Burning Palo Santo Wood comes as close to a spiritual experience as one could hope for with minimal effort, but maximum impact. Harvested from trees in Mexico, and Central and South America, Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens), translated from Spanish means “holy wood”. From the same family (Bursera) as Frankincense and Myrrh, this evocative wood has been used for centuries in a variety of spiritual, religious, medicinal, and practical ways.
Unlike the majority of resins, which only release aromatics as they are warmed, Palo Santo greets you with a very compelling, deep, and rich scent whether it is burning or simply sitting in a satchel on your bookshelf. Of course, the longer and more aged the wood is before being harvested enhances the richness of the sweet, but woody aromatic notes in a piece of Palo Santo (“Bursera”, n.d.). Simply having a piece of the wood in your possession allows you to enjoy the compelling scent. But, Palo Santo is much more than a wonderfully aromatic tool to add to your practice. Following the traditions of the South American Shaman, we’ll explore ways this sacred wood can be used for purification and warding off evil.
USING PALO SANTO WOOD
Usage of this wood can be divided into four major practices. First, one can simply enjoy the wood in its natural, unburned form. The wood can be placed in a satchel and used to freshen up any space (closet, kitchen, car, etc.) you inhabit. This is a great alternative to using chemically driven products designed to ‘cover over’ anything unpleasant. Using Palo Santo in this manner is naturally beautiful, but also environmentally ethical. Palo Santo that comes from Peru and Ecuador is only harvested from fallen branches (no trees are clear-cut for the wood) (“Bursera”, n.d.). Second, one can burn Palo Santo to release the essential oils and properties of the wood. As a method for smudging (cleansing a space, an aura, etc.), Palo Santo provides a great alternative to those who might be allergic to or don’t like the scent of the traditional sage stick. Simply light the end of a piece of Palo Santo, gentle blow out the flame, and allow the smoke that trails from the smoldering wood to fill the room you are cleansing. Burning in this manner is a peaceful and truly wonderful experience you can add to many rituals. And, it has a practical side as well because the smoke from burning a stick can be used “as a repellent to keep off mosquitoes, ants and other insects” (“Uses and Benefits”, n.d.) In addition, burning Palo Santo is really easy. And, unlike a traditional smudge stick of sage, which must be burned fully once you start the process, a stick of Palo Santo is easily snuffed and then relit at a later time.
Third, because of its deep and rich aromatics, Palo Santo is now being used in a variety of natural incense blends (see more on this below). And, fourth, the essential oil of Palo Santo Wood is being extracted for an assortment of uses including cosmetics, medicine, and ritualistic activities. If you purchase Palo Santo Oil, be sure to ask for or review the gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to ensure the purity of the oil (“Bursera”, n.d.). The GC-MS is a standard process used in a variety of disciplines to determine the purity of a substance (and identify any additional substances not expected for a registered ingredient like Palo Santo Wood) (“Chemical Abstracts”, n.d.). We want to encourage everyone to seek out products and materials that are pure and ethically harvested/created, and Palo Santo Oil is no exception.
Palo Santo truly is a very versatile wood that functions on a spiritual and practical level. Let’s look at some of those uses in more detail.
INTEGRATING PALO SANTO WOOD INTO YOUR PRACTICE
The most detailed accounts of how Palo Santo is used come from South American traditions. From a metaphysical perspective, in some areas of South America, people burn the wood to remove ‘bad energy’ from their homes and bring good luck (“Bursera”, n.d.). The smudging method described above uses the wood to fumigate an area to ward off bad spirits and clear the way to welcome goodness to your space. In South America, tribal Shaman typically conducts these smudging and purification practices. According to Lembo (2011), smudging with Palo Santo “reestablishes balance and peace within an environment” and is best when used to meditate on clearing away negativity and misfortune. From the ethically harvested fallen wood, many items have been made including walking sticks, spiritual bowls, and religious crosses (all of these objects embody the sweet scent of Palo Santo wood). If you are looking for an easy burning method and an aromatic experience that is pure, rich, deep, sweet, and deep, consider turning to Palo Santo for your next cleansing.
Phytognosis uses Palo Santo shavings in some of our natural incense blends. For instance, if you use our Mayan Temple you will find incense that is wonderful for solar workings, especially for those working within the Mayan cosmology. This incense blend includes Balsam Peru, Colophony, two species of Copal, and Palo Santo that make it a wonderful option for cleansing a sacred space or as offerings during a solstice or equinox ritual. And, if you are a fan of burning incense cones, Phytognosis has created its own blend of chemical-free, all natural, and hand-made Incense Cones that are a blend of Palo Santo and Copal. While from different traditions, both elements play a role in cleansing and sweetening a space. In combination, the cones release a sweet and subtle smoky aroma that is both pleasurable and functional for spiritual intent. Unlike cones you might buy at a store, which are coated in a chemical igniter to facilitate burning, our Palo Santo Cones are self-igniting and only need to be burned on a heat-safe platform.
When considering its intersection with the body, medicinally, Palo Santo is included as a component of herbal tea blends to address respiratory, urinary, and bowel problems (as always, please consult with an registered herbalist or your doctor before taking a botanical internally). From a perspective of taste enhancement, depending on the type of wine you like, some South American vintners use the wood to create fermenting barrels. It has been similarly used to craft a caramel and vanilla, very roasty and malty beer in the United States (“Palo Santo Marron”, n.d.). This brew by Dogfish is a brown ale that is rich and bold in flavor.
While the beauty of a Palo Santo stick is that it can be easily burned, snuffed out, and relit repeatedly as your needs for cleansing emerge, it can also be used in your own incense blends. Remember, its primary metaphysical property is cleansing a space (or energy) and clearing the way for bringing goodness to your workings. In that spirit, try the following recipe:
Cocomama Incense Blend — Incan Goddess of Health and Happiness.
A powerful incense blend used to bring health and wellness into your life. Burn at night or just before dawn.
10 grams (white) copal
5 grams Dark Mayan copal
5 grams Palo Santo pieces
1.5 grams Brazilian Rosewood pieces
4 drops of white wine
Leave the resin in small pieces. The Palo Santo and rosewood can be cut into small pieces with a knife or scissors. Mix well and enjoy.
Palo Santo Wood is quite easy to use and its power to cleanse and purify is simply amazing. Whether you are looking for a pure and simple cleansing method for your home, car, or closet that is chemical free or something with a rich South American Shamanistic Tradition to integrate into your practice, it is hard to find something better than Palo Santo Wood.
Bursera graveolens. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2013 from Bursera graveolens Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bursera_graveolens
Chemical abstract services. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2013 from Chemical abstract services Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_Abstract_Services
Lembo, M.A. (2011). All About Smudging. Llewellyn Worldwide. Woodbury, MN. ISBN: 9780738733142.
Palo Santo Marron. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2013 from Dogfish Head Crafted Brew Ales: http://www.dogfish.com/brews-spirits/the-brews/year-round-brews/palo-santo-marron.htm
Uses and Benefits of Palo Santo Incenses. (n.d.). Retrieved February 23, 2013 from Ecuadorian Hands: http://www.ecuadorianhands.com/blog-en/2011/04/uses-and-benefits-of-palo-santo-incenses/