Agarwood vs Palo Santo: What is the Difference?

Exploring the world of natural aromatics, you might come across agarwood and palo santo, two highly revered materials with deep historical and cultural roots. Agarwood and Palo Santo.

While agarwood/oud and palo santo/holy wood are used for their scents and spiritual benefits, they differ significantly in their sensory experience, history, and how they are burned for their aromatic properties.


Key Takeaways

  • Agarwood and palo santo offer distinct scents revered in many cultures for their aromatic and spiritual properties.
  • They are derived from different tree species with unique harvesting and production practices.
  • Ethical sourcing and sustainability are critical considerations when selecting and using these aromatic woods.

Sensory Profiles and Descriptions

Agarwood and Palo Santo are both renowned for their compelling sensory profiles. Recognizing their distinct aromas and appearances can enhance your understanding and appreciation of these fragrant woods.

Aroma Characteristics

Agarwood Scent Profile: Agarwood is celebrated for its complex and rich fragrance. It emanates a deep, woody base with layers of resinous and sometimes floral notes, which can include hints of musk and balsamic qualities.

The scent profile of Agarwood is further enriched when the Aquilaria tree responds to mold, crafting a unique olfactory experience that is both luxurious and potent.

Palo Santo Scent Profile: Palo Santo, possesses an earthy and citrusy aroma. It imparts a soft, sweet, and clean scent often described as calming.

When you burn Palo Santo, you may notice a slightly sharp yet soothing and uplifting fragrance that is less intense than Agarwood but equally fragrant.

Color and Appearance

Agarwood Appearance: The appearance of Agarwood is as distinctive as its scent. Visually, it presents with a dark, rich color, often appearing in shades from brown to nearly black due to the resin within. True to its luxurious reputation, it displays a smooth, sometimes marbled texture.

Palo Santo Appearance: Palo Santo wood differs, exhibiting a lighter color palette, usually in tan or pale yellow-brown hues. Unlike Agarwood, it features a grainy texture and may have a more raw appearance that reflects its natural and earthy origin.

Burning Method

When burning agarwood or palo santo, your approach will differ based on their unique properties and uses.

Agarwood Burning Method:

  • Place it on a heatproof dish or in a specially designed-incense burner.
  • Burning incense sticks or cones that contain agarwood

Palo Santo Burning Method:

  • First, ensure you have a stick of palo santo and a flame to hand.
  • Light the end of your palo santo stick.
  • Allow the flame to burn for approximately 30 seconds before carefully blowing it out.
  • The glowing embers will emit smoke, diffusing the wood’s natural fragrance.


AgarwoodPalo Santo
Requires smaller pieces to burn.Usually comes in stick form.
Burns In-directly on a Burner.Direct Burning
Produces fragrant smoke quickly.It usually comes in stick form.

Origins and History

In your exploration of aromatic woods, you will discover that agarwood and palo santo come with rich backgrounds rooted in their regions of origin, steep in cultural significance.

Botanical Characteristics

Agarwood, from the Aquilaria genus, is found in Southeast Asia’s forests. It develops when the tree reacts to fungal infection, creating a fragrant, dark, resinous wood used in perfumes and incense. Different Aquilaria species across regions like India and Vietnam produce unique agarwood scents.

On the other hand, palo santo or Bursera graveolens grows in the dry tropical forests of South America, notably in countries like Ecuador and Peru. Unlike Agarwood, palo santo comes from the naturally fallen wood of the tree and is valued for its clear, refreshing scent with hints of citrus. Its name, translating to “holy wood,” hints at its historical use in spiritual practices, reflecting its deep ties to the cultural traditions of South American indigenous peoples.

Both woods share a spiritual allure that transcends their botanical origins, yet each carries a unique story molded by the environment and the people who have treasured them throughout history.

Harvesting Processes

Their distinctive harvesting processes largely influence the unique characteristics and quality of agarwood and Palo Santo. Each type of wood requires specific conditions and techniques to ensure sustainability and maintain its revered properties.

Harvesting Agarwood

The formation of agarwood occurs when the trees become infected with a specific type of mold. Harvesting agarwood is a meticulous process that involves identifying infected trees and then partially harvesting to allow the tree to continue growing or felling the tree entirely if most of the wood is infected. Due to its scarcity and high value, sustainable practices and cultivation are crucial to preventing the over-exploitation of wild agarwood resources.

Harvesting Palo Santo

Harvesting Palo Santo (holy wood) from the Bursera graveolens tree adheres to a natural and sustainable approach. It is believed that the wood should not be cut from the living trees but rather collected from the ground after having fallen naturally. Furthermore, the fallen wood undergoes a period of resting, often 2 to 4 years before harvest, which allows it to develop a rich composition of essential oils; these practices are essential for the sustainability of Palo Santo populations, as they ensure that the trees are not harmed and the environment is respected.

Market Availability and Pricing

Agarwood and Palo Santo are treasured aromatic woods, each commanding its position in the market. They differ significantly in availability and price, influenced by factors like rarity and sourcing practices.

Agarwood, also known as oud, originates from the resinous heartwood of Aquilaria trees. Various factors contribute to its high cost; the trees are now critically endangered, and sustainable sources are scarce. The price of agarwood can vary widely based on quality and origin.

On the other hand, Palo Santo is known for its crisp, woody, and citrus-musk fragrance. Concerns over unsustainable harvesting and cultural appropriation may affect its market. Nonetheless, it is generally more accessible and affordable than agarwood.

Here is a simplified comparison:

Wood TypeAvailabilityPrice Indicators
AgarwoodCritically EndangeredHigh; influenced by rarity and quality
Palo SantoMore CommonLower; affected by ethical sourcing concerns

Consumers need to verify the ethical sourcing of these products to ensure sustainability. The complex scent profiles of agarwood and the cultural significance of Palo Santo play a substantial role in their market demand. The market for both kinds of wood is expected to grow, but consumers’ preferences and sustainability efforts will shape the future dynamics of their pricing and availability.

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