Ancient Cousins – Guaiacwood & Palo Santo

A student recently asked me a simple question…what is the difference between Guaiacwood and Palo Santo essential oils? I love questions like that…because, though straightforward, they require me to not only look at the obvious differences, but also the subtle ones. And that is where deep understanding and appreciation of the essences occurs.

On the surface,these two essences have a number of commonalities: both are deeply ancient and spiritual. Guaiacwood, in ancient times, was used to prepare the body of the deceased for burial. It was and is also used to assuage deeply held grief. Of course, in ancient times, it was often the family who prepared the body, so Guaiacwood offered not only solace for the family, but also served to support the physical body as it went to its final resting place.

Palo Santo is another ancient wisdom teacher. When we first added Her to our portfolio of essences, I called Her “South American Frankincense.” That was how I thought of Her…the smell and the effect upon me reminded me deeply of Frankincense. It was quite interesting when I found that both trees are from the same botanical family: Burseraceae (bur-sur-ACE-a-ee), so they actually are related. Palo Santo means Holy Wood in Spanish. So…both Palo Santo and Guaiacwood have long histories of being used for spiritual purposes.

Both essences are also from South America. Guaiacwood is from Paraguay and Palo Santo is from Ecuador. Certainly calls to my mind the ancient prophecy When the Eagle of the North flies together with the Condor of the South, the time of change is upon us.

Both are good, physically, for joint pain. With Guaiacwood, which is almost salve-like in its distilled form, I find that it is more effective to heat it up before applying it to the joints. I had a very painful C1 spinal joint, which had responded to the essences I had used — Red Pine, Spike Lavender and Sweet Birch — but the pain would always return after a few days. I finally took the time to heat up the Guaiacwood (I put the bottle in a “baggie” and placed it in water that had been heated almost to boiling, until some of it turned into liquid), and pour a little on that joint. It felt incredible…it penetrated so deeply and was soooooo soothing! And, even better, after months of this pain, it disappeared after one treatment and has never re-occured!!

Now, on to some differences. Guaiacwood is very much about grief and transitions…working through challenging emotional experiences or events. She works mainly with the solar plexus and the heart, in my experience, while Palo Santo is very crown chakra/third eye oriented (spiritual expansion, connection to higher self). So, Palo Santo, for me, is more about the mind, the thinking part of ourselves, and our spiritual chakras. She also addresses challenges, but, I think, She is more about identity or spiritual challenges, rather than emotional ones.

Also, Guaiacwood is made from the heartwood of the tree, and Palo Santo is made from the bark of the fallen tree. That gives a little insight into why they work as they do, as well!

So, those are some of my thoughts about these two ancient healers; both are unique in their own ways, yet they do share some common properties, not the least of which is their botanical family.

Audre Gutierrez
Master Medicinal Aromatherapist
Shining Sun Aromatherapy

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