Palo Santo

Palo Santo is a sacred wood from the tree “Bursera graveolens”. The smell when burnt is unmistakable, complex, and inviting. People will follow the smoke to the source, either as they know what it is, or want to find out what it is. Palo Santo means, in English – “Holy Wood”, as it has been used by healers and shamans for centuries in South America. It is considered spiritual and is used in many ceremonies, in particular, Palo Santo is known for its ability to remove negative energy and introduce positive energy, through smudging, whether it is a person, building, or a crowd. It cleans spaces, keeps evil spirits away, and induces tranquility that aids in meditation and spiritual enlightenment.

Palo Santo is extremely rare, as it’s an endangered species, only fallen down trees can be harvested. The wood is left on the ground for ten years to gain strength, and then only the heartwood of the tree can be used. Palo Santo is commonly used in sticks of from 4 to 6 inches long, and from 1/4 inch to 5/8’s of an inch thick. It is extremely aromatic even when packaged, and the aroma is uplifting. To light a stick, heat one end with a lighter or candle, and once lit, let the flames build on the end. Once there is a good flame going, blow it out and let it smolder. It will throw off thick pungent white smoke, which will hang in the air and still be noticed hundreds of yards away if the breeze is right. Palo Santo is related to Myrrh, Frankincense, and Copal.

A psychologist once remarked to the author that the range of experiences that a human being could encompass was like a bell curve, and the majority could be explained by either science or psychology, but that at each end of the known range were the experiences that could not be explained, and that was where it was most fascinating. Palo Santo fits this description, it has effects that can not be explained, but that make believers out of those that have used or experienced it.


Smudging a Person

Smudging a person does not require any special skill; it is something that is already within the realm of human knowledge. People instinctively know what to do with it. To smudge a person properly they should be willing. Allow the person to become relaxed, offer them some water, and ensure that anything they are carrying is removed from their hands and placed somewhere safe. Give them notice that you will walk around them a couple of times, and might have to relight the stick once or twice. Also advise them that you will lift their shirt or blouse at the front and back to allow the smoke in, and also their shirtsleeves, pant legs, or dress. Tell them to close their eyes when the smoke goes in their face. Light the stick and pass it back and forth in front of them, ensuring the smoke goes around their body and in their face. Most people will close their eyes when the smokes encircles them and keep their eyes closed throughout the whole experience, in fact you can often quietly sit down and it might take them half a minute or so to open their eyes as they are induced into a state of tranquility. During the smudge you allow the smoke to touch their body, allow the smoke to roll up their tops, pant legs, up their skirts, around their arms, everywhere. The smoldering Palo Santo throws off quite a bit of warmth but if it touches skin will not burn. That can’t be said for all clothing materials so care should be taken when smudging some one in nice attire.

The person who has been smudged will notice a difference in their composure, being more relaxed. The feeling of lightness and harmony following a smudge is a blessing that appears from nowhere, especially to those who have arrived not knowing about it.

Smudging a Building

There should be no one in the building for a few hours. To properly smudge a house you have to burn enough to fill the air with a fine haze which will make your eyes water. After the smudge the house should be left alone for several hours, during which time all the doors and windows to the outside world are closed. After three hours open all the doors and windows and allow fresh air in. The Palo Santo will be in the house for months after this, so there will be the calming scent each time you enter the building.


Smudging a Crowd

This is one of the more fun times to burn Palo Santo. You’ll need a pocket full of sticks and several lighters. In crowds people are usually more relaxed and open to new experiences, and it can touch those who have no knowledge of it. People with dark intentions may pass us by in everyday life, and we don’t notice, or have our blinders on. But with Palo Santo those people will react quite strongly, usually leaving the area. In this way the Palo Santo allows for a more harmonious space, it drives away those with negativity, and cleanses those who are accepting. The end result is a beautiful space that all share in.

If there is a breeze this will make the task easier. You can position yourself upwind of the crowd, light your stick, and casually walk the length of the crowd back and forth over the next ten to twenty minutes. You will see the odd person leave, that’s OK. After the event is over, you will often be approached by people thanking you for burning the Palo Santo.

If there is no breeze, the job of the smudger becomes a bit more laborious, but also more rewarding. In this case you will have to walk into the crowd and light it and let the smoke linger in the air to achieve the same effect. After you have done one area you move on and keep repeating your efforts. The reason it is more rewarding is that as you are in the crowd, people will smell the wood and see that you are the source. You will get many curious people who wish to smell it closer up. This is an acknowledgement of the awakening that Palo Santo has stirred in them.

True Stories

The author was introduced to Palo Santo just over a year ago, and then contacted his sources in South America to procure a shipment. Business in South America is not done at the same pace as it is in the Western World, an order can take up to a month to be collected, chopped into sticks, and finally packed and sent. Even after all this it can be delayed in Customs due to the aroma. The biggest testimony to Palo Santo’s effects are the things you are not expecting, seeing this happen for yourself instills respect for the wood.

  • There was a person who was in the process of paying for an item, reaching into his wallet as the Palo Santo was lit. He stepped back with his hands up. “You’ve banished me from your stall, I’m a lost soul” he said. He put his money away and turned around, and we never saw him again.
  • At one event there was some one who had overdosed, but this was not the usual overdose, it was like an exorcism. There were people holding him down by his arms and legs, and his body struggled against them. He was growling and at no point was he even aware of where he was or who he was. This went on for four hours, which must have been an eternity for this person, as a battle raged within him. One person approached him with a burnt stick of Palo Santo and he immediately became passive, and his struggles stopped. Take away the Palo Santo and he was back into the struggling state, bring it back and he calmed. This was the most amazing effect experienced by the author of how strong Palo Santo really is, and what it does. To those who are in the most agony, it finds and reaffirms the good in them, allowing them peace.
  • At events the author has been approached by people who recognize the smell, but it’s different from what they are accustomed to. There is something in every culture that is similar to Palo Santo, every part of the world uses resinous plant materials for smudging and cleansing – it is part of the human experience. The Black Boy tree is used by the Aboriginal People of Australia and is said to be similar, but distinct. The Black Boy trees reach a great age, and by looking at the base of the trees a red resin can be found. This is said to be highly flammable, and is the incense that the Catholic Church used in Australia in days past.

Other Uses

Palo Santo can be brewed in a tea and is good for many ailments, specifically asthma, coughs, and the flu. Prepare a pot of water and boil for fifteen minutes with the Palo Santo in the water. Ten sticks will be enough for thirty cups of tea.

Palo Santo will keep mosquitos away.


If you are unfamiliar with Palo Santo and this article has you curious, why not seek some out and give it a try. You will find it soothing, but the real reason you should try it is to discover it and introduce others to it. In our modern world of computers, science, technology, and psychology, we have become removed from our interactions with the rest of the living and spiritual world. Palo Santo will aid in your reconnection to human traditions, even if they are outside your normal realm of experiences.


1. Chemical composition and anti-proliferative properties of Bursera graveolens essential oil

2. Bursera graveolens, a Promising Tree for the Restoration of Tropical Dry Forests

3. Palo Santo Bursera Graveolens, The Holy Wood

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