Autumn is in the air, at least in New York City. The leaves are starting to fall from the trees, lighting up park corners with their wild reds. People start covering their arms and legs again. As we head straight towards the middle of the season and winter, you may start to feel like dusting and organizing your books– maybe even creating or rearranging your altar. During this time of year, you may be tempted to burn Palo Santo or Sage to cleanse the energy of your home or workspace to prepare for winter, a time for being at home and close to the hearth. 

Palo Santo is a tree related to frankincense, myrrh and copal,. Palo Santo (“holy wood”) grows in the coastal regions of South America, and has been used in traditional ceremonies for hundreds of years. Like Palo Santo, the Sage plant has been respected and revered in many cultures for its purifying and cleansing benefits and for warding off evil. White prairie sage (Artemisia ludoviciana) is both antimicrobial and antibacterial. White sage (Salvia apiana) is also antimicrobial. And both have been shown to repel insects ( Both of these plants can be burned to cleanse the energy and the air in a space.

For more information about harvesting with intention, we interviewed the company Madera back April 2019. Madera is based in Los Angeles and specializes in sustainably sourced Palo Santo.

How can people use Palo Santo in their lives?

Our motto is, “burn with Intention,” meaning no matter how you use Palo Santo, make sure there is intent and purpose each time you burn it. Traditionally, the wood is burned for ceremonial or religious use in indigenous communities and serves a divine or spiritual purpose. Many people will burn Palo Santo to initiate their meditation or yoga practice, or others may use it to clear energy or make space for good thoughts and positive energy in your surroundings. Burning Palo Santo can be for reasons as simple as clearing out a bad smell in your house or car, or as a calming incense.  There are also anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties in the primary terpenes in the oil, so burning the wood could also have healing properties, not just for the soul, but for your body, too.

Where do you source your Palo Santo and how do you source it?

We source our wood from a coastal region in Colombia.  We work with a family in the area to harvest, clean, and cut the wood for export back to Los Angeles.  Our team only collects wood from trees that have been dead for between 5-10 years, which allows for sustainable sourcing, and also for the rich deposits of palo oil to fully concentrate themselves into the wood as the familiar resin we identify with Palo Santo wood.  It is important to note that live trees are never to be cut and the most sustainable way to source is to collect wood from the already fallen branches of the tree on the forest floor.

Why is sourcing so important?

Palo Santo wood is a natural, finite resource that deserves to be protected.  With a global uprising of conscious community and the move toward a more spiritual society, the demand for this product is rising each year.  We must ensure that in the process of using Palo Santo to enrich our lives that we are not depleting the source entirely for future generations.  There have already been reports of trees that are being cut down while they are still alive or entire deforestation of certain Palo Santo forests, which is not an honorable or sustainable practice in our opinion.

We also spoke with Wendy Whitman from Sacred Sage, who harvests The Alchemist’s Kitchen’s sage and sweetgrass, who reminded us that sourcing herbs with intention is not easy, or quick. The process cannot be rushed.

“Sourcing herbs is long and arduous. All my herbs are wildcrafted. They are not grown in gardens. We must hunt for fields that are first, legal for us to harvest. They can not be in national parks. Then, if they are private, we get permission to go on the property to harvest. Harvesting must be done when the plants are mature , blossoming, and healthy, meaning no infestations or fungus. Fields must be away from any chemical or dumps, which is usually never an issue.  The weather is the biggest issue. If it is too dry or too wet the plants don’t mature properly. If there are forest fires we can lose the whole crop and we have to wait for the next season. We can usually get 2 harvestings if all is going well. We can not harvest from Nov. through March for the white California sage. We can harvest all year with the desert sage in Taos, NM. It is considered an evergreen as it stays green all year. The Lakota sage is harvested from May-September. Sweetgrass is wildcrafted in Canada during the summer months,” Wendy informed us.

For a true “spring cleanse” and before you burn Palo Santo or Sage, please consider where you are sourcing from. It’s all too easy to order online without ensuring these sacred plants are being harvested in a safe and conscious way. As the amazing Robin Wall Kimmerer says in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, “Never take more than half. Leave some for others. Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share. Give thanks for what you have been given. Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken. Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.” Now those are some statements we can get behind.

To purchase sustainably sourced Palo Santo, click here.

Raisa Tolchinsky

Raisa Tolchinsky hails from Chicago, received a B.A. from Bowdoin College, and is currently a candidate for an M.F.A in poetry at the University of Virginia. A 2019 Brooklyn Poets Fellow, she has read and edited for Tin House Books and Tricycle Magazine, and is founding editor of SIREN. Her poems, essays, stories, and interviews have appeared in Muzzle Magazine, Tricycle, Blood Orange Review, and KR Online. When she’s not writing, she’s boxing or dancing like a weirdo on her roof. Learn more about Raisa and her work on Instagram @raisatolchinsky and on Twitter at @raisaimogen.

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