Sage, Palo Santo, Incense⁠—Here's What To Burn & When

Your burning questions, answered.

burning sage
Image: @urbanoutfitters @theritualstore

Ready to feel the burn, but don’t know where to start? In addition to simply setting the mood in your zen den, sage, palo santo and incense can each be utilized as powerful tools for enhancing awareness and mindful connection. Often used in “smudging”—a practice of burning special herbs in efforts to clear away unwelcome energetic junk (read: bad juju) to bring yourself and your environment back into to a more harmonious state—each can uniquely alter the vibe of your space through simple ritual and ceremony. 
Though it all sounds a bit woo woo, studies have found that burning herbs releases negative ions, which is linked to triggering a more positive mood! Plus, the smoke from some herbs can actually change the molecular structure of air and energy, producing a cleansing effect.

Image: @theritualstore
Image: @theritualstore

Sage and Palo Santo are typically used to cleanse a space of negative energy, while incense brings in a specific scent blend to shift energy and elevate your mood (think aromatherapy). Each should be used with set intention for maximum benefit! Below, we’re breaking down hot tips for basic burning.


Not all that different from the type of sage likely to be found in your own herb garden, white or desert sage is expertly dried and rolled into crafted bundles for smudge sticks. While heavy on the herby scent if you catch our drift, the aroma of sage is known to increase oxygen supply to the brain, prompting a state of overall relaxation and muscle tension release. (Makes sense, as clary sage oil is often recommended as a natural menstrual cramp cure!).  
Sage is thought to clear out energy for a powerful reset and fresh start, so it’s great to use when moving into a new place, deep cleaning, before meditation or after an argument or any illness. Light the bundle by holding a flame to it until it begins to smoke, then calmly move through your space, gently wafting and directing the smoke to where it needs to go – highly trafficked areas and stale corners alike. Sage ya later, hater.

Image: @theritualstore

Palo Santo

Loved for its woodsy fresh and uplifting scent, Palo Santo is known as a holy wood from Peru, with its earliest use dating back to Incan civilization. A much sweeter and subtler scent than sage, these sticks can also be used for powerful purifying and cleansing rituals, while keeping energies grounded and clear.
Palo Santo is thought to calm the immune and nervous systems and enhance creativity, making it a great option for starting out your day as part of a mindful morning routine. You might also want to try lighting up at the office, with permission of course!   


Incense is typically a blend of oils or herbs in a think stick or cone, used as a healing fragrance to softly alter your mood and energetic state. Connecting with one’s sense of smell is a profound way to heighten awareness, so you’ll often find it burning away at yoga studios and massage rooms.
Given that it’s strength can be easily overpowering (we’ve all had a nose-singeing yoga studio experience or two, am I right?) be sure to opt for all-natural, non-toxic options to avoid toxic, synthetic fumes and headaches. Scents vary from soothing to energizing, so experiment to fit your mood and find your favorites. Burn, baby, burn. 

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