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A scent of ease and grace.

Palo santo cleansing with ayahuasca at Modern Ancient Sanctuary in Iquitos, Peru

Palo Santo, which translates to "holy wood" in Spanish, is a sacred tree native to the coastal regions of South America, particularly Peru, Ecuador, and parts of Central America. Palo Santo has been used by indigenous communities for centuries as a spiritual tool, medicine, and ceremonial incense.


Indigenous cultures in South America, including the Inca, Quechua, and various Amazonian tribes, have revered Palo Santo for its healing properties and connection to the spirit world.


The history and background of Palo Santo are deeply rooted in indigenous cultures and spiritual practices. Its aromatic smoke, which is often described as a combination of citrus, pine, and mint, is believed to clear negative energies, purify spaces, and enhance spiritual practices. It is often used to ward off evil spirits, attract positive energies, and facilitate healing on physical, emotional, and energetic levels.


The main traditional use of Palo Santo is as incense or smudging material. Indigenous cultures incorporate Palo Santo into various rituals, ceremonies, and shamanic practices. It is burned as incense during ceremonies, blessings, and offerings to deities or ancestral spirits. Palo Santo smoke is seen as a medium for communication, connecting the earthly realm with the divine and the spirit world.In addition to its cleansing properties, Palo Santo is also associated with promoting relaxation, reducing stress, and enhancing meditation and mindfulness practices. Its uplifting and grounding aroma is believed to support emotional well-being, bringing a sense of peace and tranquility.


The tree belongs to the Burseraceae family, the same family as Frankincense and Myrrh, and has been used for centuries in spiritual and medicinal practices by indigenous cultures in South America.The harvesting of Palo Santo is traditionally done through sustainable practices. Only fallen branches and trees that have naturally died and aged for several years are collected. This sustainable approach ensures the preservation and long-term availability of Palo Santo while respecting the tree's life cycle and ecosystem.

Palo santo cleansing with ayahuasca at Modern Ancient Sanctuary in Iquitos, Peru
Palo santo cleansing with ayahuasca at Modern Ancient Sanctuary in Iquitos, Peru


Palo Santo offers several benefits that have been recognized and valued by different cultures. Below are some of the benefits of Palo Santo:


  • Cleansing and Purification: Burning Palo Santo releases a fragrant smoke that is believed to clear negative energy, cleanse spaces, and purify objects. It is often used in spiritual practices and rituals to create a sacred and energetically harmonious environment.

  • Spiritual Connection: Palo Santo is thought to enhance spiritual connection and intuition. Its aroma is believed to uplift the spirit, promote relaxation, and support meditation and mindfulness practices. Many people find it helpful in creating a sense of calm and grounding during spiritual exploration.

  • Stress Relief and Emotional Well-being: The soothing and uplifting aroma of Palo Santo is often used for relaxation and stress relief. It is believed to have mood-enhancing properties, helping to reduce anxiety, uplift the spirit, and promote a sense of peace and tranquility.

  • Aromatherapy and Scent: Palo Santo's unique fragrance, combining citrus, pine, and mint-like notes, is highly valued for its pleasing scent. It is used in aromatherapy to create a calming atmosphere, improve focus, and promote overall well-being.

  • Insect Repellent: Palo Santo has natural insect-repellent properties, making it a popular choice to ward off mosquitoes and other flying insects. It can be burned or its essential oil can be applied to the skin as a natural alternative to chemical-based repellents.

Palo santo cleansing with ayahuasca at Modern Ancient Sanctuary in Iquitos, Peru


​Preparing for a Palo Santo ceremony involves creating a sacred and intentional space where you can connect with the energy and essence of the wood. Below are some steps you can follow for ceremony preparation with Palo Santo:

  • Setting Intentions: Begin by clarifying your intentions for the ceremony. Reflect on what you hope to experience, release, or connect with during the ceremony. This could be personal healing, spiritual insight, or any other intention that resonates with you.

  • Cleansing the Space: Before starting the ceremony, it's beneficial to cleanse the space where the ceremony will take place. You can do this by smudging the area with the smoke of the Palo Santo. Light the Palo Santo stick and allow the flame to burn for a moment, then blow it out, leaving the wood smoldering. 

  • Self-Cleansing: Next, cleanse yourself using Palo Santo. Gently wave the smoldering Palo Santo stick around your body, starting from the top of your head and moving down to your feet. Visualize the smoke purifying and cleansing your energy field. Set the intention to release any negativity or stagnant energy from within.

  • Invocation and Prayer: Before using Palo Santo, you may choose to offer an invocation or prayer to honor the sacredness of the wood and connect with the spiritual realm. This can be a personal prayer or a traditional prayer from your own spiritual or cultural background.

Palo santo cleansing with ayahuasca at Modern Ancient Sanctuary in Iquitos, Peru
Palo santo cleansing with ayahuasca at Modern Ancient Sanctuary in Iquitos, Peru


The materials below provide some insight into Palo Santo and a useful context in which to understand plant spirit healing.


  • The Book of Shamanic Healing" by Kristin Madden

  • "Palo Santo: Holy Wood of the South America" by Francis Vanek

  • "Sacred Smoke: The Ancient Art of Smudging for Modern Times" by Harves  McCampbell

  • Plant Spirit Shamanism: Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul" by Ross Heaven and Howard G. Charing

  • "The Shaman's Guide to Power Animals" by Lori Morrison

Documentaries/ Videos

  • "Palo Santo: Sacred Wood" (2018) - Directed by Terje Toomistu, this documentary explores the cultural and spiritual significance of Palo Santo in the context of Ecuador. It delves into the traditional harvesting methods, ceremonial uses, and the importance of sustainable practices.

  • "Palo Santo: Tree of Life" (2019) - Directed by René Mühlberger, this documentary takes viewers on a journey through the forests of Ecuador to discover the secrets and traditions surrounding Palo Santo. It offers a glimpse into the lives of the local communities who have preserved its sacredness for generations.

  • "The Spirit of Palo Santo" (2019) - Produced by Zacate Films, this short video provides an introduction to Palo Santo, exploring its cultural significance and the process of sustainable harvesting. It offers a glimpse into the traditions and rituals associated with this sacred wood.

  • "Palo Santo: Tree of Incense" (2017) - Produced by Al Jazeera, this video offers insights into the history, cultural uses, and economic significance of Palo Santo in Ecuador. It sheds light on the challenges faced in balancing preservation and commercial demand.

  • "The Sacred Wood of Palo Santo" (2018) - Created by Awakening Consciousness, this video explores the spiritual aspects of Palo Santo, including its use in energy cleansing and healing practices. It provides an overview of its properties and ways to incorporate it into personal rituals.

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