What Is Palo Santo, and How Do You Use It?
Palo Santo is a tree with a long history of traditional and medicinal uses. Native to the dry, tropical forests of South America, it is found most widely in Peru and Ecuador, and has been used by the indigenous people there for centuries in their ceremonies and rituals. To those new to using Palo Santo, we offer this guide for using and benefiting from Palo Santo, along with a history that explains what Palo Santo is.
Palo Santo (Bursera Graveolens)
The tree Palo Santo actually belongs to the same plant family as the widely known frankincense and myrrh, as well as copal. When burned, the incense smoke of Palo Santo offers up sweet, woody notes of mint, lemon, and pine. This smoke has numerous practical uses, including:
- The smoke from Palo Santo can drive away mosquitos and other flying insects (this is one of its primary uses in Peru and Ecuador)
- Freshening the air in enclosed spaces
It is also used widely in a ceremonial way to:
- Clear away stagnant or negative energies
- Focus attention
- Quiet the mind
Ceremonial Uses of Palo Santo
Palo Santo is a powerful aroma, and is used widely in aromatherapy to foster a sense of safety and protection. Shamans leading traditional ayahuasca ceremonies have long used Palo Santo to unify the senses and focus the thoughts of those in their rituals, to keep them grounded and attentive while they are on their journey.
Palo Santo keeps energies grounded, while yielding an uplifting scent that is clarifying and raises vibrations. This makes it a useful tool to enhance creativity, freeing the mind to travel while remaining grounded and steady.
Healing with Palo Santo
In indigenous cultures, Palo Santo has long been used to relieve symptoms of a cold or a flu. This is accomplished by adding the oil of Palo Santo to hot water, the steam of which is then inhaled, relieving symptoms of congestion.
Burning Palo Santo is a way to relieve stress and anxiety, as well as to help with depression and sadness, especially during the winter months. As an essential oil it is perfect for use in aromatherapy, or diluted into a carrier oil to be used for massages. When diluted and applied topically, it can also help with inflammation.
How Does Palo Santo Help with Inflammation?
Palo Santo, along with most members of the Burseraceae family, contains an aromatic substance called limonene. Limonene is a terpene found in numerous medicinal plants that is widely studied and well known. Limonene is also one of the main terpenes in cannabis.
Scientists have long studied limonene for its calming effects and anti-inflammatory properties. It is used widely as a flavoring and fragrance, as well as in medicines and creams to help them penetrate the skin barrier. It has also been studied for its ability to help with obesity and cancer.
Using Palo Santo Respectfully
Just like with sage smudging, there has been a recent interest in a dialogue about using ancient, sacred, indigenous rituals such as burning Palo Santo. Ethically, smudging is considered more of a closed practice, entered into by those from indigenous backgrounds and cultures. Smudging is typically a ritual that has specific, sacred significance.
Smoke cleansing however, is a universal practice. Burning various herbs and incense to smoke cleanse is a time honored and worldwide practice that can ethically be done using Palo Santo.
How to Smoke Cleanse with Palo Santo
Set Your Intentions:
Before beginning any ritual, clear your mind and space. Then begin by setting an intention for why or what you are going to cleanse. You may wish to recite a poem, a prayer, or do a short meditation to reflect your mood and intentions going forward. This doesn’t need to be something elaborate - the best intentions come straight from your heart.
Gather Your Tools
You will need a stick of Palo Santo and a lighter, as well as a heat proof bowl or shell to catch ashes in. An abalone shell is a common vessel used to catch ashes as it symbolizes water to counter the fire you will be burning. Add a small amount of salt or sand to the shell to disperse the ashes and heat.
Light Your Palo Santo
You may need to hold your lighter on the Palo Santo stick for up to 30 seconds, which is why we recommend using a lighter and not a match. Once it begins to smolder and you see the tip glow orange, it should remain lit. Blow out the flame and allow the ember to smolder and smoke. Place the stick on your sant or salt and you are now ready to cleanse your space.
Cleanse Your Space with Palo Santo
Make sure any windows or doors are open in your room or house, so the old or negative energy has somewhere to go to. Walk in a clockwise direction around your space, allowing the smoke to waft from your Palo Santo into the room. You may want to repeat your intention as you walk around, out loud or to yourself. Allow the smoke to fill every corner of your room, as negative energy has a sneaky way of hiding in the tiniest nooks and crannies. Check out Art Of The Root's Cleansing Ritual Kit for more guidance on your first cleanse.
You may also choose to cleanse yourself with the Palo Santo. Cleanse whatever parts of your body feel right to cleanse - you may wish to choose your feet to help you walk your best path, or your mouth so you can speak the truth, or your ears to help you hear what knowledge you need to learn.
Put the Smoke Out
After you have cleansed yourself and your space, you can choose to set your Palo Santo down and sit and meditate for a while. Usually the Palo Santo will go out on its own, but you can also dip it in your sand or salt to extinguish it. Most rituals of this kind will end with an offering of gratitude.
We hope this guide has helped you on your journey to using Palo Santo responsibly and creatively. When used correctly, Palo Santo is a beautiful and powerful tool in your magical treasure chest, helpful for cleansing your space, grounding your feet, freeing your mind - and maybe getting rid of a few pesky mosquitos while you’re at it.