We like it in our perfumes and household products. But where does sandalwood come from?
Long hailed as a remedy for stress as well as skin and digestive disorders, sandalwood oil has been in demand for centuries. People in India and throughout Asia have used sandalwood powder in incense sticks and the wood itself for furniture, sacred objects and carvings.
Today, its long-lasting, woody scent is used as the base for perfumes and household products. But there’s more to this everyday ingredient than meets the eye.
How is sandalwood harvested?
Sandalwood oil is obtained by distilling powder from the heartwood – the older, darker and more durable wood at a trunk’s center center – of fragrant trees from the santalum genus.
Where is sandalwood grown?
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) tracks 16 species of sandalwood, broadly grouped as East Indian sandalwood, Australian sandalwood, Hawaiian sandalwood and sandalwood of the Pacific Islands. The East Indian species, frequently cited as the highest quality and the most potent, is now cultivated in Australia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Costa Rica and Cambodia.
In what ways is sandalwood used?
Food products such as gelatin, candy, frozen desserts and alcoholic beverages contain sandalwood flavoring. Most Indian attars, or essential oils, contain a sandalwood base to absorb other herbal and floral notes. Sandalwood oil in capsule form is used to treat colds, fever, bronchitis, and gastric and stomach ulcers. It remains the second-most expensive wood in the world after the African blackwood. Candace Newman, owner of Oil Lady Aromatherapy, a Florida-based essential oil business, says a thumb-sized bottle of Indian sandalwood costs $90 to $100, seven times higher than 15 years ago.
Why has the price of 100% sandalwood exploded?
Though sandalwood plantations are being built in countries like Australia, the number of Indian plantations – on which the Indian sandalwood tree takes seven years to grow naturally and 12 to 15 years to cultivate commercially – has decreased. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, a global environmental organization, includes red sandalwood on its Red List of Threatened Species.
How is the market meeting demand in the face of declining amounts of sandalwood oil?
Numerous synthetic sandalwood substitutes are available. One, Sandalore, promises the same benefits as the increasingly rare oil. New Scientist reported in 2014 that researchers at Hanns Hatt’s lab at Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, found Sandalore, often used in perfumes and skin care products, would bind to an olfactory receptor in skin called OR2AT4. While nose receptors typically send messages to the brain, Sandalore’s receptor “triggered cells to divide and migrate” — an important process for healing damaged skin. The New York Times reported Sandalore helped skin abrasions heal 30% faster and researchers could apply it to cosmetic products for aging skin and recovery treatments after physical trauma.
Article first appeared in The Guardian
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