Over the past few years, palo santo (also known as bursera graveolens, a sacred wood from South America) has seen an increase in popularity — particularly among spiritualism and ritual work in the Western world. Most commonly used for smudging — an ancient ritual meant to cleanse spaces, items, and the soul —, palo santo has become a must have item for all of its medicinal and healing benefits. Nowadays, you can find palo santo in most crystal stores or find them online.
In Spanish, palo santo is known as the “holy stick”, which is why so many shamans and healers use them in spiritual practices. But because smudging is a sacred Indigenous ritual and palo santo is so rooted in ceremonial practices, it’s absolutely vital that palo santo is used correctly and respectfully. Despite the recent upsurge in use, palo santo has been a staple in Indigenous culture for centuries and anyone looking to use palo santo in their rituals should know the history and correct use of the wood before adopting it in their lives.
To start, you should educate yourselves on the history of Indigenous cultures in the United States. This will include confronting with difficult themes like colonization and cultural appropriation. To this day, many Indigenous people still suffer systemic consequences of losing their land to colonial violence. By educating yourself on their ongoing struggles, you aren’t just blindly adapting their practices that conveniences your lifestyle. Invest in the actual wellbeing of the people whose culture palo santo stems from and pay your respects to them by advocating for better care for Indigenous communities in your city.
Native Land is a great tool to find out which Indigenous land you’re occupying. Land acknowledge is a simple way to honor the Indigenous communities that were displaced; you can practice land acknowledgments during gatherings and events. You can also contact your representatives about specific issues in your area. Some of the top issues that Indigenous communities face is access to health care and mental health care, gender based violence, and homelessness.
You can also support Indigenous creatives and projects. Indigenous people are underrepresented and misrepresented in pop culture. By educating yourself on their history and culture, you can advocate for them in small and big ways in the mainstream. For example, The Reclaiming Native Truth project works to dispel myths and misconceptions around Indigenous Americans. Lastly, if you’re financially able, you can donate to the many number of organizations helping Indigenous communities directly.
By taking an interest in the actual culture, you’re not just using cherry picking palo santos use. Another big way to ensure that you’re ethically using palo santo is by being extremely selective in where you source it from. Palo Santo is most commonly sourced from Ecuador and Peru. When you buy palo santo outside of South America, be sure that it’s from an organization that works directly with farmers and compensates them fairly. Avoid big brands like Amazon, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, etc.
As put together by Forage and Sustain, a few places where you purchase palo santos ethically is: Anima Mundi Apothecary, Sacred Wood Essence, Ecuadorian Hands, and Woodlot. Definitely do your own research when purchasing palo santo so you’re practicing mindfulness and respect while using them in your rituals.
Ultimately, it’s always important to know the history of any ritual practice.