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Palo Santo, what's all the rave about?


Palo Santo or otherwise known by its scientific binomial name as Bursera graveolens (important to note here and will be explained later), has been popping up everywhere-- yoga studios, spas, spiritual centers, even Whole Foods sells it now. It has become the modern day nag champa, an Indian incense that was widely popular, at least 20 years back. Back then, it was lit at the altar in virtually every yoga studio in NYC. Now Palo Santo seems to be taking its place.  So why is it so popular and considered as a modern day staple by so many holistically and spiritually oriented enterprises?

Well I cannot speak with any certainty to the hundreds of businesses and their reason for use, but when I first discovered its balsamic sweet, woody, soft citrus scent I was hooked. The complexity of this aroma lends to its sacredness and the reputation of it as a "Holy Wood", which is essentially the translation of Palo Santo from Spanish.

Its metaphysical origins dates centuries back to the Inca civilization and their reported use of burning Palo Santo during purification ceremonies and spiritual practices. They believed the smoke from this holy wood warded off negative spirits, clear misfortune, and cure the person of any negative ailments both mental and physical. In modern day practice, it is still being used to clear "mala energía" (bad energy) in Ecuador and Peru where it is grown and harvested. It is no surprise this tree has been spiritually revered, it belongs to the same family known as  Burseraceae, similar to the sacred oils of frankincense and myrrh used during Biblical times. 

The tree thrives in a tropical dry environment and after an intense rainy season cycle, harvestation comes from only the fallen trees due its to natural cause. Once a tree has died naturally, the roots and branches of the tree are ripe for carving into wood incense and then further shaved and grinded for steam distillation to convert into an essential oil. It is illegal and morally criminal to cut down any tree that is  alive. The life span of a Palo Santo tree is roughly 80-90 years. Here at Root and Resin, we source from distillers who are recognized by their government as sustainable harvesters. The source of our Palo Santo is mindfully harvested from trees of the Manabi coast of Ecuador.

The ritual use of Palo Santo for us in the western modern culture offers a homage to ancient wisdom practices and our lost connection to the earth. Therapeutically, it invokes a state of mental calm and comfort to the senses. This is due bioactive constituents such as D-Limonene and α-terpineol. These terpenes have been researched for its anti-inflammatory properties as well as stress and anxiety reduction. (D-Limonene is found in citrus fruits, hence the citrus note in the pallette). Alpha terpineol is recognized as having anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits. Palo Santo has also been used as an insect repellent as well! As we can see, there is a lot to rave about when it comes to Palo Santo, and it will not be regarded as just a passing trend, at least not in my medicine cabinet, nor should it be in yours.

Now there is another tree, also called Palo Santo and native to Northern Argentina and Southern Paraguay with a completely different binomial name, Bulnesia sarmientoi. This tree has been recognized as over harvested and quite possibly currently on the endangered list. It too is used for incense and distilled for its essential oil. Distinction is necessary since there has been a campaign to stop the purchasing and harvesting of Palo Santo but in reference to a completely different species. Our Palo Santo/Bursera graveolens, is completely fine and both consciously and sustainably sourced. 

To recap the plethora of ways Palo Santo may benefit:

  • purify and cleanse your physical space
  • aid for meditation
  • headaches
  • help clear the respiratory system and lungs
  • reduce stress and anxiety
  • insect repellent
  • reduce pain and tightness in muscles and joints

Do not hesitate to reach out to me if you would like help in customizing a protocol and wellness ritual with your Palo Santo.