How to Use Palo Santo Sustainably

Kristen Lagos

Palo Santo, also known as "holy wood," has been used for centuries in traditional healing practices and spiritual rituals. Its sweet, uplifting aroma, healing benefits, and purifying properties have made it a popular tool for meditation, smudging, and rituals such as cord-cutting. However, with its growing popularity comes the risk of over-harvesting and unsustainable practices.

In this article, we will discuss sustainable ways to use Palo Santo, ensuring its availability for future generations.

Understanding Palo Santo’s Popularity

Palo Santo wood comes from the Bursera graveolens tree, which is native to South America. It is a slow-growing tree that only produces usable branches after it has naturally fallen and rested on the forest floor for several years. This process gives the wood its signature fragrant oil, making it highly valued and sought after, just like many other sacred scents.


The Many Uses of Palo Santo

Palo Santo has a variety of uses, including:

- Spiritual and energy cleansing: Burning Palo Santo wood is believed to clear negative energy and promote physical healing. It is often used in smudging rituals or ceremonies.

- Aromatherapy: The scent of Palo Santo is said to have calming and uplifting effects on the mind and body, making it a popular tool for meditation and relaxation.

- Insect repellent: The smoke of burning Palo Santo is believed to repel mosquitoes and other insects, making it a natural alternative to chemical sprays.

    Harvesting Palo Santo

    Due to its limited availability, there has been an increase in demand for Palo Santo, leading to unsustainable harvesting practices. Some companies have resorted to illegally cutting down living trees or using immature branches that do not contain essential oils.

    To ensure sustainable harvesting, always check the source of your Palo Santo. Look for companies that support ethical and eco-friendly practices, such as using only naturally fallen branches or replanting trees.

    The Importance of Sustainability

    Palo Santo trees are crucial to the survival of many species, including plants and animals, in the Gran Chaco region. These trees provide food, shelter, and a natural habitat for a diverse array of organisms. Unsustainable harvesting can disrupt the delicate balance of the ecosystem and also lead to soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and further desertification.

    What do sustainable and unsustainable practices look like?

    Sustainable harvesting of Palo Santo involves only taking the fallen branches and allowing enough time for the tree to regenerate before harvesting more. On the other hand, unsustainable practices involve cutting down entire trees regardless of their age or condition.


    The Consequences of Unsustainable Harvesting


    Palo Santo trees are a vital part of the ecosystem and are essential for maintaining biodiversity. As a result of this, unsustainable harvesting can lead to deforestation, which not only affects the trees but also the animals and plants that depend on them.

    Soil Degradation

    Improper harvesting techniques, such as uprooting entire Palo Santo trees, can result in soil erosion and degradation. This can have long-term negative effects on the land and make it difficult for new trees to grow.

    Loss of Cultural Traditions

    Palo Santo has been used by indigenous communities in their spiritual practices for centuries. Unsustainable harvesting can disrupt these traditions and negatively impact the livelihoods of the communities who rely on this industry.

    Habitat Destruction for Animals And Plants

    Palo Santo forests provide a home for many species of animals and plants. Unsustainable harvesting can destroy these habitats, leading to the displacement or extinction of these species.

    How to Use Palo Santo Sustainably

    1. Look for Certifications

    When purchasing Palo Santo, make sure to look for certifications from sustainable organizations, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Rainforest Alliance. These certifications ensure that the product has been responsibly harvested and is not contributing to deforestation.


     What are some certifications to look for when purchasing Palo Santo products?

    When purchasing Palo Santo products, it's important to consider certifications that ensure sustainable and ethical practices. Here are some certifications to look for:

    - SERFOR: Servicio Nacional Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre), the National Forest and Wildlife Service of Peru, implements and enforces regulations to ensure sustainable management and conservation of forest resources, including Palo Santo. This involves controlling harvesting practices, issuing permits, and monitoring the trade of Palo Santo to prevent illegal logging and overharvesting. These measures are essential to protect the species from over-exploitation and to ensure its availability for future generations.

    - FairWild: This certification ensures the wild harvesting of plants is done sustainably and with respect to local communities.

    Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): This certification guarantees that the wood used in Palo Santo products comes from responsibly managed forests.

    - Rainforest Alliance Certified: This certification promotes sustainable practices that benefit the environment and local communities.

    - Organic: Look for products that are certified organic, meaning they have been produced without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

      2. Choose Alternative Options

      Consider using other natural materials as an alternative to a Palo Santo stick, such as Palo Santo oil, or an entirely different option such as sage or cedar.

