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Sandalwood is the name of a class of 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. Sandalwood oil is 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.
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 Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Australia, Indonesia, Hawaii, and other Pacific Islands.
Various unrelated plants with similarly scented wood or oil include:
Producing commercially valuable sandalwood with high levels of fragrance oils requires Santalum trees to be a minimum of 15 years old (S. album) the age at which they will be harvested in Western Australia – the yield, quality and volume are still to be clearly understood. Australia likely will be the largest producer of S. album by 2018, the majority grown around Kununurra, Western Australia. Western Australian sandalwood is also grown in plantations in its traditional growing area in the wheatbelt east of Perth, where more than 15,000 ha (37,000 acres) are in plantations. Currently, WA sandalwood is only wild harvested and can achieve upwards of AU$16,000 per tonne, which has sparked a growing illegal trade speculated to be worth AU$2.5 million in 2012.
Sandalwood is so expensive, unlike most trees, it is harvested by removing the entire tree instead of sawing it down at the trunk close to ground level. This way, wood from the stump and root can also be used.
Sandalwood oil has a distinctive soft, warm, smooth, creamy, and milky precious-wood scent. 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 composite. Last but not least, sandalwood is a key ingredient in the "floriental" (floral-ambery) fragrance family – when combined with white florals such as jasmine, ylang ylang, gardenia, plumeria, orange blossom, 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". The genus Santalum has more than 19 species. Traders often accept oil from closely related species, 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 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 their foreheads or the necks and chests. Preparation of the paste is a duty fit only for the pure, so is entrusted in temples and during ceremonies only to priests.
The paste is prepared by grinding wood by hand upon granite slabs shaped for the purpose. With the slow addition of water, a thick paste results (called kalabham in Malayalam language and gandha in Kannada), which is mixed with saffron or other such pigments to make chandan. Chandan, further mixed with herbs, perfumes, pigments, and some other compounds, results 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 Tirupati after religious tonsure, sandalwood paste is applied to protect the skin. In Hinduism and Ayurveda, sandalwood is thought to bring one closer to the divine. Thus, it is one of the most used holy elements in Hindu and Vedic societies. In Karnataka, Madhwa Brahmins (follower's of Madhvacharya) apply gandha on their bodies as part of their daily ritual before starting their daily prayers.
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. It is also one of the more popular scents used when offering incense to oneself.
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 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 (SAW). In some places of India during an epidemic, South Indian devotees of Abdul-Qadir Gilani (also known as pir anay pir) commonly prepared an 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. In the Tamil culture irrespective of religious identity, sandalwood paste or powder is applied to the graves of sufis as a mark of devotion and respect.
Zoroastrians offer sandalwood twigs to the firekeeping priests who offer the sandalwood to the fire to 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 (about 75%), has antimicrobial properties.[medical citation needed] 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,[medical citation needed] but it must always be properly diluted with a carrier oil.
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.
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