Palo santo (Bursera graveolens) is a tree that’s native to Peru, Ecuador, and other South American countries. It grows in dry tropical forests and produces very fragrant resin. In Spanish, palo santo means “holy wood.”
For thousands of years, the wood, resin, and oil have been used for medicinal purposes. It’s mainly used to treat pain and stress. It’s also said to clear negative energy.
There isn’t a lot of scientific proof behind these benefits. Nevertheless, palo santo has been used by indigenous peoples for centuries.
Let’s explore the purported benefits of palo santo, along with its forms and uses.
Palo santo is available in different forms. You can use it as:
- Wood. The wood of the palo santo tree is available as sticks, chips, or powder. It usually comes from the branches of the tree, so it’s 100 percent wood.
- Resin. Palo santo wood contains a very aromatic resin, which can be extracted and used separately.
- Oil. The essential oil of palo santo can be derived from the wood and fruit.
Palo santo is associated with several medicinal and therapeutic benefits. Reportedly, it can do the following.
Traditionally, palo santo is widely used to repel mosquitos. It’s also said to deter ants, termites, and flies.
There may be some merit to this claim. According to a 2012 studyTrusted Source, palo santo essential oil is mainly composed of limonene. Limonene is a substance with insecticide properties, so it’s used in natural insect repellants.
However, there isn’t hard evidence to support this benefit. More research is necessary to determine how palo santo affects mosquitos.
Another supposed benefit is pain relief. People use palo santo to treat different types of pain, including:
Again, this effect may be related to limonene. A 2017 reviewTrusted Source states the substance has analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory properties.
Limonene can provide relief by inhibiting certain neuronal pathways, according to a 2016 studyTrusted Source on animals.
There’s no hard proof that palo santo has this effect, though. The benefit is theoretical and anecdotal, so additional research is needed.
Improve stress response
Many people find the aroma of palo santo relaxing, so it’s commonly used to ease stress. It’s thought to have a purifying, cleansing effect on the body and mind.
This might also be due to limonene. In a 2013 animal studyTrusted Source, inhaled limonene exhibited anti-stress and anti-anxiety properties.
A 2014 studyTrusted Source also found that ingested limonene decreased signs of stress in rats.
Despite these findings, human studies are needed to determine how palo santo affects stress.
Depending on the form, palo santo is used in different ways.
Palo santo oil uses
The oil can also be applied to your skin. This technique is usually used for treating pain.
Palo santo wood uses
The wood is burned as incense. As it burns, it releases aromatic smoke into the air. Palo santo chips and powder are used in the same way.
Palo santo resin uses
Like palo santo wood, the resin is used as incense. It’s a placed on a heated charcoal disc in a resin burner, which releases the resin’s aroma.
Palo santo isn’t associated with any major side effects.
However, it’s important to use caution if the following scenarios apply to you:
- It’s your first time using the oil. Do a patch test first. If your skin becomes irritated, stop using the oil immediately.
- You have lung or breathing problems. Avoid burning palo santo, which may worsen your symptoms.
- You’re pregnant or breastfeeding. It’s recommended to avoid using palo santo oil or incense in this case.
Is the palo santo tree endangered?
Although palo santo has become very popular, the tree isn’t endangered. It’s listed as “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conversation of Nature. This means the palo santo population is stable and not endangered.
Still, it’s important to buy palo santo that’s been ethically and sustainably sourced.
For many years, palo santo was harvested by deforestation. Deforestation has negative environmental effects. It also reduces local people’s sources of income.
But palo santo can be harvested without removing trees. The wood can be obtained from fallen branches, while the oil can be extracted from fruit. These methods leave the forest unharmed.
Before buying palo santo, make sure it was responsibly produced. This will help support the preservation of the palo santo species and the livelihood of the native peoples.
Here’s how to use the different forms of palo santo.
Palo santo essential oil
Palo santo oil can be used in the following ways:
- Add it to a diffuser or essential oil burner.
- Add it to a pot of hot water to make fragrant steam.
- Inhale it from the bottle.
- Dilute it with a carrier oil, like castor oil, and apply it to the skin.
Always check the directions on the oil’s packaging.
Palo santo wood
To burn palo santo wood sticks:
- Light a palo santo stick with a candle, lighter, or match.
- Hold the stick downward at a 45-degree angle.
- Let the stick burn for 30 seconds.
- Blow out the flame. Place the stick in a heatproof dish to let it burn.
When using wood chips or powders, place them in a heatproof dish. Light them with a lighter or match, then blow them out after 30 seconds.
Never leave burning incense unattended.
Palo santo resin
For this method, you’ll need a resin burner, charcoal disc, and sand. You can also use gravel or another noncombustible material in place of the sand.
- Fill the resin burner with sand.
- Pick up the charcoal disc with a pair of tongs. Heat one side of the disc with a lighter or match. Repeat on the other side.
- Place the charcoal on the sand. Wait until a thin layer of ash forms on top.
- Add the resin on top of the charcoal. As the resin melts, it will release its aroma.
- Submerge the charcoal in water when you’re done.
You can also add resin and a carrier oil to an essential oil burner.
Palo santo is often sold at:
- traditional medicine stores
- metaphysical stores
- plant shops
- gift boutiques
- health markets