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Sandalwood 2

Sandalwood 2

Dear Friends,

This information concerns Sandalwood. Basically when I started importing oils from India the first requests I got were for sandalwood. At that time there was an official government ban on the sale of sandalwood. 

When I told Ramakant Harlalka, the man who I work with in India that many people wanted sandalwood oil, he told very frankly that it was not possible to deal in sandalwood for export because it was a banned item. He also explained to me that even in India where sandalwood could be bought and sold for various indigenous industries, that there was very little real sandalwood to be found. He personally was involved in extensive sandalwood analysis for different companies using sandalwood in large quantities(in India) and he said that of all the sandalwood he analyzed 80% was of poor quality 10% was Ok quality and 10% was of good quality.

He almost never had the opportunity to analyze a truly excellent sandalwood. Of course adulteration was rampant and had becomes so sophisticated that even a normal gc analysis by someone very well acquainted with the profile of sandalwood could detect it. But he did promise me at that time that he would make an exhaustive search of India for true sources of the material and if it became possible to export the oil once again then we would do it if the oil was of excellent quality. Eventually his search led him into the heart of Tamil Nadu to the District Forest Officer who had been given permission to start up an abandoned sandalwood oil and with government sanction sell the oil to a few select customers. So over a period of months he established a very sound relationship with the people at the factory and through his efforts I was able to visit there in March 1998. The full report is contained in the sandalwood story on the web page.

As a result of that visit and Ramakant's incredible efforts to source a pure, ethically harvested sandalwood oil, I was able to receive permission to legally import sandalwood into the USA. Meanwhile Ramakant and his staff did an in-depth analysis of the oil and Ramakant reported to me that he had never seen such a beautiful sandalwood oil. Already from an olfactory standpoint one could detect the very deep, rich, subtle nature of the oil(a combination of using mature heartwood and a 13-15 day distillation under low pressure) but the gc analysis confirmed that we were enjoying a sandalwood that had all the charactertics of the finest oils that had ever been produced.

Now once again there is some turmoil in South India regarding sandalwood and we can only hope that the door for procuring the oil will remain open. Already the sale of sandalwood heartwood has been banned. I had ordered 25 kilos of the heartwood itself to meet the needs of different customers but I was informed that it could not be sent because of a new government policy that prohibits its export. So far the sale of sandalwood oil has not been banned and early this week the District Forest Officer sent 45 kilos to me via Fedex(which means it should be here early next week) Out of that 45 kilos, 25 kilos are already pre-sold. So if sandalwood is a need of yours at this time kindly inform me so I can set it aside for you. My next order will most likely be in February(provided it is still available to us through the Forest Department) If sandalwood once again becomes banned then I will no longer offer it.


Description and distribution

S. album is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree, sometimes reaching up to 18 m in height and 2.5 m in girth. It is a root parasite and successful regeneration (both natural and artificial) requires, amongst other things, suitable host plants.

S. album occurs naturally in India, Sri Lanka and the Malay Archipelago (Indonesia and surrounding islands). In India it is found in the drier regions in the south of the country, especially the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, up to 1400 m. Formation of heartwood, from which the oil is obtained, is said to be best between 600 m and 900 m. Moderate rainfall (850-1200 mm) spread over several months and much sunshine are conducive to good growth. Sandal has become naturalized in parts of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and has been introduced into a number of other Indian states. The wood of trees outside their natural range, however, is very variable with respect to oil content and sometimes has little or no aroma.

In Indonesia, S. album occurs on the neighbouring islands of Timor, Sumba, Flores, Alor and Roti, although there is now only a significant population on Timor.



In India, trees above 60 cm girth are harvested during the post-monsoon period. In areas affected by spike disease only dead and dying trees are harvested. After uprooting, the wood is cut into billets which are then transported to a central depot. The sapwood and heartwood parts of the trunk are clearly demarcated and sapwood is removed accordingly. Roots are primarily heartwood and require no initial division. The value of the wood and the high price that it fetches make smuggling something that the authorities have to contend with.

In preparation for distillation the billets of wood are chipped and then reduced to a powder. Most sandalwood oil is now produced by steam distillation of the powder. In former times direct water distillation, in which the raw material is immersed in water and distilled, was used. The high-boiling nature of the oil makes distillation rather slow and it takes many hours to complete.
Yields and quality variation

The yield of heartwood varies from locality to locality and the age of the tree. In India, trees of 100 cm girth have been reported to yield between 85 kg and 240 kg of heartwood according to the area from which they come.

