Palo santo is a Spanish word for an old tree found in South and Central America. It translates to ‘sacred tree’ or ‘holy wood’. The wood has been used extensively in folk medicine by indigenous people going back to the Incas… and further. It is closely related to frankincense and myrrh.
The wood from a mature tree is saturated in oils. Its botanical name, bursera graveolens, means literally ‘bag of oil’. Burning palo santo wood to extract the oil is perhaps the oldest known form of of aromatherapy.
When burned or extracted, palo santo produces a scent something like a delightful campfire of deep, sweet, earthy notes.
There is all kinds of folklore and superstition surrounding this tree and its sacred oil that I will spare the reader. As with all unsubstantiated claims made by earth-medicine healers, you are better to experience it without predisposition towards lofty hyperbole.
But these superstitions have had enough impact on Latin culture to have created strict laws preventing it from being cut down for harvest in many parts of South America. Allegedly, a full maturation of the oil only occurs after the tree has laid dead on the forest floor for many months.
For these reasons, there are many smudge-sticks and extracts sold falsely under the name palo santo, which are really just some knock-off tree of questionable origins.
That said… the real stuff is magic for aromatherapy. If there ever was a scent to relieve stress, anxiety, depression or angst… this is it. For meditation, palo santo is a beast for purifying a room and tweaking your physical consciousness. If you’ve got a bad scent in your kitchen or elsewhere, palo santo will kill it better than those poison perfume chemicals they spray in hotels and taxi cabs.
Truthfully, I have a sensitive nose and don’t like any incense much at all. But I love the scent of this wood and I burn it often. If you get your hands on real palo santo… try it out… you’ll be happy.