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Ecuador Palo Santo Project

Floracopeia is proud to offer Palo Santo oil distilled in small quantities from ecologically harvested trees growing in Ecuador. Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) is an aromatic tree endemic to the Galapagos Islands. It grows in northern Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, and the coastal dry forests of Ecuador. Palo Santo means “holy wood,” or “sacred tree.” Botanically, Palo Santo is a member of Burseraceae family; it is a close relative of the Elephant Tree (Bursera microphylla), an aromatic tree that grows in the desert of the southwestern U.S. and Baja California, and a more distant relative of frankincense trees (Boswelia).


Palo Santo is one of the most important trees used in traditional ethno-botanical medicine of South America. It is widely used as an incense for repelling mosquitoes. The wood is cooked into decoction and taken for fevers, infections, and skin diseases. It is still widely used by shamans of the Andes in curing ceremonies. Although the oil is present in young trees and saplings, the highest quality is distilled from the aged heartwood. Palo Santo oil is golden yellow, with a fresh and intense citrus aroma. Under the lemon top notes are subtle resinous wood notes and a slight medicinal pungency, which give the oil an intriguing complexity.


Analysis of Palo Santo oil reveals that it contains high levels of limonene, a monoterpene compound that has been found to have chemo-preventive and chemo- therapeutic effects against several types of cancer. In medical aromatherapy the oil can be used as an anxiolytic agent that counteracts panic attacks and anxiety, a respiratory remedy for cough, colds, and asthma, for headaches and migraines, and in massage therapy for pain and inflammation of the muscles and joints. In spiritual aromatherapy it can be beneficial for meditation, concentration, and for enhancing creativity and learning.


Palo Santo trees have been seriously over-exploited in South America, especially in Ecuador. In many parts of the country where the trees once grew abundantly, the populations are now decimated, deforested for use as incense, medicine, fuel, or for making aromatic boxes. The preservation of the last remaining forests of this precious tree is critical.


The largest remaining population of Palo Santo trees in South America grows in the Parque Nacional Machalilla in Ecuador. Our distiller has been involved in the careful ecological harvesting of deadwood in this park for over six years. Only the branches and trunks that have fallen naturally are gathered; there is no cutting of any live trees. The harvesters are careful to not damage the areas surrounding the trees, and do not create any new footpaths or roads. There is no waste of the harvested wood, with every piece being either distilled or used as medicine or incense.Although the Palo Santo trees in the Machalilla Park are protected by Ecuadorian laws and sustainably managed by our distiller, they are still threatened. Recently, an enterprise in Quito attempted to gain rights from the Ecuadorian government to harvest all the trees of the park, which would have destroyed the forest for future generations. As a result of efforts by our distiller, this contract was cancelled and the government is now investigating the sustainable harvesting of Palo Santo and distillation of the oil as a specialty product that can bring employment to the local villages of the coastal region.


Over the past several years our distiller has done extensive research into the propagation and cultivation of Palo Santo trees and is now able to propagate saplings and save young trees from areas that are being deforested for development. By purchasing this oil you are directly supporting the reforestation and preservation of this precious tree.


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