Sage vs. Palo Santo // Differences + Similarities

April 3, 2017 4:19 am Published by

When it comes to cleansing negative energy from your space, it’s a serious matter. If you’re like me, you want to know all of your options.

Sage and Palo Santo are two of the more popular tools used for smoke cleansing. It’s no mistake that sage and Palo Santo are so popular, there’s even some science to back up their healing powers. Let’s dive into the similarities and differences between these potent plants so you better understand them and how to use them.


Most sage is harvested from the Southwest of the US and some parts of Northern Mexico. This desert dwelling shrub loves the hot dry climate. Palo Santo comes from South America, and grows along the coastline of Peru.

The practice of burning herbs, resin, and wood for cleansing purposes have been used by cultures all around the world. The earliest recordings of Palo Santo, or “holy wood”, use date back to the ancient Inca people. Sage is more commonly associated with Native Americans but also has roots with Celtic Druids.


Sage has a strong, earthy and herby scent that may not be for everyone. Palo santo has a sweet, subtle and fresh smell with hints of mint and citrus.


Both Palo Santo and white sage suffer from over harvesting. It’s crucial to research where you’re buying your cleansing herbs to ensure you’re not adding to the over harvesting and possible endangerment of these gifts from Mother Earth.

Palo Santo harvesting is controlled by law. Only trees and branches that had fallen naturally are allowed to be harvested. With its increased popularity of Palo Santo these laws have become hard to enforce. Similar issues arise with  the harvesting of white sage.

There are companies that sell sustainably sourced sage and Palo Santo. The cost might be a little higher, but you can rest easier knowing you’re supporting companies that are harvesting these priceless plants in a sustainable way.

If you’re looking to purchase these plans from responsible companies, there are several, it just takes a little research. Sage Winds Farm is a wonderful company growing their own organic white sage to help keep this tool sustainable. Ecuadorian Hands offers Palo Santo that is harvested responsibly and helps to support the local people.

To learn more about using these plants responsibly and a host of wonderful alternatives, click here.


Each of these plants offer a different kind of burn that lend themselves to different uses.

Palo Santo won’t burn as long and will need to be re-lit multiple times for clearing larger spaces. Sage on the other hand can be very smoky and will make cleansing a larger space easier. Palo Santo lends itself to cleansing small spaces, like yourself or your altar.

Energetic Clearing

Let’s get to the real reason why sage and Palo Santo are so widely used: their clearing and cleansing benefits of negative energy.

Sage is said to clear ALL energy, the good and the bad. This is great if you have a plan to bring in some positive energy after you do your clearing, otherwise your freshly cleansed space might just fill right back up with same energy you tried to remove. If you cleanse with sage you’ll want to have a plan for bringing in the kind of energy you want in your space. You can do this with your mind by visualizing white light filling your space or by using a crystal to bring in the energy of your choosing.

Palo Santo on the other hand, is said to cleanse negative energy and bring in the good. Pal Santo will also grace your space with a fresh feeling of creativity.

Both of these plants will help balance the earth, fire, and air elements in your space. Want to bring in the water element too? Use an abalone shell to place your burning sage or Palo Santo in to bring in the water element. Learn more about the four elements here.

Looking at these tools from an energetic perspective, the best thing to do is try them out for yourself. You may find that you prefer the energy of one over the other, or that an alternative, like mugwort, better suites you.

Physical Benefits

Palo Santo smoke has been used in South America as a mosquito and bug repellent long before it found its way to other parts of the world. Palo Santo contains terpenes that, when distilled into a concentrated oil, have shown to have an effect on free-radical damage. It’s traditionally been used as a healing tool for asthma, the flu, and a variety of other ailments.

There are some compelling studies about the antimicrobial effects of sage smoke that you can check out here. In these studies, the “medicinal smoke” showed to remove up to 94% of bacteria in the air. The study also noted a disinfectant effect up to a month after the space had been cleansed with smoke!

The healing and cleansing benefits of Palo Santo and white sage are hard to overlook. Though these plants are popular, I always encourage the exploration of other herbs and plants to help preserve them. Try saving your white sage and Palo Santo for special occasions and substitute other plants for daily use. Mugwort, rosemary, and juniper are a few wonderful alternatives.


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About Cassie

Cassie Uhl is the founder and owner of Zenned Out, a jewelry company that handcrafts jewelry with meaning and provides a community that inspires a mindful and spiritual lifestyle. Cassie grew up with a open minded, astrology obsessed grandmother and a father that would take her and her sister star gazing in the wee hours of the night. These experiences shaped Cassie and Zenned Out into what they are today by bringing spirituality and astrology into the forefront. Cassie hopes to give spiritual souls a place to feel at home on the Zenned Out blog and offers handcrafted jewelry with meaningful symbols, powerful gemstones, and mindful quotes to enable people to wear jewelry that aligns with their souls purpose.

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