Palo Santo, literally meaning “holy wood” in Spanish, is a tree that is widely distributed throughout Central and South America. Palo Santo is used in South America in much the same way as White Ceremonial Sage is used in North America- to combat negative energy and to cleanse the space. Palo Santo is different than many of the other smudging materials as it is fragrant in its raw form and does not necessarily need to be lit, though it usually is when being used for ceremonial purposes. Palo Santo is often used by Amazonian shamans in sacred plant spirit ceremonies; the rising smoke of the lit sticks is believed to enter the energy field of ritual participants to clear misfortune, negative thoughts and to chase away evil spirits. Its use reportedly dates back to the Inca era.
Traditionally, only the fallen branches and twigs of the tree are harvested, and this practice is regulated by the government of Peru to ensure that the trees do not become overharvested. Unfortunately, as Palo Santo has become more popular, the illegal harvesting and cutting of trees have also greatly increased. Consequently, if you are purchasing wild-harvested Palo Santo, it is important to do so from an ethical wildcrafter.
It is believed that a tree or fallen branches must lie dead for 4-10 years before the medicinal and mystical properties of the wood begin to come alive. It is also believed that the branches of the Palo Santo that are felled by lightning have the highest concentration of medicinal and mystical properties.