The yield of oil is highest in the roots, about 10 percent (as received basis), and lowest in chips which are a mixture of heartwood and sapwood (1.5-2 percent). The oil content of the heartwood varies from tree to tree and is higher for older trees. In India, yields of about 0.9 percent have been reported from the heartwood of 10-year old trees, while mature trees of 30-50 years age have yielded 4 percent oil. The oil content also varies according to the colour of the heartwood. Light-coloured wood yields 3-6 percent oil, while dark brown wood yields about 2.5 percent oil.

Oil from the younger trees also has a slightly lower proportion of santalols than the mature trees (ca 80 percent cf 90 percent), another reason for not harvesting at too young an age.


Sandalwood is much prized as a wood for carving and is used for making souvenirs and other items requiring fine workmanship. In India sapwood of sandal is used for wood turning, particularly toy making; the wood comes mainly from trimmings and immature trees killed by spike disease.

Sawdust from heartwood prepared for distillation is valuable enough to be collected and sold for use as an incense for religious purposes as well as for scenting clothes and cupboards.

Outside India, where exports of logs are prohibited, there is a thriving market for sandalwood as an incense in joss-stick manufacture. Australia supplies most of this market at present, mainly from S. spicatum which has a low oil content and which is, therefore, less attractive as a direct source of oil. Exports of logs from Western Australia were almost 2,000 tonnes in 1989, valued at A$11.5 million. Log exports from other sources have amounted to a few hundred tonnes or less from individual species.

The cotyledons and kernel of sandal seeds contain a fixed oil which has drying properties. Oil-free sandal seed meal is rich in protein and could be utilized as an animal feed if available in sufficient quantities.


Sandalwood - history
The highly aromatic wood of the sandalwood tree is widely used in South Asia for religious purposes and it is a prime source of incense and perfumes. The small tree is native to East Asia but has been known in the sub-continent for millennia.
The exact origin of sandalwood is not known. It is probably native to the arc of islands in south-eastern Indonesia. Some believe that it is native to southern India, but it is usually believed that it was introduced here over 2,000 years ago.

Sandalwood is currently naturalised and distributed in South India, Sri Lanka, the Malay Archipelago, Northern Australia, China and Taiwan. In India, it is found in the drier parts of the country mainly in deciduous forests on the Western Ghats and Deccan Plateau. It has also become naturalised in other parts of India.

Find out more
The sacred sandalwood tree is featured in this Ragamalas painting.

Early history
In antiquity the Indian sub-continent was known to be the source and exporter of mainly luxury goods such as gold, gems, spices, fine textiles, perfumes, sandalwood and ivory. The coastal route to the Persian Gulf was ancient and rice, sandalwood and peacocks were traded by 700 BC.

Sandalwood's name is derived from the Sanskrit chandana. It has always been valued for its fragrance and its resistance to insects and grew to be a vital accessory in Hindu rituals. Besides providing an oil celebrated in commerce, the wood is used for carving fine items such as figures and caskets, as well as images of deities and temple doors. It is also made into a paste which has universal application in Hindu practice. Orthodox Hindus frequently smear the paste in symbolic marks on their faces and bodies. The paste is also believed to have a cooling effect on the body.

Sandalwood - spiritual
Sandalwood incense is an integral part of Buddhist and Hindu practice. In Hindu temples, the air is usually suffused with incense and the smell of sandalwood, jasmine and turmeric.
Religious rituals
Liturgies and sacred rites are accompanied by offerings which are composed of the five elements: earth symbolized with sandalwood paste or ash; water with water, milk or coconut milk; fire with oil lamps or camphor; wind with incense; and ether with auspicious sounds. Incense from sandalwood is supposed to be calming and conducive to clarity of mind and is therefore preferred for meditation and to promote spiritual practice. The paste is smeared on the foreheads of devotees of Vishnu and Shiva. It is particularly placed as a dot or tilak in the forehead between the eyebrows where Hindus believe power resides and can be awakened. The sandalwood dot is meant to cool and protect this spot.

Sandalwood - Fragrance

The value of sandalwood lies in its lovely fragrance. This aspect of the sandalwood represents the divine qualities found in godly people or Gurmukhs. The smell of sandalwood is so sublime that its fragrance spreads out far and wide. As a result, the lowly trees growing near sandalwood also become just like it. Thus, whatever comes into contact with the sandalwood is uplifted. For example, when the soothing fragrance emanating from the sandalwood tree attaches to the other ordinary trees of the forest, they also begin to smell just as the sandalwood.

