Palo Santo belongs to the same family as elemi, frankincense and myrrh.
Synonyms: Holy wood, incense tree because of the resemblance of the twigs of the tree to incense sticks.
Aroma: Refreshing woody scent with hint of frankincense
Colour: Clear to pale yellow
Plant: Grows in dry, tropical forests reaching a height of 4 to10 metres. It is densely branched with a smooth, non-peeling bark that is purple tinged but appears to be pale or silvery gray due to a covering of lichens.
Main Growing Areas: Indigenous to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) and the Pacific coast of South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela and the Galapagos islands).
Major Constituents: Limonene, terpineol, alpha-pinene, menthofuran, carvone, germacrene, carveol, juneol and pulegone.
Interesting snippets: The tree or limb must die a natural death and remain in the forest for 4 to 10 years to decay in order to produce a good quality essential oil. Cutting down the tree and leaving it to decay for the same amount of time will yield an oil of a poor quality.
The wood has been used in South America to make barrels for ageing wine.
The burning wood is used to repel various insect species and to protect cattle from vampire bats.
The Incas and shamans in Central and South America used and continue to use it, as part of their sacred healing rituals to heal, remove or cast spells, and gaze into the future.
In Peru, shamans light palo santo sticks and use the smoke to fumigate the aura of ritual participants in order to clear evil spirits, patterns of misfortune, and negative thinking.
Part of Plant used /Extraction: Steam distillation of the heartwood of aged, fallen trees.
Therapeutic actions: Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, antispasmodic, antiviral, diuretic, reduces fever, sedative, headaches, wound healing, joint and muscle aches and pains, sprains and respiratory symptoms, coughing, bronchitis, asthma, colds.
Emotional and Spiritual: Grounding, calming, anxiety, depression, emotional stress or trauma, panic attacks, clears negative energy.
Safety: Possible skin sensitization if oil is old or oxidized.
Sources: Berkowsky B, Berkowsky’s Synthesis Materia Medica/Spiritualis of Essential Oils
Tisserand R and Young R, Essential Oil Safety Second Edition, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2014