Ayurveda Are Your Palo Santo and Sage-Burning Habits Hurting the...

Are Your Palo Santo and Sage-Burning Habits Hurting the Environment?


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Palo Santo

Palo Santo

Since the time of the Incas, the fragrant palo santo tree has been harvested by shamans in Peru and Ecuador, who use its essential oils or smoke to cleanse away evil spirits before initiating ayahuasca rituals or to aid the dying on their journeys to the afterlife. The very act of foraging for the wood by the shaman is a critical part of this spiritual process. Only mature plants, around 50–70 years of age, develop the “heart”—a dense, deeply resined core—necessary for distillation into an essential oil. And palo santo trees produce the finest oils when they die naturally and sit on the forest floor for several years. 

Can we get the same spiritual effect from a questionably sourced box of sticks snagged on Amazon? You’d think so: The scent of this bewitching, spicy, citrusy “holy wood” (a translation from the Spanish) is everywhere these days—infused in candles; wafting from yoga studios; for sale at mystic shops, home stores, and Anthropologie. You can buy palo santo smudge sticks from Etsy and follow along on YouTube as a woman in yoga wear teaches viewers how to cleanse a room without burning the place down.

It’s true, smudging with palo santo has reached latest-craze status. A quick #palosanto search on New Year’s Day revealed that plenty of palo santo went up across the United States as people smudged their homes to banish bad spirits and welcome in a promising new year. “Burning Palo Santo and doing some cleaning! So excited to be in a new year! I’ve got good feelings about this year!” declared one Twitter user.

See also 6 Simple Ways to Clear Negative Energy

Is Palo Santo a Threatened Species?

But some wellness bloggers have suggested that palo santo is critically endangered. If it is, your smudging ritual may be contributing to the annihilation of a sacred tree. That’s some bad juju, so I wanted to know: Are the rumors true? 

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