo with pets around, follow these precautions:
- Burn in a Well-Ventilated Area - Open doors and windows and use a fan to circulate fresh air. Avoid small enclosed rooms
- Give Access to Unscented Rooms - Give pets the option to remove themselves from any smoke irritation by keeping access to smoke-free areas
- Limit Burn Time - Burn for only short durations of 5-15 minutes at a time
- Use Incense Sticks - These tend to produce less smoke than burning the wood itself
- Consider Roll on Perfume Oils - Palo Santo roll on perfumes or Palo Santo oil allow aromatic benefits without smoke concerns
With proper precautions, the risks of Palo Santo smoke to pets can be minimized. However, if any irritation occurs, discontinue use and opt for lower-risk options. Monitoring pets closely when burning Palo Santo is advised. Ultimately, non-smoking alternatives may be safest for pets.
Do you use Palo Santo?