* Bhaar athaarah mahi chandan ootam chnadan nikat sabh chandan hooyiyaa. Saakat koore oobh sikk hooye mann abhimaan vichhur doo gayeeyaa: Of all plants, the sandalwood tree is the most sublime. Everything near the sandalwood tree becomes fragrant like sandalwood. The stubborn, false faithless cynics are dried up; their egotistical pride separates them far from the Lord (sggs 834).
* Melaagar sangen nimm birakh si chandnah: The lowly Nimm tree, growing near the sandalwood tree, becomes just like the sandalwood tree (sggs 1360).
* Gurmukh jaayi lahahu ghar apnaa ghas chandan har jas ghaseeyai: As Gurmukh, go and enter within your own home (Self); anoint yourself with the sandalwood oil of the Lord’s Praises (sggs 170).

The scriptures compare the Nature as well as the Association of Sat (Truth) with that of the sandalwood. As indicated in the scriptures, by remaining in the Company of Sat (Truth) within and without, a lowly conditioned being is transformed into Divine Consciousness!

* Mil sat sangat param pad paayaa mai hirad plaas sang hari buheeyaa: Joining the Sat (Truth), I have obtained the supreme status. I am just a castor-oil tree, made fragrant by their association (sggs 834).

The function of an ax is to cut and destroy. However, the blade of an ax that cuts the Sandalwood also becomes fragrant! Similarly, if someone hurts or inflicts miseries unto godly beings, they show compassion toward that person just as the sandalwood imparts fragrance to the ax that cuts it!

* Kabir sant na chhadai santayee jayu kotic milai asant. Maliaagar bhuyangam bedhiyo ta seetaltaa na tajant: Kabeer, the saintly being does not forsake his saintly nature, even though he meets with millions of evil-doers. Even when sandalwood is surrounded by snakes, it does not give up its cooling fragrance (sggs 1373).
* Kabir chanadan ka birvaa bhalaa beriyo dhaak plaas. Oyi bhee chandan hoyi rahe base ju chnadan paas: Kabeer, the sandalwood tree is good, even though it is surrounded by weeds. Those who dwell near the sandalwood tree, become just like the sandalwood tree (sggs 1365).

It is said that the sandalwood trees remain encircled by the poisonous snakes! However, the sandalwood does not change its nature — it does not become poisonous like the sankes. To the contrary, it accommodates and tolerates the poison and remains fragrant at the same time!

* Mailaagar bereh hai bhuyiangaa. Bikh amrit basahi ik sangaa: The snakes encircle the sandalwood trees. Poison and nectar dwell there together (sggs 525).

In some scriptures, God and His Name is likened to the sandalwood. As the sandalwood is cooling and soothing, so is the Divine Name. The Gurbani asks us for becoming scented with the perfume of this Name. Its fragrance spreads gloriously far and wide. Whosoever sit close to those imbued in It also get uplifted; just as the bitter Nimm tree growing near the sandalwood tree becomes permeated with the fragrance of the sandalwood.

* Sarbe aad param laad kaasat chandan bhayilaa. Tumche paaras hamche lohaa sange kanchan bhaiyilaa: God, the Primal Source of everything, is like the sandalwood tree; He transforms us woody trees into fragrant sandalwood. You, O Pure Being, are the Philosopher’s Stone, and I am iron; associating with You, I am transformed into gold (sggs 1351).
* Har har naam seetal jal dhiyavahu har chandan vaas sugandh gandhayeeyaa: Meditate on the cool water of the God's Name. Perfume yourself with the fragrant scent of God, the sandalwood tree (sggs 833-834).
* Nal kavi paaras paras kach kanchanaa huyi chandanaa subaas jaas simrat an taro: So speaks Nall the poet: touching the Philosopher’s Stone, glass is transformed into gold, and the sandalwood tree imparts its fragrance to other trees; similarly, meditating on God, I am transformed (sggs 1398).
* Taa te sangat saghan bhaayi bhayu maanahi tum maliyaagar pragat subaas. Dhroo Prahlaad Kabir Tilochan naam lat upjo ju pargaas: And so, the entire Sangat loves, fears and respects You, O God. You are the sandalwood tree; Your fragrance spreads gloriously far and wide. Dhroo, Prahlaad, Kabeer and Trilochan chanted the Name of the Lord, and His Illumination radiantly shines forth (sggs 1406).

Mental delusion is caused by egotistical pride. Manmukhs (material beings) think that they control the material nature and thus feel puffed up in self-conceit. As a result, such conditioned beings commit mistakes and get in trouble. The first requirement for surrendering unto God is that one should be free from pride. Therefore, one with egotistical pride cannot even begin devotion (Bhagti); let alone Self-realization! A person diseased by the false pride is compared with the bamboo tree. To the contrary, God's humble beings (Gurmukhs) are compared with the sandalwood tree. In nutshell, the sandalwood should remind us of our "Joti-Svaroopa", and that we are to constantly remember God's Name.

