Copal is one of the most popular scents used for centuries during spiritual celebrations, such as the Day of the Dead in Mexico. 

This resin comes from a tropical tree that, in addition to being used as a pleasantly scented incense, is also prized for its wood for cabinetmaking, as a traditional remedy for insect bites, and as a material for jewelry making. 

But people who have never had contact with copal resin may be wondering…

What Does Copal Smell Like?

Copal resin has an intense, fresh, and relaxing smell, whose woody fragrance is slightly reminiscent of a smell like pepper, although some people find it a bit sweeter, similar to amber and vanilla. Copal is one of the most mysterious smells you can find, as people often perceive it in different ways. Each nose is a world unto itself.

The pleasant smell is given off by burning the resin, which is obtained from the bursera copallifera commonly called copal. 

This difference of opinions is what gives copal such a mystical aura and makes it ideal for spiritual events, since everyone perceives it in their own way, as if the aroma adapts to your soul.

Copal Incense As An Element Of Rituals

The previous point takes us directly to the origin of this resin, which was used in the ancient rituals of several indigenous cultures around the world to communicate with their ancestors and gods. 

For this reason, copal is intimately linked today to sahumerios or ‘tlémaitl’. The word sahumar refers to “give aromatic smoke to something to cleanse it or to make it smell good” and is even used in syncretic rites such as the blessing of seeds, the petition for rain, or thanksgiving for harvests.

During the celebrations of Holy Week, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day, copal is sold in markets, and sahumerios are found on altars in churches, but above all in the offerings of homes in the countryside and in the city. In the cities, the use of copal is also associated with ceremonies or rituals of different beliefs, for example, in divination rituals and accompanying prayer.

Copal resin incense

Benefits Of Copal

Thanks to its mystical origins, copal has become popular in the market as a purifier of souls and houses, to wish good luck and ward off evil spirits.

But even if you are not a believer, the aroma of copal has many other benefits that will do you good.

  • It gives warmth: copal is a warm wood, which can warm your home and make it warmer during this cold season. Not only that: it can also prevent humidity.
  • Avoids headaches: its aroma, despite being penetrating, promotes relaxation to relieve headaches, it also helps regulate blood pressure and calm nerves.
  • Induces sleep: if you can’t sleep, burning copal can help you have a better night without insomnia.
  • Increases concentration: if you feel scattered, a little copal in the room will motivate you and help you meditate and focus. That is why people who practice yoga or other meditation exercises use it a lot.
  • As an expectorant: being a strong aroma, it helps to free the respiratory tract from mucus and phlegm.
  • Aromatherapy: Copal oil is used in aromatherapy to treat certain diseases, because it has effects on the brain system related to emotions, such as the limbic system.
  • Carpentry: the wood of the copal tree also has decorative uses, such as elaborate handmade boxes, carving of fantastic animals, and other elements of the pre-Hispanic culture.

How To Use Copal?

Copal can be used in various forms, from its original wood, resin, incense sticks, and essential oil.

Only these 4 variants will give you a world of possibilities to take full advantage of its scent, although one of the best options is to burn the resin with a lighter to release the aroma in its purest version.

Don’t overdose yourself with copal, as it is a natural resin that can last for years as long as you wrap it carefully in a piece of cloth and store it in an airtight container.

Copal can commonly be found as a fragrance added to candles or even perfume, where the powerful scent can add depth with a lingering hint of the sweet aroma.

Copal Tree Of Heaven

Preservation Of Copal

Although it is full of benefits, we must not forget that copal is a natural resource, and like everything in life, it can become extinct.

Many environmental organizations have begun to regulate the overexploitation of copal trees to ensure their future and that future generations can enjoy its aroma.

Part of this plan involves choosing an area of the trees to cut 15 cm in diameter in a “V” shape to extract the resin. The following year they choose another area for the first one to recover and the third year they return and so on.

In this way, the tree lasts 15 to 20 years being productive, so it is not convenient for the population to mistreat or cut it.

The resin is extracted only three months per year because at the end of October, November, and December the tree begins to shed its leaves and this makes it dirty, which makes it difficult to sell at a good price. 

The organizations also invite the population to reforest the species. Being a fast-growing tree, it can be harvested after three years of age.

Clearing Up The Spiritual Smell Of Copal

Copal is another sign that nature does not stop giving us gifts, especially for our noses. We just have to be aware that it is not an infinite resource and that its preservation must be a priority. We cannot afford to extinguish such a historic aroma that connects us to our roots.