Ok everybody. This is getting out of hand! I have been seeing posts from big influencer accounts saying we need to stop using Palo Santo because it is endangered, and I’m here to tell you the TRUTH about the Palo Santo situation. I’ve been shying away from this topic for a while now because I too was confused about the status of Palo Santo, and I didnt want to spread any misinformation myself. This conversation is sure to get heated, but the misinformation has gone too far— the confusion is rampant on the interwebs and I MUST speak up! The irony is that this call to boycott Palo Santo is actually DANGEROUS to the very important conservation efforts to preserve our beloved Holy Wood. These shortsighted influencer accounts have been spreading misinformation like wildfire, and have refused to do their own research, cite their sources, or redact their statements after being proven wrong. So I’m here to tell you my story and share my research with you.
Believe me — when I first saw a post claiming Palo Santo was endangered, I had a major crisis of conscience. Not only because Palo Santo is a huge part of my business, but because I would NEVER want to consciously contribute to the extinction of any living species. So, I pushed past the fear and confusion and did my own research. I dug deep into www.iucnredlist.org and www.cites.org, the two leading academic organizations that create the “endanger species list.” What I found was that there IS a tree on the list that shares the common name “Palo Santo,” which means “Holy Wood.” This tree is Bulnesia sarmientoi, while the wood we all know and love is Bursera Graveolens. Both are fragrant trees from South America, but they are totally different species! That information alone was enough to stop the heart palpitations, but I needed to know more.
Next, I called my supplier, Erik Suarez from @ Sacredwoodessence. He has been working with palo santo for over 10 years and works exclusively with Ecuadorian sources who have spent their lives dedicated to the conservation and reforestation of Palo Santo's habitat. When I spoke to him, he was living and working in the Tropical Dry Forests with the families who prepare the Palo Santo for export. His first hand account of the state of affairs in Ecuador soothed my unsettled mind. His eyes could see nothing that suggested a shortage at all. And in fact, he witnessed an abundance of living trees, as well as plenty of naturally fallen trees ready to be collected. He explained all the steps his sources are taking to ensure the sustainability of this beloved plant. First and foremost, they educate locals about best practices for collecting Palo Santo, ensuring that only naturally fallen and aged wood is procured. Because the tree needs to die or break FROM NATURAL CAUSES, it literally doesn’t make "scents" to cut a living tree (see what I did there?). To top it off, they have worked with local and national governments to regulate the export of Palo Santo, ensuring that no cut wood is being sold. In the 10+ years of Sacred Wood Essence, they have never cut down a living tree.
Their sources are also the foremost conservationists of Palo Santo's natural habitat. They have purchased thousands of hectares of land and created habitat sanctuaries for these trees, which subsequently protects the biodiversity of the Tropical Dry Forests. Additionally, they plant THOUSANDS of trees every year to keep up with the demand. That equates to tens of thousands of trees in all stages of maturity. Just imagine the surplus of palo santo we will have in coming years! You can read more about the extensive conservation and reforestation efforts in blogs from Ecuadorian Hands and Sacred Wood Essence (see source links below).
In addition to going above and beyond to sustain the species and habitat, their efforts have created immense economic implications for the communities of the Tropical Dry Forests of Ecuador. In fact, “in June of 2014, the Bolívar Tello Community Association, from whom we source the Palo Santo for all of our Sacred Wood Essence [and Fractalista Designs] products, was awarded the United Nations Development Programme’s Equator Prize for their Palo Santo project’s outstanding effectiveness in reducing poverty through biodiversity conservation and sustainable business practices.”
While I can see where the confusion took place, the oversight of this obvious information is unacceptable. Not to mention, the spreading of this #fakenews is simply irresponsible and actually dangerous to Palo Santo’s preservation. And here's why: The irony of telling people to boycott Palo Santo would actually cause its demise. Habitat loss is the true threat to this tree, along with all flora and fauna. The locals who collect and process the wood "receive a direct economic incentive to preserve the forest that provides them with a livelihood" (www.sacredwoodessence.com). However, If there is no demand or profit for Palo Santo, the people who have been lifted from poverty by its trade will be forced to look for other options to support themselves. The land on which this magical plant currently grows would almost certainly be razed and converted into monocrops, livestock grazing land, or development projects. In one recent instance, “around 1000 hectares of trees, including Palo Santo, were cut down” for the development of La Refineria del Pacific, a development project which is now abandoned (www.ecuadorianhands.com).
Preservation is not as straightforward as simply stopping the sale or use of Palo Santo, and in fact, those tactics can actually be counterproductive to one’s intent. It's crucial that we all do our due diligence by researching exactly where our Palo Santo comes from, as well as investigating the ethics and practices of our suppliers. Support those who are making great efforts to conserve the species, and refrain from buying from those who are unclear or ambiguous about their sources.
I have been working with Palo Santo for over 5 years, sourcing exclusively from a supplier whom I trust completely as a steward of the Holy Wood. My connection to this beautiful plant has been deeply ingrained in my soul from the moment I first smelled it's fragrant smoke. I come to you with this information not to prove anyone wrong, or sell you more Palo Santo, but to offer the facts and conclusion that the best way to help it thrive is to KEEP USING IT! Palo Santo offers a multitude of benefits for your body, mind and spirit. So if you love Palo Santo, don’t stop loving it!
Do your own research, know your sources, and burn on!