Is Palo Santo Endangered?
There is a LOT of misinformation going around right now about burning (or not burning) palo santo. So many people have been saying to ‘stop burning palo santo’ or ‘stop buying palo santo’ and most of these people have not done any research whatsoever! I’m here to set the record straight.
Many of us use this amazing smelling wood for incense, burning chips in our apartments, oils and more. Because of that, I’m sure that many of you were as disheartened as I was to learn that palo santo is endangered and should not be burnt anymore. A kind Instagrammer promptly gave me some additional information, and lead me down the path of knowledge and learning. I’m here to share my findings with all of you. (He works at the reforestation project of Palo Santos, so he’s relevant.)
So.. Is Palo Santo Actually Endangered?
Yes. One type of Palo Santo is endangered and is under government protection. It is illegal to cut down or damage the living trees. Besides the obvious environmental factor, it is not advised to use fresh live wood for aromatic purposes. The dead branches are actually what provides the musky aroma for incense, burning, etc. The bulk of the palo santo we are purchasing, though, is NOT endangered. More about the types of palo santo at the end of the article.
Palo Santo Reforestation Project
Since it is endangered, does that mean we should stop buying it? NO. It’s also being reforested, and to stop purchasing it would do so much more harm than good. That being said – be smart about it. Buy palo santo from reputable sellers, who only pick palo santo after it’s fallen or branches found on the ground. If we were to just stop buying the sacred tree, it would ALL be cut down to make room for something else.
Many people source ethically grown and collected Palo Santo, and there is an entire reforestation project going on to make sure it does not remain endangered.
“It is important to remember that the real threat of palo santo is the lack of information and the lack of use. If we do not resource the palo santo tree, it will be cut down? in order to convert the land into something else to generate other economic resources that serve the community.” – Ecuadorian Hands
How Can You Tell Real Palo Santo from Fake Palo Santo?
Unfortunately, many shops sell fake palo santo. They buy a similarly colored tree, and try to pass it off as being palo santo. If you’re wondering if what you purchased is real Palo Santo, it’s a bit tricky to tell. You should only buy if you know where it is sourced, and if it is real (ethically sourced.) Buying fake palo santo will only contribute to the issues the sacred tree is facing – and we don’t want that!
- Burns very quickly
- Does not have the same musky smell
- Stays lit for much too long.
- Only stays lit for 10 – 15 seconds before going out, and then will continue to smoke.
- Has a bit of a sweet-musk smell, instead of just smelly like burning wood.
- Is very fragrant.
- Additionally, it’s a very soft wood and is easy to break a piece off of.
It’s also possible to purchase real Palo Santo, but it doesn’t ‘smell right.’ This happens when it’s unethically sourced. Trees that are cut down and used to burn do not have the same oils or smell as those sourced ethically. The tree-fall is what you should be purchasing because 1) it’s sourced ethically and 2) it’s what smells good!
If it isn’t fragrant, doesn’t break easily, burns too long or just smells like straight-up trees, you probably purchased fake Palo Santo. Ask your local shops if they buy fake palo santo, or if it is ethically sourced. They should be able to tell you where they purchased it from, and their expression will probably tell you everything you need to know about their practice!
Where to Buy Ethically Sourced Palo Santo?!
Only naturally dead branches and trunks are processed, without cutting down any living trees, damaging the surrounding area or making new paths. There is no harvesting of palo santo, but recollecting (picking up) of naturally dead palo santo. They also have resources to help teach others about how to properly pick up naturally dead palo santo (and teach to NOT cut it down.) Ecuadorian Hands has been doing this for years now and plans to have an additional 4,000 Palo Santo trees (or more) planted by December 2019.
You may also be able to purchase locally from your shops, I would just inquire where they purchase it from or if they know anything about how it’s sourced. An eco-friendly shop worth its salt would know where their product was coming from, how it was acquired, etc. This is something they should care about, you should care about, and we all should be better about.
What About the Shamans?
Fantastic question. We should definitely consider locals, ecological impact, and the sacredness of any plant before using it. Here’s what I found (direct quote.)
“South American shamans teach that these trees should be treated with respect and reverence, and must never be cut down. One should only harvest the wood of those trees that died naturally and have stayed on the forest floor resting for four to ten years. This shamanic teaching is practical as well as traditional, since the highest aromatic and therapeutic qualities of the wood can only fully develop in aged heartwood that is harvested from naturally fallen trees.” -?Sacred Valley Expats
I know that NONE of us want to tread on a sacred practice. Based on my research, the problem with burning and smudging this tree does not come from our burning it – but with how it’s being sourced. People who have cut down the trees are the ones causing the problem and this has got to stop. Stopping this practice comes with educating people and spreading awareness. If we stop buying (unless we know how it has been sourced or has been cut down,) these people will stop cutting them down. If they can’t profit off of it, there’s no point in them cutting it down. This will take time but should be prioritized.
How Else Can We Help?
If we stop purchasing the sacred tree, that does more harm than good. However. Because it is being reforested, and it will take years and years to replenish, we should definitely stop buying at the frequency that we have been. Not only that but as I’ve said (I know, I’m being repetitive here) we need to ONLY buy from sources who are ethically taking the branches. If you can’t confirm where it was purchased from or if it was LEGALLY brought here, DO NOT BUY IT. We can fix this. We should fix this. Spread awareness and positivity and help others learn.
Stop Spreading “Fake News!”
Do your research. We were all so quick to jump on the ‘No-More-Palo-Santo’ train over the last year without even doing our own research! I’m completely guilty of this as well, and it’s reminded me why I need to look up everything I read before helping spread misinformation. With that being said – DO stop buying in bulk unless it’s ethically sourced. Even then, buy less frequently. Let these babies have time to grow (which takes years and is no small process.)
Want to know more about the two very different types of Palo Santo? Click here.
Have another source for ethically picked Palo Santo? Or have any questions? Let me know in the comments <3 I would love to hear your thoughts, especially on how we can educate and spread awareness. Looking for what to carry on you? Find out what all the basic witches are carrying with them at all times.