Palo santo (Bursera graveolens) is a tree species native in some South American countries including Peru and Ecuador. Palo santo is a Spanish word which means ‘holy wood’ and is known as the ‘wood of the saints.’
The palo santo tree belongs to the family Burseraceae, same as the frankincense and myrrh trees species. These trees grow in clumps, the male being surrounded by several females. Female palo santo are almost often the ones harvested because it is more abundant.
Palo santo essential oil has a sweet and woody scent that elicits a sense of calm. Its scent is like that of frankincense, essential oil. It is packed with medicinal benefits such as anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and antibacterial properties, to name a few. Its major active components are limonene, α-terpineol, menthofuran, and carvone. Other compounds present are small quantities of germacrene D, muurolene, and pulegone. Limonene and α-terpineol are the key ingredients responsible for the oil’s aroma.
The collection of palo santo oil differs from how oil is collected from other plants. Oil is only harvested from dead palo santo trees. The oil comes from a dead palo santo tree. The death of the plant should be of natural cause. It is left lying on the forest floor to decay for a few years. This is to ensure that the resin from the tree has enough time to travel all the way to the heartwood and turn into quality oil. Allowing this process produces more potent oil. Although it can stand by itself, palo santo oil can also be blended with others such as clary sage and black pepper essential oil.
Because of the demand for palo santo oil and the harvesting of critically endangered species of the plant, the governments of Peru and Ecuador have been pushing for a more sustainable way of harvesting and collecting the world-renowned essential oil. It is important to know where the oil you bought came from and purchase only from companies that practice sustainable harvest and production of palo santo.
Traditional Uses of Palo Santo Essential Oil
Palo santo is famous in the different indigenous groups throughout South America. Aside from its healing properties, the palo santo stick is also used for indigenous rituals during ancient times. Ancient Incas use palo santo oil in cleansing rituals and spiritual purifications. Palo santo sticks are used to drive away negativity and evil spirits and attract good fortune. They use it in everyday activities and prayers to cleanse and improve the mood of their environment.
Palo santo stick is commonly used as incense in the process known as smudging. This is done to cleanse the surroundings of negative energy and release purifying properties when burnt.
Uses of Palo Santo Essential Oil
Works as insect repellant
The key component of palo santo essential oil that makes it effective in repelling insects is the limonene. This also works against flies and termites.
The limonene component of palo santo essential oil not only works against insects, but the compound also relieves stress and anxiety. Although not considered as treatment, the calming scent creates a sense of relaxation, peace, and tranquility. People often light a palo santo stick after waking up in the morning to have that positive and refreshed mind to start the day.
For pain relief
Palo santo’s pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties make it an excellent choice for people who are suffering from arthritis, and muscle and joint pains. It is also incorporated in massage oils which helps ease body pains.
Relief from headaches
When diffused, the oil fights off stress-related headaches and migraines. Palo santo essential oil’s anti-inflammatory property helps increase blood flow, which relieves painful headaches.
Source of antioxidants
The phytochemical in palo santo oil has been discovered to weaken the growth of tumors and the mutation of cancer cells and work against lung, breast, and colon cancer. The antioxidants found in this oil works against the damages created by free radicals.
Combats cold and flu
Known to work against infections and viruses, palo santo essential oil helps ease the symptoms of cold and flu such as nasal congestion and nausea. For people suffering from cold and flu, diluting palo santo oil in the bath water can help lessen the severity of the symptoms.
For seasonal allergies
Palo santo essential oil has antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties that relieve the symptoms of allergies.
Safety Tips and Precautions
For pregnant and breastfeeding women, it is best to consult a physician first before using the oil. It is best to keep it in a safe place, away from children and pets. It is not advised to ingest the oil even if diluted.
Diluting palo santo with carrier oils and doing a skin test first is recommended if it is to be used for massage or applied to the skin. This is to avoid the risk of having rashes or developing skin irritation. Keep the oil away from the eyes or from the insides of the nose.