Palo Santo Tree by Karo Rane©
Palo Santo means Holy Wood and it brings light, peace and healing in its four uses or forms. The essential oil is redolent of citrus and pine, sweetness and light, golden woods in a bottle. When burned as a smudge the fragrance is overlain with a hint of smoky resin. The wood itself, left on a shelf or in a drawer, releases a sweet balsamic, coniferous fragrance. And the resin is all of that wrapped up in incense.
Illustration Gail Gross editor
The recent Talisman project organized by Editor-in-Chief Michelyn Camen brought Palo Santo front and center as its spiritual and healing nature was incorporated into three protective perfumes created to mark the 7th anniversary of ÇaFleureBon.
Become the Shaman art by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
The beautifully-named Become the Shaman by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes was created to “invoke the gentlest of spirits, weaving a protective spell of indigenous woods, plants and resins from across the Americas into a woody cocoon of light incense, resins and sap.” Her use of Palo Santo as an olfactory security blanket helps the wearer develop their internal peace and power."
Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids describes her perfume Hamsa and by extension Palo Santo as a combination of the tangible (oil and wood) and intangible (smoke). Showing a deep knowledge of the botanical itself and its protective properties, Ellen brings out the beauty of the wood to honor the protective Hamsa symbol.
Christi as High Priestess
Antimony by Christi Meshell of House of Matriarch adds the beauty of Palo Santo to her complex formulation that honors the ancient use of antimony as protection. Its use to obscure or darken the eyes is thought to ward off evil. Palo Santo appears among the resins and woods of this complex formulation in honor of beauty and protection.
The Incantation (The HolyWood) byPaul Serusier,1891
Also called “Wood of the Saints” Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) has been held holy in Central and South America since the time of the Incas when they sent the sacred smoke into the air to purify and protect. As Western religion was brought to the region in the form of Spanish monks they appreciated its spiritual properties and gave it the name Palo Santo.
Palo Santo Tree: Photo by Mysticmedusa.com
The trees may grow to be 90 years old in the dry forests of places like Zapotillo in southern Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Mato Grosso in Brazil, Coastal Peru, and the Gran Chaco region of South America. In its native forests the Palo Santo tree plays a protective role and may help these threatened areas to recover. These are dry forests where rainfall is between 40 to 80 inches per year, the climate is tropical, and endemic plants and local wildlife find homes. Like frankincense and myrrh, these sacred trees are most comfortable on the edges and in the difficult spots like dry ridges and rocky soils where they respond to environmental challenges by developing valuable healing resins.
Fire Ants wikipedia
Unlike frankincense and myrrh trees where the bark is scored and the resin drips down, the Palo Santo tree must die naturally and age in place. As the tree lies on the ground, in contact with the soil, exposed to sun, wind, rain, and the life of the forest, it produces the holy resin. Only after at least four years (and more like ten) does the wood develop the golden and sweet resin that may be distilled or simply burned as incense. This alchemical process of death followed by spiritual giving is recognized and valued by shamans and healers of the region. Ethical harvesters and distillers honor the process, leaving the wood to age on the ground until it is ready. By this point the aggressive fire ants that protect living trees will have moved on. The ants live within the soft wood of the tree, feeding on its secretions, and protecting the tree from anything that may damage it. These fire ants will often provide a clear area around the tree to limit competition from other trees. Also used as punishment by local villagers, offenders may be tied to a palo santo tree to suffer painful attacks by the ants.
In addition to the research I usually conduct, some of the wisdom of palo santo came to me through stories in the oral tradition. Marcus McCoy of House of Orpheus has studied shamanism, having worked with a Bolivian shaman for six years, and he spent some time talking with me about palo santo and its place in the healing and magical traditions of Central and South America. He says,"Native healers, also known as curanderos, use palo santo in much the same way shamans of the southwest use cedar. With reverence for the intelligence and spirit of the wood they can help with serious illnesses, curses, nightmares, and bad luck. A person who has been attacked or possessed by evil spirits will seek out a curandero to drive out the malignant spiritual force. Marcus mentioned the increased popularity of the wood and essential oil as spiritual tourism has brought people into contact with it but also a shift away from recognition of the sacred spirituality of the wood and the alchemy of the oil."
