Palo santo is a sacred tree native to South America. Indigenous Latin American cultures have used its wood in traditional healing and spiritual ceremonies for centuries. A cousin of both frankincense and myrrh, palo santo literally means “holy wood,” and it’s a fitting name given its past. When it burns, the aromatic wood releases lemon, mint, and pine notes—an invigorating, grounding fragrance that is believed to have a number of benefits.
Shamans and healers, often known as Curanderos, traditionally used the energizing and healing properties of palo santo to purify air, dispel evil spirits, and cleanse negative energy. The wood has also long been used therapeutically to soothe cold and flu symptoms, depression, emotional pain, and other ailments. It’s said that the uplifting aroma of palo santo is conducive to meditation and relaxation and that it both enhances creativity and brings good fortune.
Interestingly, these benefits are only found when a palo santo tree dies naturally and is allowed to decompose for five to eight years. That gives the oils in the wood enough time to fully mature before it is harvested and processed into sticks or essential oils.
- It helps clear negative energy.
The high resin content of palo santo wood is believed to have purifying properties when it’s burned, hence why it was traditionally used to clear negative energy and purify spaces, people, and objects.
- Its scent is relaxing.
Burning palo santo as part of a calming ritual can help promote a shift in energy. The pleasing, grounding aroma of palo santo triggers the brain’s olfactory system, stimulating the relaxation response and preparing the mind for meditation or creative focus.
- It might help ease stress.
Palo santo was traditionally used as a remedy for ailments like the common cold, headaches, and stress. While clinical studies on the wood’s medicinal effects are limited, it is rich in both antioxidants and limonene, a terpene that has been extensively researched and has anti-inflammatory benefits.
HOW TO USE:
Once you are equipped with some context and history, burning palo santo sticks or using palo santo essential oil is pretty straightforward. Here are a few ways to incorporate it into your spiritual practice. (One quick note: Whenever you light palo santo sticks, avoid directly inhaling the smoke and prop open a door or window.)
- For meditating:
Use a match or lighter to ignite the end of your palo santo stick, and let it burn for about 30 seconds or so before blowing it out. The smoldering end will give off a white smoke for a few minutes, and you can prop it in an incense burner in advance of your practice. The grounding aroma can help you prepare your mind and energy for meditation.
- For clearing your space:
Begin with a clear, simple intention to clear the negative energy in your space and mind. Light the stick as above and move around the room, waving the wood to spread the smoke. Remember to focus your mind, and note that you may need to relight the stick once or twice.