Since day one, we’ve sought to inspire fresh perspectives on beauty + well-being through traditional practices. From products (the Oil Cleansing Method stems from ancient bathing practices) and pure ingredients (grass-fed tallow was a topical skin healer used by our ancestors) to wellness rituals (dry brushing has Ayurvedic origins) and tools (facial gua sha is rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine), we’re deeply grateful for those who have gone before us all across the globe to pave the path of wellness and share their ancient wisdom to help support well-being in our modern-day.
Today, we’re turning to another ancient practice and sacred plant: Palo Santo.
Taking its traditional roots and cultural history to heart, we’ve come to deeply admire + respect the story of Palo Santo and the significant impact this “holy wood” has had, on not only holistic health and well-being, but on its surrounding forests and families.
We’re taking it a step further and felt it would be even more valuable to have our Palo Santo distributor speak directly on this topic from his personal experiences + powerful insights. Sprinkled throughout this post is a Q&A portion with the founder of Sacred Wood Essence, Erik Suarez, who maintains a direct (and sacred) connection to Palo Santo and the people who pioneered this work in Ecuador decades ago.
Here’s everything you need to know about this aromatic tree, the truth about its roots, regenerative sourcing practices and how to enhance your wellness ritual, from sunrise to sunset – straight from the source.
PALO SANTO: AN INTRODUCTION
With a history that spans religious + spiritual practices, health + homeopathic support and aromatherapy properties for the spirit, skin and home, it’s no wonder that what stemmed from ancient traditional rituals in South America, has developed into a daily wellness ritual for individuals around the world – including our Palo Santo source, Erik Suarez.
PP: Please introduce yourself, Erik! What is your background and connection to Palo Santo and what initially drew you to work with this tree and its local communities?
Erik: “I was first introduced to Palo Santo sticks and its essential oil about 15 years ago while I was working as a full-time massage therapist in Santa Cruz, California. I was gifted a small vial of oil by a friend who’s mom just came back from a small fishing community in Ecuador. I was hooked and wanted to buy a bigger amount to sell and share with friends. I invested in 16 oz. with a healer friend of mine and we bottled up the diluted oils and sold them at LIB (a music festival we were working at). We sold out so we knew there was potential for a business.
I wanted to sell the sticks as well, however, I did not have a direct line to the source. At the time, it was important to me to meet the people working with this tree and processing the oil to make sure they were doing it in a good way. In early 2010, I made a trek to South America to meet the family distilling the oil. It was such a wonderful life experience and I’m so happy I did as it set the course for my life. It was an instant friendship and later on, they became more like family. I got to meet a lot of the key players on that first trip that worked with this magical tree.”
SACRED (AND SURPRISING) ROOTS
Known as “holy wood” in Spanish (a reference to the incense commonly burned at Catholic mass) and native to Central + South America, Palo Santo has been an integral part of traditional ceremonies, healing modalities and even everyday life, for centuries.
While burning Palo Santo is believed to provide powerful clearing, purifying and energetically grounding properties, its smoke + aroma has also been an effective insect repellent and its essential oil a topical skin healer for communities in Ecuador and Peru.
From the ancient Incas to folk medicine to street markets to modern-day wellness rituals, this sacred tree has a long-standing list of people, places and practices it has positively impacted and is continuing to do so today.
PP: Can you please speak to the history + roots of Palo Santo and how it’s been an integral part of different cultures and traditional practices?
Erik: “In Ecuador and Peru, Palo Santo’s claim to fame is using it for keeping mosquitos and bad energy away. I traveled to Peru in 2006 and experienced this firsthand while in the Amazonian jungle working with a local Shipibo Shaman. In Ayahuasca ceremonies, they said burning it was helpful in keeping away harmful entities and bringing in good energy or spirits. It smelt heavenly to me so I was in full agreement. In Ecuador along the coast, there are artifacts and different stories from hundreds and thousands of years ago where Palo Santo was burned in big bowls for prayer and purification.”
