Sandalwood Oil: The Rescue Of Sandalwood

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Indian Sandalwood (Santalum album) is on the verge of extinction. Only the heartwood and roots of a mature tree produce the aromatic oil, which in some countries is considered to be more precious than gold. Sandalwood is one of the most recognized scents on earth. It has been used in wood carvings, temple decorations, incense, perfumes, soaps, food, and skin care and as an essential oil for 4,000 years. Asian and Sanskrit manuscripts describe sandalwood to be sacred. In temples, sandalwood was used as a ritual oil to bless congregations, and to achieve higher consciousness in meditation.

Sandalwood is known to be an extremely powerful anti-septic. It has many therapeutic qualities that include being: antidepressant, antiseptic, antiphlogistic, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, astringent, bactericidal, carminative, cicatrizant, diuretic, expectorant, insecticidal, sedative, and tonic.

Sandalwood can be beneficial in the treatment and prevention of dry, cracked and chapped skin as well as: acne, greasy skin, bronchitis, catarrh, coughs, laryngitis, sore throat, diarrhea, nausea, depression, insomnia, nervous tension, and stress-related complaints. It is used as a pharmaceutical disinfectant and as fragrance in: soap, detergents, cosmetics, perfumes, aftershaves, incense, and is sometimes employed as a flavor ingredient in major food categories, including soft and alcoholic drinks.

The main constituents of sandalwood are: about 90 per cent santalols, 6 per cent sesquiterpene hydro carbons, santene, teresantol, borneol, santalone, tri-cyclo-ekasantalal and other lesser constituents. Scientists have found sandalwood to be non-toxic, non-irritant and non-sensitizing when used topically.

The therapeutic qualities of sandalwood are indispensable in the treatment of a variety of skin ailments. Major perfume companies and skin care lines would be lost without sandalwood because it is added to almost every universally known fragrance. Consider the fragrance Joy by Patou (one of the most, if not the most expensive women’s fragrances known to man), Dior’s fragrance Diorissimo, Chloe by Lagerfield, or Samsara by Guerlain: they all use sandalwood as a base note to add texture and depth to the perfumes. It is also used as a balancer and toner for sensitive skin in most top-of-the-line cosmetics.

Sandalwood is used so incisively and globally in so many varieties of products that it has become an endangered species. It is now under the protection of the Indian Government. It is against the law in India to cut down a sandalwood tree until it has reached a mature age of at least 30 years old; however, the laws have neither stopped nor slowed poachers. The best oil is produced from trees that have matured and are in the age group of 50-60 years, yet because of such high demands sandalwood has become an endangered species. Santalum album is so rare it has become closely guarded in the providence where the trees grow. Somehow poachers are finding a way to export this plant out of east India to the Middle East where it is considered to be “liquid gold” due to such high prices, and to the rest of the world. Sandalwood in the black market is a hot commodity and big money.

Mysore, India is known worldwide as “Sandalwood City”. In 1792 the Sultan of Mysore declared sandalwood to be a royal tree and since then the city of Mysore has revolved around sandalwood, manufacturing wood carvings, incense and essential oils. In Mysore, sandalwood is respected by the local populace because it is the only major source of income and is protected by the government. If a land owner in Mysore has sandalwood trees on his property, he does not own the tree: it belongs to the government and can not be cut down. They wait for the tree to mature to proper age before harvesting; however, the demands of sandalwood have grown in recent years, the supply has diminished, and the price has sky rocketed.

Other countries such as Australia and Thailand have tried to help relinquish the burden by growing the trees. However the chemo-types of sandalwood from these other regions are not as therapeutic or as aromatic as the trees from east India. The Indian government has passed laws that control the rate in which the trees are harvested. Distilleries that conduct business legally have limited the production of sandalwood to help the deforestation of the trees recover from years of abuse; however, there are companies that buy sandalwood on the black market and continue to keep sandalwood on the endangered species list.

In India the government is trying to find a solution to the illegal exportation of sandalwood, but they act slowly for fear that implementing harsher exportation laws will result in growth of the black market and poaching of sandalwood. As a consumer you can help by knowing that the company you are purchasing essential oil or sandalwood products from is a reputable company and purchases sandalwood from regions in east India such as Mysore that protect the trees. Purchasing Sandalwood from sources where it is properly harvested supports the reforestation efforts of Mysore and other regions that protect the future of this species, and gives them greater financial resources to combat and reduce the damage caused by black market demand and illegal exportation.

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