What Does Palo Santo Smell Like?

What is Palo Santo?

Palo santo (Bursera graveolens) is a wild hardwood tree native to the Yucatán Peninsula but can be found in other countries throughout South America. It grows in the seasonally dry tropical forests of Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru,  Venezuela, and as far out as the remote Galápagos Islands.

In Spanish, Palo Santo means “Holy Wood.” Despite lacking scientific proof, Palo Santo has been revered by healers across South America for centuries, and its wood, resin and oil used for medicinal purposes and sacred rituals. It’s said to help treat pain, stress, and for the purification or clearing of negative energy.

Because of its cultural significance, Palo Santo is protected in certain parts of the world. For example, in Guatemala it is illegal to harvest a live tree, which is a good thing, for when distilled, live trees do not yield the same quality and color essential oil as from its dead, fallen wood.

Palo Santo wood requires time for its aromatic oils to develop and mature. This process requires a fallen tree to age for a minimum of 3 years, often aging up to 10 years. This allows the wood time to become more oil dense and fragrant, the wood grain taking on a darker amber appearance, and allowing it to burn slower when lit.

Palo Santo in Smudging Bowl

What does Palo Santo do?

Palo santo has been a traditional remedy for stress, pain & inflammation in the Americas for centuries. 

Presently, peoples of all walks of life burn palo santo as incense or apply it’s essential oil topically to the skin for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-sceptic qualities.

The lighting of Palo Santo Sticks is a sacred practice used by the Indigenous communities of the Andes to clear out negative energy and ward off evil spirits.

Upon burning Palo Santo wood  its smoke is believed to restore tranquility and calm and tranquility, while ridding the space of negative energies. 

To practice this technique, first choose a stick of palo santo  holding an end of the stick over a  burning flame until it ignites.  As the flame grows, move the stick gently back and forth as the cleansing smoke rises through the air.

Palo Santo Uses

  • Tea made from simmering palo santo wood in hot water is often provided as a digestive aid.

  • Palo Santo oil contains high concentrations of D-Limonene, which helps to fight inflammation.

  • Its oil is also commonly used in soaps, scrubs, lotions to cleanse and moisturize the skin. And when used as a massage oil, helps support healthy immunity, and the relief of cold and flu symptoms when applied to the chest and back

  • Palo Santo is also a member of the Burseraceae or torch-wood family, and like it’s fellow members frankincense, myrrh and copal, are used for meditative purposes. Some find palo santo a calming scent, and of benefit to the olfactory and limbic systems of the body and brain.

Burning Palo Santo Benefits 

Palo Santo has been used by indigenous peoples for centuries. It produces a very fragrant resin, and when burned as incense, it acts as a potent mosquito repellent, much like citronella. It is seen as a good alternative to products that use harsh chemicals such as DEET.

In the spiritual realm, Palo Santo is commonly used by smudging or burning to eliminate negative energy, and its use for vibrational cleansing and renewal of crystals. It is revered for its pleasant scent, and its aid to promote feelings of positivity, while reducing stress, and clearing concentration.


Palo Santo Stick in Hand

What Does Palo Santo Smell Like?

How does one describe a smell? Well, here goes: Palo Santo’s scent can be aptly described as complex, yet familiar.  As it is part of the citrus family, Palo Santo’s aromatic profile is woodsy, slightly sweet and citrusy, possessing notes of pine, mint and lemon, with soft spice nuances.

The smell of Palo Santo resin has a dominant woodsy scent, and is bright, sweet and a touch musky. Like its other mystical woods kin, Myrrh and Copal, it has been described as an intense, divine fragrance, reminiscent of frankincense.

When burning Palo Santo wood, or a candle that uses its oils, a grounded, peaceful sense of calm is quite common.

What Scents Go Well With Palo Santo

  • A popular pairing to Palo Santo would be white sage. Both are used to cleanse spaces and are a common fragrance when entering a yoga studio, or spaces of tranquility.
  • Palo Santo is a pretty versatile scent, finding harmony when paired with floral scents like lavender, or citruses like lemon and lime. 
  • Copal resin is another traditional pairing to Palo Santo, as both are from the Burseraceae plant family.

Why we like Palo Santo

While trying to capture the Palo Santo scent into words, I recalled a strong memory from my past. When I burn Palo Santo, I return to stay at a ranch house in the Yucca Valley, outside of Joshua Tree National Park, and the mornings that were spent smudging this mystical wood. The soft wisp of smoke spiralling, setting the intention for the day before embarking on a long, desolate hike. 

This scent brings me back to desert sunrises on the horizon, a simmering mug of tea in hand, agave plants gently swaying in the roaming breeze. I can feel my stress and worry lift with every full lunged, meaningful exhale.

Where to buy Palo Santo

Here at the Sojourn Company, we’ve been on a journey to capture this snapshot in our signature candle, Yucca Valley. It features a distinct Palo Santo scent, working in unison with notes of desert flora and soft musk, that will transplant you to a place of tranquility and grounding.