Aloeswood/Agarwood Information

Aloeswood is the resinous wood from the Aquilaria tree, an evergreen tree native to northern India, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. It's scientific name is Aquilara Malaccensis Lam. or Aquilaria agallocha and is a very popular ingredient in Japanese incense and is often used in traditional Chinese, Unanai, Ayurvedic, and Tibetan medicine.

The Aquilaria tree grows up to 40 meters high and 60 centimeters in diameter and bears sweetly-scented, snow-white flowers. The trees frequently become infected with a parasite fungus or mold, Phialophora parasitica, and begin to produce an aromatic resin in response to this attack. It is this precious resinous wood that is treasured around the world. Today the resin is commonly called Jinko, Aloeswood, Agarwood, and Oud.

The resin of a tree from a natural fungal attack and immune response is commonly known as agar #1. An inferior resin is created by the deliberate wounding of an Aquilaria tree, leaving it more susceptible to a fungal attack by using a forced method. This is commonly called agar #2.

The fungus and decomposition process continue to generate a very rich and dark resin within the heartwood. The resin created as a natural immune response makes the most sacred oil on the planet. The wood is extremely rare and often very difficult to obtain, as well as being quite expensive. The best quality is Kyara, which comes in four types: Green, Iron, Purple, and Black.

There are many stories about aloeswood being buried under the ground for hundreds of years. This legend comes from an ancient Chinese book on incense, but today most aloeswood comes from infected trees that, although in the process of decaying and dying, are still standing. However, sometimes the roots become infected with the fungus and these can be found underground.

It is believed, the famous piece of aloeswood called Ranjatai was presented by Komyo Emperor for Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan, in the year 756 A.D. Ranjatai was kept in the Shosoin warehouse of Todaiji Temple. Today, Ranjatai belongs to the Royal family of Japan. Every autumn, many treasures of Shosoin are exhibited in National Museum in Nara, titled Shosoin Ten (Exhibition). Because there are many treasures in Shosoin, every year, they change the object of exhibition. Ranjatai can be seen there every 10 or 15 years. Ranjatai has been now been identified as coming from Laos or Vietnam by Japan's leading expert on Aloeswood, Dr. Yoneda from Osaka University.

*Written by David Oller of Esoterics, LLC. Edited by Scents of Earth™.

Classifications of Aloeswood

Traditional Japanese Classification - Rikkoku or the six kinds of Aloeswood (lit. Six countries): Kyara, Manaban, Rakoku, Manaka, Sumotara, and Sasora

  • Kyara  - This is the most famous and well known of all Aloes wood some believe to come from either Vietnam or Cambodia. Kyara is a particular odor described as "A gentle and dignified smell with a touch of bitterness. The fragrance is like an aristocrat in its elegance and gracefulness." Kiyoko Morita notes in her published work "The Book of Incense", that opinions differ from incense masters on what is Kyara.
  • Rakoku - A sharp and pungent smell similar to sandalwood. Its smell is generally bitter, and reminds one of a warrior.
  • Manaka - Light and enticing, changing like the mood of a woman with bitter feelings. The fragrance is  good quality if it disappears quickly. None of the five qualities are easily detectable.**
  • Manaban -Mostly sweet, the presence of sticky oil on a mica plate is often present after smoldering Manaban. The smell is coarse and unrefined.
  • Sumotara - Sour at the beginning and end. Sometimes mistaken for Kyara, but with something distasteful and ill bred about it, like a peasant disguised as a noble.
  • Sasora - Cool and sour. Good-quality Sasora is mistaken for Kyara, especially at the beginning. It reminds one of a monk. Sometimes very light and disappearing.

**Five associations used to classify aloes wood aromas in ancient Japan.

  • Sweet -- Resembles the smell of honey or sugar.
  • Sour -- Resembles the smell of plums or other acidic foods.
  • Hot -- Resembles the smell of peppers on a fire.
  • Salty -- Resemble the smell of ocean water when seaweed is dried on a fire.
  • Bitter -- Resembles the smell of bitter herbal medicine when it is mixed or boiled.

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