Smudging with Palo Santo

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What is Smudging?


Smudging is a ceremonial act that has been practiced for thousands of years in various forms by indigenous cultures all around the world. It refers to the act of using smoke from sacred plants to bring about various physical and/or metaphysical effects.


Palo santo, sage, lavender and sweetgrass are among the most popular. Since each sacred plant has its own unique properties, smudging can be used for a variety of needs. For example, sage is commonly used for purification and healing. This is due to its antibacterial properties and spiritual ability to cleanse a person, object, or place of impurities.

palo santo sage and lavender are common sacred smudging herbs

History of Smudging with Palo Santo


Palo Santo, meaning “holy wood” in Spanish, has been used for countless generations by shamans in South America. Its trees are described as having a “strong spirit” and have long been treated with reverence and respect. Shamans in Peru would ceremonially smudge with palo santo to repel negative energy, fear, and evil spirits. While many sacred plants are effective at clearing negative energy, palo santo is unique in its ability to balance out the void that negative energy leaves behind.

machu picchu in peru where shamans smudged using palo santo

Palo Santo is also rich in terpenes such as limonene, which relieves stress, and α-terpineol, which has anti-oxidizing, anti-hypertensive, and potentially even anti-cancer properties.

A Beginner’s Guide to Smudging


Smudging is easy to learn! Although various cultures may have different rituals, the basics are the same. First, let’s make sure you have everything you need.

  1. Smudge stick (i.e. palo santo wood, tied bundle of sage)
  2. Lighting mechanism (i.e. candle, matches, lighter)
  3. Smudging bowl – a fireproof bowl to hold the plant and catch embers (i.e. clay, ceramic, stone, shell)
  4. Extinguishing mechanism (i.e. bowl of sand, bowl of water)

Once you have all of your essentials, you’re almost ready! Before you light your smudge stick, place it in your smudging bowl. Hold the bowl by your belly with both hands, stacked one under the other. While holding the bowl, close your eyes and think about what your intention is for the ceremony. If your goal is to rid a room of negative energy, then focus on positive intent. It is believed that doing so allows us to gently influence the spiritual world – but sincerity is key. Some people like to use this moment to make a statement or say a prayer. Carry this thought with you throughout the smudging process.

Note: before smudging, always be mindful around people with allergies or sensitivity to smoke.


Light it Up


Let’s begin! Hold the palo santo in your hand pointing slightly downward at a 45 degree angle. Light the low end and hold the flame there long enough for the wood to carry a flame on its own. Once it catches, hold the palo santo horizontally and allow it to burn for 30 seconds to a minute. Once you start to see glowing embers, gently blow out the flame or wave it out. The palo santo stick should be smoldering and releasing smoke.

Blowing on the smudging stick

You may have heard that you are not supposed to blow on a smudging stick. Some believe that this imparts your negative energy onto the stick, polluting the ceremony. Practitioners of this belief use a smudging feather instead to fan the embers. Whether you use a smudging feather or blow on the embers yourself, what matters ultimately is that you conduct the ceremony with respect, humility, and genuine intentions.

how to light palo santo for smudging ceremony

Now That Your Smudging Stick is Smoking


Hold the palo santo in one hand and the smudging bowl in the other, keeping it underneath the stick at all times to catch stray embers/ashes. Slowly wave the smudging stick around the person, object, or place that you want to affect. While the smoke works its magic, make sure to keep your positive intention in the front of your mind. This is where palo santo works especially well for smudging. Once it pushes out negative energy, it replaces it with warm, positive energy.


If you are smudging your living area, pay special attention to areas that don’t normally receive a lot of attention – corners of a room, closets, cupboards, attics, and basements are good examples. You may also want to smudge the exterior of your living space. If you are in an apartment, focus on the front and back porch areas.

palo santo smoke image from unsplash


Wrapping Up Your Smudging Ceremony


When you are done smudging, you can either extinguish the embers in your bowl of sand or let it smolder until the embers go out. Do not use water to put it out as this can cause the wood to mildew. If you let it continue smoldering, this would be a great time for meditation or yoga. Do not toss the ashes from the ceremony in the trash as that would be disrespectful and counterproductive. Instead, pour them out on the ground outside so that the Earth can absorb the negative energy.


Take a moment to close your eyes, breathe, and reflect on your experience. Pay particular attention to how you feel and the energy around you. You may even be interested in keeping a smudging journal to monitor your experiences over time. Smudge as often as you need. We recommend doing your living area at least once a month.

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