Painting by Leandro Soto©
Palo Santo is in the Burseraceae family as are frankincense, myrrh, and copal—other trees with healing and fragrant resins. All exhibit both mystical and physical healing properties. This wood of the saints is highly valued for its spiritual properties, mainly for cleansing a person’s energy field preparatory for meditation or prayer. Clearing negative energies and doing away with evil spirits, Palo Santo also attracts those people who are spiritually at peace. Mexican shamans would combine palo santo with resin from Datura and Tagetes (two psychoactive plants) which they would burn to protect themselves from black magic. The wood has long been burned in and around homes to repel insects and the bark may be made into a tea for immune system support.
For such a peace-giving and calming plant, the oil can actually be fairly assertive and difficult to use in perfumery, even in its balsamic sweetness. The fragrance is generally reminiscent of aged pine or fir trees with a hint of citrus and mint with, perhaps, a touch of fennel or anise. In fact, the trees themselves may give off an anise-like aroma in their groves in the dry forests of Peru and Ecuador. The essential oil has a high portion of terpenes and sesquiterpenes and may be valuable for stomach problems, muscle aches, respiratory issues, and headaches. Healing to the skin as well, the resins may also be worked into healing formulations for arthritis and joint pain. Wood shavings may be used to make teas for digestive aids or immune support. In any form, extracts of Palo Santo are quite anti-inflammatory for a variety of uses.
For those who appreciate the value of smudging, find a vendor that sells ethically harvested pieces of palo santo wood for your use. Smudging helps to purify and cleanse a personal space, whether it is a home, office, or even your body using the alchemy of fragrant wood transformed to smoke. With a fireproof bowl to hand, light your piece of wood and hold it upright as the flames take hold. After a minute or two blow out the fire and place the wood in the bowl as it releases the smoke. Or you may move with it through the space you want to smudge, visualizing the smoke taking away any negative energies.
The essential oil provides a more personal experience. Take a bit of Palo Santo essential oil, put a drop in your hands, rub gently together, place them over your face and inhale. You may feel your breath deepen and slow as you put away your cares and find your internal spot of peace.
Dr. Elise Pearlstine, Editor and Natural Perfumer for Tambela.
Art Direction: Michelyn Camen Editor-in-Chief
For our Palo Santo in Perfumery Draw:
WORLDWIDE: Merci Master Perfumer Michel Roudnistska, an explorer of the conciousness and an awakener of the senses) and Parfumeurs du Monde for 30 ml of Agua Nativa ALL NATURAL
WORLDWIDE: Thank you to Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for 1 dram of Become the Shaman (A Project Talisman Perfume)
WORLDWIDE: With Gratitude to Angela St.John of Solstice Scents for Incensium ALL NATURAL
Photo by J.K.
WORLDWIDE: Thank you to J.K. DeLapp of The Rising Phoenix for 1ml Palo Santi Wood Oil + 1mL Palo Santo Fruit Oil ALL NATURAL
WORLDWIDE: With gratitude to Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids for 15 ml of Hamsa (A Project Talisman Perfume)
WORLDWIDE: Thank you Christi Meshell for 15 ml of House of Matriarch Antimony (A Project Talisman Perfume)
WORLDWIDE: Merci Anais Biguine of Jardin d' Ecrivains for Gri Gri Palo Santo Sticks
EU, USA and Canada: Merci to The Different Company for a 10 ml travel spray of the soon to be released Santo Incienso – Sillage Sacré
USA ONLY: With gratitude to Katlyn Breene of Mermade Magickal Arts for a classic Japanese cup with three palo santo incense sticks ALL NATURAL
USA ONLY: Thank you Tony Perez of Belle Fleur Fragrances (Jerome Epinette) for offering Palo Santo Candle
USA ONLY: Thank you to Mik Moi for a limited edition of Lingua Franca
To be eligible for our Palo Santo in perfumery draw, please be sure to register if you have not done so. Also your choices must include at least one Indie and one all-natural Palo Santo perfume. You must be registered or your entry is invalid. Please leave a comment with what you learned about Palo Santo in (and out of) perfumery along with as many choices you would like and where you live. Draw closes 5/28/2017