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Sandalwood Information

Sandalwood Information

(Chi): Bai tan xiang (Jap): Byaku-dan; Sen-dan (Skt): Candana

An ancient Buddhist scripture states: "None but the Mali Mountains contain Sandalwood.

One of the oldest incense materials, Sandalwood has been in use for at least 4,000 years. It is one of the most calming incenses and therefore is one of the preferred ones for meditation. It calms the mind, enhances mental clarity, and aids in the opening of the Third Eye. The aroma increases devotion and combined properly can help transmute sexual energy for those who are practicing celibacy. Many ancient Temples and accessories such as rosaries and staffs are made from this wood.

If you've read the many statements about Sandalwood, you are familiar with the general opinion that Sandalwood, other than Mysore Sandalwood, is generally considered "inferior." This is a somewhat deceiving statement. Several woods and oils are sold as Sandalwood which are entirely different species altogether.

The sandal tree, botanically known as Santalum Album belongs to the family Santalaceae. The sandal tree grows almost exclusively in the forests of Karnataka, followed by Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, Timor Islands of Indonesia etc. As the tree grows, the essential oil develops in the roots and heartwood, which requires at least 15 to 20 years. Full maturity is reached after 60 to 80 years. The core of dark heartwood gradually develops, which is covered by outer sapwood. The sandalwood tree is never felled, but uprooted in the rainy season, when the roots are richer in the precious essential oil. Vietnam and New Caledonia have well controlled plantations of genuine Sandalwood. The best quality oil comes from the Indian provinces of Mysore and Tamil Nadu, where the harvest of Sandalwood trees are protected by the state government.

The tree is medium sized 12-15 meters tall. The tree reaches its full maturity in 60 to 80 years, which is when the center of the slender trunk (the heart wood) has achieved its greatest oil content. Both the heartwood and roots are fragrant and contain the oil; the bark and sapwood however are odorless. The Sandalwood tree is never cut down, but uprooted during rainy season, when it is richer in precious essential oils.

The sandal tree does very well on its own, and seems to appear in places it was never seen before. However all attempts by man to proliferate and increase the growth of the species have yielded declining plant populations. It appears very resistant to manipulation!

Many people feel that no essential oil produced from any Sandalwood tree (even Mysore) has the same psychotropic, emotional, spiritual, or medicinal benefits that we find in the wood powder or incense burning that is centuries old. Ayurvedic healers either used powdered Sandalwood or the burning of Sandalwood in their ancient practice. Essential oils and attars may have also been used in Indian medicine, but were popularized in the west by the perfume industry and so became applied medicinally in the western world after the 1920's by French aromatherapists.

Other Species

Pterocarpus santalius or santalum rubrum (red sandalwood) solely used for colouring and dyeing. Other varieties come from the Sandwich islands, Western Australia and New Caledonia. The Australian S. spicatum or Eucarya spicata produces a very similar oil but with a dry-bitter top note. Other varieties growing in the West Indies, Venezuelan, Jamaica, and Haiti are Amyris balsamifera L., which is not of the same family.

History / Traditions

Sandalwood has a sacred 4,000 year old history of being mentioned in Sanskrit and Chinese manuscripts. The oil was used in religious ritual, and many deities and temples were carved from its wood. The wood is soft to carve and is frequently used in sacred fragrant carvings. The ancient Egyptians imported the wood and used it in medicine, embalming and ritual burning to venerate their gods. In Buddhism, it is considered to be one of the three incenses integral to Buddhist practice, together with Aloes wood and Cloves. Depression, anxiety and insomnia were thought to be improved by sandalwood. It was believed to promote spiritual practices, peaceful relaxation, openness and "grounding." It is used in many death ceremonies to help the crossing over, and to comfort mourners. It is also used in many forms of initiation rites to open the disciples mind to receive consecration. In the Zoroastrian Temples it burns in there sacred fires to soothe the troubles of all humanity. It is used by the Jewish, the Buddhist, the Hindus, as well as almost every other belief system for its vast diversity in attributes.

Properties (East Indian)

Odor: woody, sweet, rosenacious.

Attributes: astringent, restoring, relaxing, disinfecting, a urinary and pulmonary antiseptic, soothing, calming. Antidepressant, aphrodisiac, astringent, calming, disinfectant, diuretic, expectorant, sedative, stimulant, and tonic.

Details of Oil

Its ardent admirers have called Sandalwood oil "Liquid Gold," due to its precious nature. Once the oil has been distilled it is matured for six months so that it can achieve the right maturity and perfume. It develops from a very pale yellow to a brownish yellow. It is extremely thick and viscous with a heavy, sweet, woody and fruity aroma which is pungently balsamic. Sandalwood oil can be adulterated with diverse oils such as caster, palm and linseed. Although experts can spot this many people are deceived in this way.

Chemical Constituents

Sesquiterpenes; Sesquiterpenols; Sesquiterpenals; (includes 80 to 90% terpeniod alcohols including a and B-santalols (67%), which is a mixture of two primary sesquiterpenic alcohols) santalic and teresantalic acid, aldehyde, pterocarpin and hydrocarbons, isovaleric aldehyde, santene, santenone.

Today all exports of Sandalwood are closely supervised and regulated by the Indian government and limited supplies of high quality sandalwood oil are coming out of Tamil Nadu and Mysore. However, the forests are still being plundered by bandits and poachers who rape the forests of immature trees.

*Our thanks to David Oller for providing the above information


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