SOURCING + SUSTAINABILITY
You may have heard the rumors swirling around social media how this holy wood is endangered and we should all stop purchasing Palo Santo asap. While there are many well-meaning voices sharing that side of the story, it’s not the full story.
There are actually several varieties of the Palo Santo tree – Palo Santo Bursera Graveolens (the species we source) is not endangered and is intentionally sourced in a way that respects, preserves and even supports the land and its local communities. The communities we partner with are committed to wild harvesting and replanting trees back into the protected forests.
Because of its cultural significance, local governments in Ecuador have put laws in place that protect Palo Santo by prohibiting the cutting down of these trees. This sacred wood can only be gathered from naturally dead or fallen trees from the forest floor (don’t worry, not a single tree is harmed in the making of our Palo Santo sticks, mists or oils!).
Plus for the most therapeutic benefits and aromatic properties, age is everything. Just like with wine, Palo Santo trees get better with age. After strong annual storms knock down Palo Santo trees, the fallen wood must remain on the forest floor for up to a decade to allow the aromatic resins to develop and cure for the most effective, potent oil. Local communities are then hired to harvest aged, dead wood and are empowered financially to support their families while protecting Palo Santo forests.
The beauty about sustainability is the ripple effect that reaches and positively impacts each person + plant along the path. Rather than mindlessly consuming natural resources, we’re working to actively restore them by partnering with distributors, like Erik, who economically support local communities in Ecuador, harvest from naturally fallen trees and invest back into the reforestation of Palo Santo by planting tens of thousands of trees in surrounding forests – making it not only sustainable but renewable.
This sacred ritual goes beyond just enjoying its grounding benefits within, it’s also making a difference in the world around us.
PP: What sets your sourcing and sustainability practices apart from other Palo Santo distributors and why is this so essential?
Erik: “The source I work with was the first to distill the Palo Santo essential oil about 20 years ago. He was an ethnobotanist who studied as much as he could about the tree and sought out all the information he could from local communities to assist him in his process. He was obsessed with the tree and had a deep love and respect for its essence. He wanted to make sure all the steps in his work were in harmony with nature, including doing distillations with the moon cycle. To this day he still makes batches of oil in small amounts. There have been many big corporate companies that have come to buy him out, however, he has maintained his loyalty to his original customers, the community, and his family. The business still operates out of their home property!
I have been traveling down there for 10 years and it’s been amazing to witness and watch the steady growth. As a pioneer, he has worked with many local authorities and the government to have permission to collect the dead wood and export it. Through different projects and programs, he has successfully planted about 80,000 trees back into the wild dry tropical forest. The collectors are experienced and only collect dead or fallen trees from the mountains in their backyard and this has allowed them to provide their families with basic needs for living within a region that is considered very poor. This allows them to preserve the forest as there is extra value in it and keeps big farms away from clear-cutting for animal production and mono-cropping.”
HOLISTIC WELLNESS BENEFITS
(FOR SPIRIT, SOUL + SKIN)
Similar to incense, this aromatic tree (from the same family as Frankincense and Myrrh) infuses the space with sweet notes of citrus + cedar along with purifying, uplifting properties to promote a sense of calm, inside and out. By eliminating stagnant or negative energy, Palo Santo brings harmony to your home and enhances the ambiance of your external environment, which ultimately, impacts your inner world and supports a more peaceful presence within.
One of its most prominent and sacred purposes is to create a more clear + connected state of being, holistically. Bringing intention to your Palo Santo ritual and pairing it with mindful breathing, meditation or prayer, allows you to cultivate a greater sense of self-awareness and connection with your inner and outer world – your highest self and your Higher Power.
For the skin and state of mind, Palo Santo contains multiple aromatherapy and medicinal benefits:
- relaxes the nervous system
- naturally soothes headaches + minimizes migraines
- decreases stress + anxiety
- reduces feelings of depression
- relieves irritation + inflammatory skin conditions
This healing oil infuses your skin with potent levels of D-Limonene and Monoterpenes to provide deeply restorative and protective benefits at a cellular level to support a calm, balanced presence and complexion.
