Palo Santo made its way into our lives during a plant medicine ceremony while living in Vilcabamba, Ecuador - the intoxicating aroma of this sacred smoke gripped us immediately. A few days after the ceremony, we were introduced to a couple who were bringing Palo Santo in from a reforestation project on the coast. It wasn’t long before curiosity got the better of us and a road trip was organised to go check it out.
The steward of this project is a well known figure in the Manabi region called Dante. We initially met Dante at his small beach front artisanal shop in the fishing town of Puerto Lopez. His store is filled with all sorts of handmade treats from Ecuador - Palo Santo being the focus. After an initial chat we were invited to his home for a Palo Santo education and a full tour of his factory. The distillation room was where we had our alchemy lesson - Dante is known for being one of the first people to extract oil from the Palo Santo tree. He then showed us around his garden, which was full of saplings, almost ready for replanting. These saplings would later be transferred to a 50 hectare tract of land dedicated to the reforestation of Palo Santo and other plants native to the area.
We arranged to meet Dante again for breakfast the following morning. Stories were shared. His first life was in Italy where he worked as a psychiatric nurse. Our initial conversation centred around mental health and his experiences working night shifts in a psychiatric hospital. During these shifts he would take restraints off some of the patients and allow them to express themselves via dance or paint. It was evident that this man had a true appreciation for life.
Towards the end of his psychiatric career Dante had a profound dream where he would discover a plant that would help heal humanity. This, together with his life long interest in botany, finally gave him a push to follow his intuition, which brought him to the dry forests of Ecuador 20 years ago. The rest, as they say, is history.