* Nikat basanto baanso Nanak ahambudh na bohte: But the bamboo tree, also growing near it, does not pick up its fragrance; it is too tall and proud (sggs 1360).
* Kabir baans badaayee boodiyaa iyu mat boodo koyi. Chanadan kai nikte basai baans sugandh na hoyi: Kabeer, the bamboo is drowned in its egotistical pride. No one should drown like this. Bamboo also dwells near the sandalwood tree, but it does not take up its fragrance (sggs 1365).

The fragrance of the wood is long-lasting and sacred carvings are made from the wood and installed in temples and household shrines. It is burnt during death ceremonies to help the soul rise towards God, and to comfort mourners. People who could afford it in the sub-continent were cremated on sandalwood pyres, a practice which is rendered difficult today because of the rarity of the wood. It is a belief firmly entrenched that the fragrance of sandalwood is potent and can ward off evil spirits but also attract snakes. In Hindu mythology, the tree is entwined with serpents. It is frequently portrayed in the painting traditions of the sub-continent with snakes around it and has come to embody an ineffable sweetness that is unchanged by danger. Joss sticks waft its fragrance around Indian households to keep the rooms auspicious and welcoming of the gods and free of evil spirits.


Sandalwood - cosmetics
Sandalwood oil is a beneficial skin treatment and used in a range of skin and hair care products. The oil is widely valued in perfumery in India and Europe.
Sandalwood oil
Find out more
Sandalwood oil is used in perfumes, skin and hair preparations.
Good quality sandal oil can attract a high price. As a cosmetic it has moisturising, astringent, antiseptic, balancing and stimulating properties. It frequently features in products for the skin. Recommended for dry and aging skin, it can be blended with other plant-derived extracts in hair oils and body lotions.

The oil is used in perfumery, both in India and Europe. It has a characteristic sweet, woody odour which is widely used in the fragrance industry. It has excellent blending properties and the presence of a large proportion of high-boiling constituents in the oil also makes it valuable as a fixative for other fragrances. In India, where it is produced, it is used in this manner for the manufacture of traditional attars such as rose attar.

Santalum album (Santalaceae) Indian sandalwood, White sandalwood
Santalum album is a medium-sized evergreen tree with opposite, leathery leaves. It is found in tropical Asia through Australia to Hawaii. Like most species of the genus Santalum it is a root parasite, tapping the roots of other species for water and inorganic nutrients (the mistletoe, Viscum album, parasiting braches of different trees, is a relative). The wood of S. album is highly aromatic. The light sapwood is used for wood carvings, whereas the darker wood from the core is steam distilled, yielding the precious sandalwood oil. Bits and pieces are used for incense sticks, etc. One of the most famous sites of cultivation is Mysore in India. The trees must be 30 years before the oil production pays off. The yield is not more than 5 %. Freshly distilled sandalwood oil has a wonderful odour - an extremely soft, sweet-woody and delicately animal-balsamic odour. For thousands of years it has been one of perfumery's most precious items. It forms the basis of heavy Oriental compositions, and creates delightful combinations with rose, violet, tuberose, clove, bergamot, lavender and a lot of other fragrant materials.
Sandalwood oil mainly consists of a number of closely related sesquiterpenoids. Alpha-santalol and beta-santalol amount to more than 90 % of the oil, beta-santalol beeing the most important character impact compound.
Müller and Lamparsky (1991) describe the odour of the two isomers like this:
alpha-santalol - "A relatively weak, slightly woody odour reminiscent of alpha-cedrene."
beta-santalol - "Typical sandalwood odour, with powerful woody, milky and urinous tonalities." [5] [6]

about new, artificial sandalwood odorants
beta-Santalol was synthesized in the laboratory for the first time in 1990 by an 11-step synthesis, a process completely unrealistic on an industrial scale. Today, the finest substitutes are derived from campholenic aldehyde, for instance Santaliff ®, produced by IFF (International Flavours & Fragrances Inc.). Javanol ®, by Givaudan, is a new 'cyclomethylene analogue' of this compound. It turns out that substituting the alkene double bonds with the almost isosteric cyclopropane rings creates increased olfactory power and stability. Javanol ® has a strongly diffusive, natural, creamy sandalwood note with rosy shadings. Interestingly, 3,7-dimethyl-7-methoxy-2-octanol also has a fine (but weaker) sandalwood character. It was formerly produced by Bush Boake Allen under the name of Osyrol ® (Osyris is another genus of the sandalwood family).