Sandalwood can be found throughout the history of many cultures. It was an important medicinal herb in traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicines and by 700 BC, it could be found in Egyptian embalming formulas and become an important trade item. Sandalwood has long been a part of Indian culture, both the tree itself and the oil that it produces. As early as 2000 BC, sandalwood is mentioned among spices and silk in the epic Indian poem, Ramayana. It was one of the first items traded in the Middle East. In India, the tree was declared a “Royal Tree” by the Sultan of Mysore in 1792. While the trees were once found in abundance, they have been pushed to the brink of extinction. Today, India owns the sandalwood trees of the nation to protect the trees from depletion. Landowners with sandalwood trees on their property must care for the trees and harvest them with government approval and they receive 75% of the trees’ value.
The Indian government has set up sandalwood tree plantations but they still struggle to keep up with the demand for the rare tree. Throughout the centuries, Indians have revered the sandalwood for its wood and extracted oil. The wood has been used to build temples while the oil has been used in religious rites. Sandalwood trees are also native to Australia. In the early nineteenth century the trees were exported, mostly to China. The demand for the trees was high while the supply dwindled. Under the Western Australia Sandalwood Control Act of 1929, the government began to control the harvest of the trees. Plantations were also created. In 1932, sandalwood oil was deemed therapeutic and added to the British Pharmacopoeia
Today, the sandalwood oil continues to be a highly valued substance. With its sweet, warm, rich aroma with calming effects, sandalwood oil continues to be used in certain religious rites, medicinal and therapeutic methods and cosmetics that closely resemble its past uses.
Where Sandalwood Trees Have Been Grown
The sandalwood tree has many species but they all derive from the Indian (Santalum album) or Australian (Santalum spicatum) Sandalwood. Although native to India and Australia, sandalwood trees are also grown in Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Hawaii and other island nations of the Pacific Ocean. The medium sized trees grow well in semi-arid regions. They are semi-parasitic and take much of their nutrients from other plants. The trees are somewhat fragile and are susceptible to disease, insects, soil and weather. The trees grow slowly and do not bear fruit for their first decade. They can’t be harvested until they are about 30 years old.
The trees have a distinctive rich, woody fragrance that can be retained for decades in the heavy, fine-grained wood. The wood’s color varies with age and environment. It can be dark brown to deep gray or reddish brown to black. The inner heartwood of the tree can be light green to yellow. The tree’s leaves have pointed tips with shiny green tops and blue/gray undersides. The clustered flowers range in colors from purple, brown, violet, green and red. The edible fruit blooms twice a year. It is red, black or purple, sphere-shaped and fleshy with a stone-like seed.
Sandalwood trees have grown naturally in India and Australia but now most trees are found only in plantations. In India, the sandalwood tree is native to southern Deccan Plateau, a dry, deciduous forest. It grows to an average of 65 feet tall and 8 feet wide. The government continues to protect the harvesting of the trees from tree poachers who sell the immature trees for the price of an older tree, leading to less potent oils. There are 5 native species of sandalwood trees that have grown in Australia. The trees grow in the arid interior of the country through the woodlands. The Australian trees are smaller than the Indian. They grow to an average of 12-30 feet high and have a circumference of about 4 or 5 feet.
Sandalwood Oil Today
Sandalwood trees are most valued for the oil that is distracted from the center of the tree. The oil is rich in the lower most central part of the heartwood, closest to the roots. The older the tree, the richer the oil. Since primitive times, the oil has been used by Indians in religious rites as well as medicine. Today, sandalwood oil continues to be used as part of religious ceremonies in some regions. It can be ingested or applied topically to help treat medical and skin conditions. The fragrance produces a calm relaxing effect so it’s often used for therapeutic purposes around the world.
The oil has a long list of medicinal uses. It can relieve urinary tract and kidney infections, fight bacteria and viruses, sooth stomach problems, including gas and heartburn, improve the circulatory system, reduce lymph node swelling, reduce cramps and lower inflammation. Controlled tests suggest that the oil may possibly help to prevent cancer and help stimulate the reproductive system.
Sandalwood oil is one of the most valuable essential oils in the world. The oil’s deep, rich, woody aroma is long lasting and has a calming effect. For centuries the oil has been used for its aromatic and healing properties. Unfortunately, the fragile trees have been over-harvested for this reason. Government protection has helped yield more trees but the trees take decades to mature and produce the best quality oil.
Today, sandalwood oil continues to be highly valued for its medicinal and therapeutic qualities. It is believed to prevent and reduce medical and skin conditions because of its valuable properties. With its unique, long lasting deep aroma it is used in incenses, perfumes and fragrances meant to relax the body and mind. Many are concerned about the future of sandalwood oil because of the high demand and small amount of trees that are available for harvest. It is often recommended to purchase large quantities of a sandalwood essential oil that you prefer to protect yourself if the oil is discontinued. A well made, high quality oil should last indefinitely, which is not a common characteristic of essential oils. This is just another supporting facts