No matter how you incorporate Palo Santo in your daily wellness ritual (whether you enjoy its aromatic smoke, mist or oil), this sacred wood provides immediate therapeutic benefits to support your overall well-being. Here are some simple, powerful ways to incorporate Palo Santo into your daily life to enhance spirit, soul and skin:
- Morning: promote positivity and peace while sipping matcha, meditating, or journaling.
- Afternoon: enhance clarity and a sense of groundedness at the office or before an important conversation.
- Evening: reduce stress and increase relaxation when unwinding at bedtime.
Aromatherapy Oil: Inhale deeply to fully activate the therapeutic properties of this sacred oil. Apply to wrists and neck as a natural perfume, breath in the uplifting aroma for an afternoon pick-me-up or dab onto pulse points (or temples to minimize migraines) to deeply ground your mind before bed.
Aromatherapy Mist: Gently shake and mist room + body. Inhale deeply to fully activate the therapeutic properties of this sacred mist. Spray liberally on body for an aromatherapy indulgence, in the air to freshen up your space or on your bed sheets for a more restful sleep.
Stick: Hold at a 45-degree angle over an open flame until the wood catches fire. Allow it to burn for about a minute until the flame goes out naturally. Place the Palo Santo in a small fire-safe bowl (or walk with the wood throughout your home or office) and let the fragrant, cleansing smoke linger in your space.
PP: What are some ways we can incorporate Palo Santo in our daily lives + our modern age? How do you personally use Palo Santo?
Erik: “It’s easy to start and end your day with intention and prayer by burning a little bit of the stick, taking a few deep breaths and letting the smoke carry those prayers into the heavens. I also like to keep a stick in the car and burn throughout the day when I need a little pick me up. Palo Santo is said to help with anxiety so the beautiful smell can bring you into the present moment while giving you a sense of calm and peace. It’s also great for getting rid of unpleasant odors or smells whether it’s in the bathroom or the pet’s play area.”
PALO SANTO: PARTING THOUGHTS
Our world is rich with beautifully diverse traditions and practices. Being able to learn from + share in this ancient, sacred aspect of South American culture in our daily lives (no matter where we may live or what our ethnic background may be), while having the ability to give back and positively impact these communities is gift – and something we don’t take for granted. As we soak in the smoke and aroma that lingers as we light this holy wood, may we be mindful of these deep sacred roots.
PP: We’d love for you to leave us with a few words to really drive home the power and importance of Palo Santo from your perspective. From the forests and the local communities to the processing and properties of Palo Santo, what are you most passionate about and what is the message you’re wanting to share with the world?
Erik: “For me, the best part was when I first traveled to Ecuador and discovered that the tree had to naturally die or fall over to have any smell. It would only be collected and processed after a minimum of 4 years on the ground. That was such a relief to me as I did not want to start a business that would be responsible for cutting down more trees in South America. There was so much beauty in knowing that this tree continued to give life after its death and carried such a special smell that drew so many people to it.
After the first year of selling Palo Santo at festivals, I knew it was very powerful just in the customer’s reaction to this “new” aroma. I’m also most passionate about the healing properties and how it can help people with different ailments such as migraine headaches or asthma, to name a few. I also enjoy the fact that nothing goes to waste and all parts of the tree are used, including the leftover powder from making oil which is great for mulch.
It also brings me great joy to know that Palo Santo is providing financial abundance for many in rural areas of Ecuador where families are struggling financially, especially now with the downturn in tourism. Palo Santo supplies many with work, from collection in the forest to transport, cutting the wood, processing the wood, planting trees, packing and product development. I love Palo Santo so much and I’m happy that I was one of the first distributors to introduce it to the West Coast and US.”
Whether Palo Santo becomes a sacred addition to your daily prayer or meditation ritual or a practical way to infuse your home + mood with a grounding aroma (or to fight off insects!), we hope this “holy wood” helps to not only impact your internal wellness and create space to reconnect with yourself, but is a tangible reminder to connect with the world and its beautiful traditions around you. XO