I recently purchased my very first bundle of Palo Santo along with some White Sage. I was pleased to see that the small shop I purchased it from stated it was sustainably sourced, as this is something I look for in almost all of my purchases. Little did I know that right after this purchase I came across an article that mentioned that people should stop buying Palo Santo from ANY source since it causes deforestation and because the Palo Santo tree is endangered. I was confused, and I was not the only one: apparently this has been the topic of a heated discussion that is going on for some years now. So I felt called to explore this topic for myself and create some clarity.

What is Palo Santo?

Palo Santo (Bursera Graveolens) is a tree that grows all over Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Galápagos Islands and Ecuador. The wood from this tree can be used as incense when burned, since it gives off a uniquely sweet and woodsy scent. Not only does it smell great, it is said that Palo Santo also has healing benefits, such as cleansing negative energy. Burning Palo Santo has been used as a cultural practice by indigenous communities for centuries. Nowadays, it has been gaining a lot of interest in the western world as well. 

Can Palo Santo be sustainably sourced?

Yes, Palo Santo can be sustainably sourced. Once the tree dies of natural causes, it has to be left to dry for a period of five to seven years before being collected. This time is needed for the resin to crystallize and reveal the unique Palo Santo fragrance.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The recent increase in demand caused a lot of farmers to cut down the trees, instead of waiting for the tree to die naturally. That is why it is always important to check from which source you are buying your Palo Santo, to make sure you are not contributing to this deforestation.

So it is true that in some cases, buying Palo Santo can cause deforestation. But unlike many people claim, the Palo Santo tree is NOT endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the status of the Palo Santo tree (Bursera Graveolens) as “of least concern”.

So why DO people think the Palo Santo tree is endangered?

This mistake could be easily made because of another species, Bulnesia Sarmiento, which is also know as “Palo Santo” but is definitely not the same tree. The wood form this tree is used to make furniture & essential oils and is indeed endangered.

The second mistake is that national governments determine the regional conservation status, while the IUCN takes the global conservation status into consideration. In 2005, Peru listed the Palo Santo tree (Bursera Graveolens) as endangered (regional, NOT global). It is likely that some people did not understand the difference between regional and global conservation and caused a misconception to spread. Luckily, the government of Peru took the right measures and made it illegal to cut down the Palo Santo tree in their country.

Can we keep buying and using Palo Santo?

Yes, but only from a sustainable source. I recommend to buy from small businesses, not big retailers, since small businesses are more likely to care for sustainable practices. However, you should always do your own research in how the Palo Santo is collected! I make sure the Palo Santo I buy is sustainable by checking if they only use fallen (dead) trees and branches. You can check out the shop I bought from here:

Etsy Shop: Tales of the Wind
Instagram: @talesofthewind

If you know other shops that offer sustainably sourced Palo Santo, leave them in the comments for others to read!

Another reason why I decided to keep buying Palo Santo (from a sustainable source!) is that farmers will be encouraged to use their land for growing these trees. The profit they can make with this will keep them from other ways they can use their land for profit. For example: If it wasn’t for the interest in the Palo Santo tree, they might just cut down all the trees (deforestation) and use their land for cattle. This is obviously not what we want. So I believe encouraging sustainable practices is our best option.

How to use Palo Santo in an ethical way
  • Educate yourself on how the indigenous people use Palo Santo (or Sage) in their smudging rituals

If you are new to using Palo Santo like me, or even if you have been using it for a while, I would recommend to educate yourself on the proper use of Palo Santo. Smudging is a cultural practice and it is worthy of respect. Learning how to smudge according to the teachings of the indigenous will bring a whole new dimension to your practise. I believe this is the most respectful way to use Palo Santo.

  • Use it with intention

Smudging is all about intention, so I like to savour my Palo Santo and Sage for special moments or whenever I feel I need it the most. If you are only using it as another form of incense, I would highly recommend to start using it with more intention and I promise you will reap the benefits from it!

I hope you enjoyed this blog post and learned something new! Like I mentioned before, if you have a sustainable source where you buy your Palo Santo, leave it in the comments for others to read.