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Santalum paniculatum (ʻiliahi), Hawaiʻi

Sandalwood is the name of a class of fragrant woods from trees in the genus Santalum. The woods are heavy, yellow, and fine-grained, and unlike many other aromatic woods they retain their fragrance for decades. Essential oils are also extracted from the woods for use. Both the wood and the oil produce a distinctive fragrance that has been highly valued for centuries. Consequently, the slow-growing trees have been overharvested in many areas.

True sandalwoods[edit]

A closeup of Sandal saplings
Santalum album

Sandalwoods are medium-sized hemiparasitic trees, and part of the same botanical family as European mistletoe. Notable members of this group are Indian sandalwood (Santalum album) and Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum); others in the genus also have fragrant wood. These are found in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Australia, Indonesia, Hawaii, and other Pacific Islands.


Sandalwood leaf

Producing commercially valuable sandalwood with high levels of fragrance oils, requires Santalum trees to be a minimum of fifteen years old (santalum album) at which age they will harvested in Western Australia - the yield, quality and volume are still to be clearly understood. However it is believed that Australia will be the largest producer of Santalum album by 2018, the majority grown around Kununurra, Western Australia. West Australian sandalwood is also grown in plantations in its traditional growing area east of Perth in the Wheatbelt where more than 15,000 hectares can be found in plantations. Currently WA Sandalwood is only wild harvested and can achieve upwards of $16,000 AUD per tonne which has sparked a growing illegal trade speculated to be worth $2.5 million AUD in 2012.[3]

Sandalwood is expensive enough that, unlike most trees, it is harvested by removing the entire tree instead of sawing them down at the trunk close to ground level. This way, wood from the stump and root can also be used.



Sandalwood (Santalum album) essential oil in clear glass vial
Chess pieces in red sandalwood

Sandalwood essential oil has a distinctive precious-wood scent that is soft, warm, smooth, creamy and milky. It imparts a long-lasting woody base to perfumes from the oriental, woody, fougère and chypre families, as well as a fixative to floral and citrus fragrances. When used in smaller proportions in a perfume, it acts as a fixative, enhancing the longevity of other more volatile materials in the composition. Last but not least, sandalwood is a key ingredient in the "floriental" (aka floral-ambery) fragrance family - when combined with white florals such as jasmine, ylang ylang, gardenia, plumeria, orange blossom and tuberose etc.

Sandalwood oil in India is widely used in the cosmetic industry. The main source of true sandalwood, S. album, is a protected species, and demand for it cannot be met. Many species of plants are traded as "sandalwood". Within the genus Santalum alone, there are more than nineteen species. Traders will often accept oil from closely related species, such as various species in the genus Santalum, as well as from unrelated plants such as West Indian Sandalwood (Amyris balsamifera) in the family Rutaceae or bastard sandalwood (Myoporum sandwicense, Myoporaceae). However, most woods from these alternative sources will lose their aroma within a few months or years.

Isobornyl cyclohexanol is a synthetic fragrance chemical produced as an alternative to the natural product.


Sandalwood paste is integral to rituals and ceremonies, to mark religious utensils and to decorate the icons of the deities. It is also distributed to devotees, who apply it to the forehead or the neck and chest.[4] Preparation of the paste is a duty fit only for the pure, and is therefore entrusted in temples and during ceremonies only to priests.

The paste is prepared by grinding wood by hand upon granite slabs (popularly known as Saane kallu in Kannada and Ammi kallu in (Tamil) shaped for the purpose. With slow addition of water a thick paste results (called Kalabham in South India), which is mixed with saffron or other such pigments to make Chandan. Chandan further mixed with herbs, perfumes, pigments and some other compounds result in Javadhu. Kalabham,Chandan and Javadhu are dried and used as Kalabham powder, Chandan powder and Javadhu powder respectively. Chandan powder is very popular in North India and is also used in Nepal. In Thirupathi after religious tonsure, Sandal paste is applied to protect the skin. Sandalwood is considered in Hinduism and Ayurveda to bring one closer to the divine. Thus Sandal is one of the most used holy elements in the Hindu and Vedic society.


Sandalwood is considered to be of the padma (lotus) group and attributed to Amitabha Buddha. Sandalwood scent is believed to transform one's desires and maintain a person's alertness while in meditation. Sandalwood is also one of the more popular scents used when offering incense to the Buddha.


In sufi tradition sandalwood paste is applied on the sufi’s grave by the disciples as a mark of devotion. It is practiced particularly among the Indian subcontinent sufi disciples. In some places sandalwood powder is burnt in Dargah for fragrance. In some parts of India during the Milad un Nabi in the early 19th century, the residents applied sandalwood paste on the decorated Buraq and the symbols of footprints of the Prophet Mohammed. In some places of India during the epidemic it was common among the South Indian devotees of Abdul-Qadir Gilani (also known as pir anay pir) to prepare his imprint of a hand with sandalwood paste and parade along the bylines, which they believed would cause the epidemic to vanish and the sick to be healed. Among the Tamil culture irrespective of religious identity, sandal wood paste and powder is applied on the graves of Sufi’s as a mark of devotion and respect.[5]

Chinese and Japanese religions[edit]

Sandalwood, along with agarwood, is the most commonly used incense material by the Chinese and Japanese in worship and various ceremonies.


Zoroastrians offer sandalwood twigs to the firekeeping priests who offer the sandalwood to the fire which keep the fire burning. Sandalwood is offered to all of the three grades of fire in the Fire temple, including the Atash Dadgahs. Sandalwood is not offered to the divo, a homemade lamp. Often, money is offered to the mobad (for religious expenditures) along with the sandalwood. Sandalwood is called sukhar in the Zoroastrian community. The sandalwood in the fire temple is often more expensive to buy than at a Zoroastrian store. It is often a source of income for the fire temple.


Sandalwood essential oil was popular in medicine up to 1920-1930, mostly as a urogenital (internal) and skin (external) antiseptic. Its main component Santalol (~75%) has antimicrobial properties. It is used in aromatherapy and to prepare soaps. Due to this antimicrobial activity, it can be used to clear skin from blackheads and spots, but it must always be properly diluted with a carrier oil. Because of its strength, sandalwood oil should never be applied to the skin without being diluted in a carrier oil.


Due to its low fluorescence and optimal refractive index, sandalwood oil is often employed as an immersion oil within ultraviolet and fluorescence microscopy.


Sandalwood is distilled in a four-step process, incorporating boiling, steaming, condensation and separation. The process is known as steam distillation and is widely carried out industrially at Kannauj, India.


Australian Aboriginals eat the seed kernels, nuts, and fruit of local sandalwoods, such as quandong (Santalum acuminatum).[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wagner, W. L., D. R. Herbst, and S. H. Sohmer (1990). Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawaii. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  2. ^ Rock, J. F. (1913). The Indigenous Trees of the Hawaiian Islands. Honolulu.
  3. ^ "Illegal sandalwood trade growing in WA - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". 2012-10-30. Retrieved 2012-12-30. 
  4. ^ "Sandalwood - spiritual". 
  5. ^ "Now, All roads lead to Mumbai's Mahim Dargah fair". 18 December 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2013.  *Khubchandani, Lachman K. (1995). "The supernatural in nature Sindhi tradition". Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. Retrieved 21 April 2013.  *Bayly, Susan (2004). "Saints, Goddesses and Kings". Cambridge University Press. pp. 144–147. ISBN 9780521891035. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 

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