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Is Your Palo Santo Habit Hurting the Environment?

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Palo Santo NEVODKA/ISTOCK Since the time of the Incas, the fragrant palo santo tree has been harvested by shamans in Peru and Ecuador, who use its essential oils or smoke to cleanse away evil spirits before initiating ayahuasca rituals or to aid the dying on their journeys to the afterlife.

The very act of foraging for the wood by the shaman is a critical part of this spiritual process. Only mature plants, around 50–70 years of age, develop the “heart”—a dense, deeply resined core—necessary for distillation into an essential oil.

And palo santo trees produce the finest oils when they die naturally and sit on the forest floor for several years. Can we get the same spiritual effect from a questionably sourced box of sticks snagged on

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