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Palo Santo (Spanish for “holy stick”) is the common name of a tree in the resin-bearing torchwood plant family, which also includes frankincense, myrrh, various copals and other incense resin-producing trees. Palo Santo trees are found in dry tropical forests throughout eastern and southeastern Mexico to Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador (including the Galapagos Islands), El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela. There are also naturalized populations in Cuba.
Palo santo contains very high amounts of the terpene limonene. When burned, it releases a fresh, woody smell with notes of mint, eucalyptus and lemon. The aromatic wood of palo santo has been used in spiritual smoke cleansing and traditional healing ceremonies in indigenous and mestizo Latin American cultures for centuries up into the present. Traditional lore from these cultures says it is used to purify the air, dispel evil spirits, and cleanse negative energy, heal the mind, and bring good luck. One vender in a market in the Yucatan sold palo santo incense cones to us “limpiar de la mala energia, traer bueno suerte, y alejar a los mosquitos.” (To cleanse bad energy, bring good luck, and ward away mosquitos.)
Indeed, when burned, it brings a lightness to a space--much like frankincense but airier. We find the lightness improves the mood of a space and can help to quell anxiety and make room for joy.
To use palo santo sticks, set the end of the stick alight with a candle flame, then blow out the flame and leave the stick to smolder in a heat safe bowl or incense burner. It will produce clouds of fragrant white smoke, but eventually put itself out.
Palo santo chips and resin may be added to incense blends and preparations for cleansing, healing, and turning bad luck.