How to work with Palo Santo
Palo santo's long, proud history.
Palo santo is a sacred tree native to South America. Indigenous Latin American cultures have used its wood in traditional healing and spiritual ceremonies for centuries.
It is a cousin of both frankincense and myrrh, palo santo literally means "holy wood," and it's a fitting name given its past.
When it burns, the aromatic wood releases notes of lemon, mint, and pine —an invigorating, grounding fragrance that is believed to have a number of benefits.
Shamans and healers, often known as Curanderos, traditionally used the energizing and healing properties of palo santo to purify air, dispel evil spirits, and cleanse negative energy. The wood has also long been used therapeutically to soothe cold and flu symptoms, depression, emotional pain, and other ailments. It's said that the uplifting aroma of palo santo is conducive to meditation and relaxation and that it both enhances creativity and brings good fortune.
How to use palo santo for meditation, space clearing, and more.
Once you are equipped with some context and history, burning Palo Santo sticks or using palo santo essential oil is pretty straightforward.
Here are a few ways to incorporate it into your spiritual practice.
(One quick note: Whenever you light palo santo sticks, avoid directly inhaling the smoke and prop open a door or window.)
What you need to burn Palo Santo.
If you're new to the practice of cleansing with Palo Santo, there are a few items you'll need to get started.
- A vessel for burning sage
- Palo Santo
- A fire source (such as a long match or candle)
- A fanning tool (not completely necessary but could be helpful if you need to cover a large area such as a home or office)
1. Gather your tools and have an exit strategy.
First and foremost, ensure you have all the above-mentioned tools handy and that you've opened a door or window before lighting up. After all, that negativity (not to mention smoke) needs to have a pathway to get out.
2. Set your intention and say a mantra.
(Something like ~ I open this space to divine love, may all the energy that flows through here benefit the heart space. May it hold compassion, nurturance, forgiveness, and truth.)
Intentions are central to the practice of smudging, so take a moment before you light the sage to determine what exactly it is that you're trying to purify or release from your space.
3. Light up.
Once you're ready, hold the Palo Santo at a 45-degree angle, light it using your match or candle, and let it burn for about 20 seconds. After that, gently blow out the flame so you see orange embers on one end. The smoke should now billow up. Remember to focus your mind, and note that you may need to relight the stick once or twice.
4. Slowly walk around your space.
Slowly walk around your space and allow the smoke to waft around. Guide the smoke—and the bad energy—toward the open windows or a door, so it can escape. "Give special attention to areas in front of mirrors, in corners, and in spaces like foyers, hallways, and doorways," Wasfie recommends. "I'm also a big fan of cleansing technology like our phones or laptops. I usually hold the Palo Santo stick underneath them and then wave it around them."
5. Be safe!
Burning Palo Santo 101: Always stay present! If you see little embers fall on the ground, tamp them out immediately. Never let the burning Palo Santo stay unattended for any reason. Also, take care not to inhale too much of the smoke. Although burning Palo Santo is a great way to clear your home or work space of stagnant and possibly negative energy, it is best not to inhale it directly.
6. Extinguish your Palo Santo.
Once you're ready to extinguish a Palo Santo stick, press the burning tip firmly into your fireproof vessel, dirt, or sand until the smoke no longer rises. Pro tip: Don't get it wet! "Don't use water to extinguish the hot embers—it will ruin the tip of the stick and make it harder to light next time. When you are done using the smudge stick, you can keep it in a vessel until you are ready to use it again," says McCann.
How to cleanse yourself.
If you're interested in cleansing yourself, you can essentially follow the same steps as above, but the focus will be on your body instead of your space. Stand in the shape of a T with legs slightly spread like you're in the TSA line at the airport. Then, keeping the sage stick at an arm's length distance away from you, work your way up from your feet. Repeat your mantra (either internally or aloud) as you go, envisioning the smoke is clearing you of any and all lingering negativity.
I recommend doing a little self-diagnosis ahead of smudging yourself to determine which areas might need it the most. For example, if you shake hands often, then smudge your hands frequently, or if you speak all day at work, then be sure to sage around your throat.
Again, don't directly inhale large amounts of smoke, and ensure the sage remains a safe distance from your body. If you have long hair, pull it back in a bun. Don't forget to extinguish the Palo Santo once you've finished smudging.
How often should you cleanse with Palo Santo?
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to how often you should cleanse yourself or your space. We are our best guides when it comes to identifying negative energy—so pay attention to your intuition. If you feel weighed down by stress or worry, it's usually a good indication that a cleansing is in order.
Where to buy Palo Santo.
As Cleansing becomes more popular, there has been a huge uptick in Palo Santo providers, so it's important to use Palo Santo that's been collected sustainably. (Like ours)
There is a lot of misinformation going around about Palo Santo. The living trees are not cut down to be harvested, it's only ever collected from the forest floor from dead or broken pieces. These pieces of wood have to be cured for a long period of time.
Our supplier is an advocate for Palo Santo habitat conservation and export regulation which ensures that no no cut wood is ever being sold. They also plant thousands of trees each year. It's actually habitat loss, not over-harvesting that threatens the Palo Santo trees the most. So that means if there's no demand for or profit for Palo Santo, the forest in which they grow will surely be razed for farming or livestock grazing land.
So don't stop loving Palo Santo.
A note on using Palo Santo respectfully.
Last but not least, the practice of burning Palo Santo is sacred in many communities and deserves our respect.
The ancient practice of burning dried Palo Santo for cleansing has roots in Native South American tradition.
Using palo santo in your home can be a beautiful, beneficial way to clear your space and calm the mind. But you need to be sure to be mindful of the sanctity of its traditional use and responsible about where you buy.