      What are other alternative options to Palo Santo?

      Several alternatives to Palo Santo can be used for similar purposes, such as:

      - White sage: Often used in Native American smudging ceremonies, white sage has purifying and cleansing properties.

      - Cedar: Burning cedar is believed to promote grounding and protection, making it a popular choice for spiritual rituals.

      - Frankincense: Due to its calming and uplifting properties, this resin has been used for centuries in spiritual and religious ceremonies.

        Additionally, Palo Santo comes in many different forms which may have more sustainable practices than burning Palo Santo sticks, such as:

        - Essential oils: Palo Santo essential oil can be used for aromatherapy or diluted with a carrier oil for topical use.

        - Incense sticks: These are made from ground-up Palo Santo wood and offer a smokeless option for those who may have respiratory issues or sensitivity to smoke.

          3. Light Only What You Need

          When using Palo Santo for cleansing or ritual purposes, try to light only as much as you need at a given time. This will help reduce the amount of product being used and ultimately save more trees.


          4. Put Out the Flame When Finished

          Once you have achieved your desired cleansing effect, make sure to fully extinguish the flame by smothering it with sand or a non-flammable object. This prevents any unnecessary burning and ensures you are not wasting the product.

          5. Dispose of Ashes Properly

          After you burn Palo Santo, make sure to properly dispose of the ashes in a fire-safe container. Do not leave them on the ground, as this can damage plants and wildlife.

          6. Do Not Collect from the Wild

          It is important to not take Palo Santo directly from its natural habitat. This disrupts the ecosystem and contributes to deforestation. Stick to purchasing sustainably sourced Palo Santo instead.

          Supporting Sustainable Companies

          Do your research and support companies that ethically and sustainably source Palo Santo. This helps promote responsible practices and supports the communities that rely on this industry.

          Companies that use proper harvesting practices will follow these guidelines:

          They Wait for the Right Time

          Palo Santo trees naturally fall and die before they can be harvested. It is important to wait for these trees to naturally decompose before collecting any wood.

          They Only Use Dead Branches

          When harvesting Palo Santo, only collect from dead branches or fallen trees. This ensures that living trees are not harmed in the process.

          They Leave Enough Time for Regeneration

          It takes 4 to 10 years for a Palo Santo tree to fully regenerate and be ready for harvest again. Make sure the supplier gives enough time for the trees to regrow before harvesting from the same area.

          They Plant New Trees

          For every Palo Santo tree harvested, make sure two more are planted in its place. This helps replenish the species and ensures its sustainability for future generations.


          What role do companies and suppliers play in promoting sustainable practices for Palo Santo?

          Companies and suppliers play a crucial role in promoting sustainable practices for Palo Santo. By adhering to ethical and responsible harvesting methods, they can ensure the continued growth and preservation of this sacred tree. Consumers need to support these companies and hold them accountable for their actions.

          How can we hold companies accountable for their harvesting and sourcing practices in Palo Santo?

          As consumers, we have the power to demand transparency and ethical practices from companies. Make sure to do your research before purchasing Palo Santo products, and support companies that prioritize sustainability. Together, we can help protect this sacred tree and its surrounding ecosystem for generations to come.

          Spreading Awareness

          The impacts of unsustainable practices can be reduced by educating others on the importance of using Palo Santo sustainably. A lot of people don't know that their actions can harm the environment.

          In what ways can we educate ourselves and others on the importance of using Palo Santo sustainably?

          - Share information on social media platforms or through word of mouth.

          - Support and participate in campaigns and initiatives that promote sustainable practices for Palo Santo.

          - Encourage others to purchase from ethical and responsible suppliers.

          - Educate yourself on the cultural significance of Palo Santo and its role in indigenous communities.

            Our Final Message to You

            So you're probably now asking yourself "How can we find a balance between enjoying the benefits of Palo Santo while also preserving its availability for future generations?"

            Finding a balance between enjoying the benefits of Palo Santo and preserving its availability for future generations starts with responsible consumption. By following sustainable practices, we can ensure that this sacred tree is not over-harvested and can continue to thrive in its natural habitat. Additionally, supporting companies that prioritize sustainability will also promote a more balanced approach to using Palo Santo.

            Remember, every small action can make a big impact in preserving our environment for the future. Let's all do our part in protecting this sacred tree and its surrounding ecosystem.