Bursera graveolens

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Bursera graveolens
Bursera graveolens.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Burseraceae
Genus: Bursera
Species: B. graveolens
Binomial name
Bursera graveolens
Triana & Planch.

Bursera graveolens, known in Spanish as palo santo ("holy wood") is a wild tree native from Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula to Peru and Venezuela[1] that inhabits the South American Gran Chaco region (northern Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and the Brazilian Mato Grosso). It is also found in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru[2] and on the Galapagos islands. The tree belongs to the same family (Burseraceae) as frankincense and myrrh. It is widely used in folk medicine for stomach ache, as sudorific, and as liniment for rheumatism.[1] Aged heartwood is rich in terpenes such as limonene and α-terpineol.

Modern uses[edit]

Palo Santo (or Palosanto) is used for crafting objects and to produce burning sticks; however, production of essential oil is attracting most of the modern interest. Chemical composition, as reflected by aroma, is variable.

The essential oil of Palosanto is generally termed "Palo Santo Oil", and has received the Chemical Abstract Services number, 959130-05-3. When used as an ingredient in cosmetics the INCI name "Bursera graveolens wood oil" should be listed.

Essential oil[edit]

Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) essential oil in a clear glass vial

A quantitative analysis of steam distilled Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) oil by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry revealed the major constituents to be:[3]


The use of Palo Santo from B. graveolens is traditional in South America, especially in Ecuador. According to the local customs, it is used against the "mala energía" (bad energy) ("Palo Santo para limpiar tu casa de la mala energia, Palo Santo para la buena suerte" or "Palo Santo to clean your house of bad energy, Palo Santo for good luck"), which may sometimes refer to clinical disease. Its use reportedly dates back to the Inca era.[4] Palo Santo is common today as a type of incense.

Palo santo rituals[edit]

Palo Santo oil was used during the time of the Incas for its reputed spiritual purifying properties. Today, palo santo oil may be applied to the body (such as at the base of the skull or on the spine) to increase relaxation,[4] similar to aromatherapy.

Palo santo may be burned, similar to incense, by lighting shavings of palo santo wood. In Peru, a shaman, or medicine man, reportedly lights palo santo sticks and the rising smoke will enter the "energy field" of ritual participants to "clear misfortune, negative thoughtprints, and 'evil spirits'".[5] Peruvians harvest fallen branches and twigs of the B. graveolens tree, a practice that is regulated by the government of Peru, so trees are not cut for wood harvesting.[6] The charcoal of palo santo sticks can also be used for ritual smudging.

Medicinal uses[edit]

Palo santo wood has also been used in indigenous medicine in South America. In northwest Argentina, the Criollo people burned the wood of palo santo together with the leaves of Ruta chalepensis. The resulting smoke was blown into the ears of patients with otitis. Another medicinal smoke was created by burning palo santo along with yerba mate and feathers of the rhea bird; inhaling this smoke every 9 days was reputed to treat "aire",[7] an illness recognized in many Latin American cultures and believed to be caused by rapid changes in weather temperature.[8]

It is used as essential oil as well as incense.

- As Essential Oil:

  • Flu, allergies, asthma, migraine and bad mood: Dilute a few drops in water and dissolved vapors to the atmosphere with a diffuser of essences.
  • Meditation and relaxation psychophysical: Dilute a few drops in water and dissolved vapors to the atmosphere with a diffuser of essences.
  • Dizziness: Apply a few drops on the chest at heart level.
  • Panic, stress and laboral anxiety: Apply a few drops on the chest at heart level, nose and the neck.
  • Massages: Reactive blood circulation and recharge the energy level.
  • Arthritis, arthrosis, neck pain and muscle aches: only when there is pain, apply 3 times a day a few drops directly on the point of pain and massage until oil is absorbed. Protect the affected area with a red bandage because this color increases the body energy flow.

- As Incense:

  • Sticks: Until recently, was used the dead trunk tree heart, cut into sticks 6-9 cm. in long and 1 cm. in diameter and are placed on burning coal, especially to keep off mosquitoes. The sticks can also be used to prepare tea that help to cure diseases that come from the cold.
  • Incense Cones: Transformed the sticks in cones with the sawdust of Palo Santo wood without using artificial glue, chemical or animal products.
  • For the flu, cough, asthma: Tea or tisane; Infusions: Boil the Sticks for fifteen minutes, filter and drink with sugar or honey.
  • Mosquito repellent: Burn on a palo santo incense (cone or stick) to keep off the mosquitoes. Use one cone or stick at a time.
  • Meditation and spiritual search: Burn on 1 or 2 incense cones in the incense burner. These cones must be used in their respective incense burner because the size of the holes is carefully designed to control combustion. The cones are consumed entirely in 20 or 25 minutes.
  • To clean and remove the bad energy from home: You need to burn at least four cones together if the place is small, without putting the cap on the incense burner. The clean is well done when the room seems to have fog, you can not breathe and your eyes burn. For this reason the room must be empty for at least three hours.


  1. ^ a b Nakanishi, Tsutomu; Yuka INATOMI, Hiroko MURATA, Kaori SHIGETA, Naoki IIDA, Akira INADA, Jin MURATA, Miguel Angel Perez FARRERA, Munekazu IINUMA, Toshiyuki TANAKA, Shogo TAJIMA, and Naoto OKU (February 2005). "A new and known cytotoxic aryltetralin-type lignans from stems of Bursera graveolens.". Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 53 (2): 229–31. doi:10.1248/cpb.53.229. PMID 15684524. Retrieved 2011-10-31. 
  2. ^ "Taxon: Bursera graveolens (Kunth) Triana & Planch". GRIN Taxonomy for Plants. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Area Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Retrieved 1 November 2011. 
  3. ^ Young, D. Gary; Chao, Sue et al. (2007). "Essential Oil of Bursera graveolens (Kunth) Triana et Planch from Ecuador". Journal of Essential Oil Research 19: 525–526. 
  4. ^ a b Gibson, Ruby (2008). My Body, My Earth: The Practice of Somatic Archaeology. iUniverse. p. 88. ISBN 9780595488230. 
  5. ^ Lemdo, Margaret Ann (2011). All About Smudging. Llewellyn Worldwide. pp. No page. ISBN 9780738733142. 
  6. ^ Farmer, Steven D. (2009). Earth Magic: Ancient Shamanic Wisdom for Healing Yourself, Others, and the Planet. Hay House Inc. p. 123. ISBN 9781401920050. 
  7. ^ Pennacchio, Marcello; Lara Jefferson and Kayri Havens (2010). Uses and Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke: Its Ethnobotany as Hallucinogen, Perfume, Incense, and Medicine. Oxford University Press. p. 59. ISBN 9780195370010. 
  8. ^ O'Neil, PhD, Dennis. "Medical Anthropology: Explanations of Illness". Behavioral Sciences Department, Palomar College, San Marcos, California. Retrieved September 30, 2012.