Palo Santo (scientific name Bursera graveolens) meaning “holy wood” in Spanish, is a large subtropical tree endemic to the semi-arid Gran Chaco and Ecuadorian/Peruvian coastal regions of South America. Palo Santo comes from the same family (Burseraceae) as frankincense and myrrh, and bears many medicinal similarities to its resinous cousins, which hail from the Middle East, in regards to its properties and usage.
Native peoples across the South American continent, from Argentina to Peru, have been employing the wood of this tree since ancient times. It has been used in a similar way to how North American Indians utilize white sage ceremonially, or how frankincense was burned on the braziers in Catholic churches: to aid in spiritual cleansing and to give protection. In Amazonia, Palo Santo is often incorporated into Saumerio mixtures and burned. Saumerio is a traditional method of purifying an environment using the perfumed smoke of aromatic plants. Qori Inti Amazonian Herbals produces its own signature version of a traditional Saumerio blend including Palo Santo, frankincense, myrrh, tobacco, white sage and several other sacred herbs from various parts of the world, known for their energetic cleansing and protecting properties. This blend can be burned over a coal as part of house clearing and blessing rituals, to cleanse treatment rooms between clients, or before and after a meditation practice. Many traditional South American shamans burn Palo Santo during ceremonies to clear the area they are working in of bad spirits.
In addition to cleansing on an energetic level, Palo Santo is found to be rich in limonene, a monoterpene known for its antimicrobial powers, making it an effective choice to fight against bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungus, and yeast. Limonene is currently being studied for its anti-carcinogenic effects, which would make Palo Santo an invaluable tool for anyone suffering from cancer. Because of its broad-spectrum action against pathogens, Palo Santo is an herbal alternative to antibiotic therapy worth consideration. Palo Santo is also well known for its anti-inflammatory and wound-healing actions, and can be used topically in treating skin infections, cuts, burns, and acne. In a pinch, the hydrosol can be sprayed topically, directly on the affected area or can be incorporated into an herbal wash, poultice or compress. Also possessing expectorant properties, several tablespoons of the hydrosol can be added to a steam to help thin and dispel mucus from the lungs.
In addition, quite notable are the effects Palo Santo has on a mental level. Its rich woody, resinous aroma is mood uplifting and calming to the mind, making it a valuable accompaniment to any meditation practice. The hydrosol can be sprayed to the face, body and environment to cleanse and purify the atmosphere and prepare the mind to still itself. Palo Santo is considered to help deepen meditative states, enhance concentration (which would make it valuable to students) and reduce tension. It is a nervous system tonic and can be helpful in alleviating panic attacks, anxiety, headaches and migraines.