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Sandalwood

Santalum album

Herbs gallery - Sandalwood



Common names

  • Chandan
  • Sandalwood

Sandalwood is an aromatic tree that is a member of the numerous freeloading plants in the Santalaceae family, particularly the Santalum album. The sandalwood tree is indigenous to India and the specialty of the wood is that it radiates a perfumed scent. Even the wood or timber acquired from the tree is useful in numerous ways. The vital oil extracted from the sandalwood tree is commercially utilized in fragrances and remedies.

The sandalwood tree is partially parasitic and evergreen in nature. A normal sandalwood tree grows approximately up to 30 feet or 10 meters in height. The tree bears leaves that are like lances or javelins. The sandalwood flowers range from light yellow to purple in color and the fruits borne by the tree are petite and just about black in color. Over the ages, the aroma of sandalwood has been held in high esteem both in India as well as in China. In fact, for thousands of years, sandalwood is often burnt as incense and has a vital role in all Hindu ceremonies in India. In most parts of the world, the central part of the sandalwood tree is regularly used in the manufacture of perfumes. However, in China this has been used as a remedy for different disorders since approximately 500 A.D.

The Indian sandalwood, also known as the Santalum album, is said to be in danger of extinction species now and hence is very costly. Despite the fact that all sandalwood trees in India as well as in Nepal are owned by the respective governments and felling for the trees stringently restricted, many trees are still cut down and smuggled out of these countries by well-linked and highly-placed smugglers. Owing to the steep gap between the supply and demand scenarios, the price of sandalwood oil has skyrocketed to $1000 - $1500 per kilogram during the last five years. It may be mentioned here that there are many nations where trade in sandalwood oil is considered illegal as the authorities there are of the opinion that this is ecologically harmful. The authorities in these countries substantiate their view by saying that making the sandalwood trade legal only helps in encouraging the over harvesting of this valuable tree.

According to the experts as well as the traders, sandalwood grown in the Mysore region of Tamil Nadu in southern India is of the best quality available anywhere. Even the smuggling of the sandalwood trees from this region is said to be the highest. As a consequence, the Tamil Nadu government has undertaken the task of planting new trees with help from international agencies. The move is expected to speed up the economic growth of the region, along with replacing the depleting sandalwood forests there. It may be mentioned here that currently people in Kununurra in Western Australia are growing the Indian sandalwood species or the Santalum album on a very large scale. The sandalwood plantations in the region are so vast that they literally surround the scenic little town of Kununurra on all sides.

Parts used

Wood, essential oil.

Uses

Both sandalwood as well as the vital oil extracted from it has effectual antiseptic properties that are very beneficial in healing disorders relating to the urinary and genital organs like cystitis or inflammation of the urinary bladder and gonorrhea, sexually transmitted diseases that leads to swelling and irritation of the genital mucous organs. Physicians practicing Ayurvedic medicine use a paste of the sandalwood to comfort rashes and prickly skins. Chinese herbal medicine practitioners use the sandalwood to alleviate chest and abdominal pains.

The sandalwood oil forms the foundation of many fragrances that possess an outstanding wood base shade. Incidentally, like other timbers, sandalwood too has a woody aroma, barring the fact that it has a vivid and an unsullied advantage along with some normal substances that have similar, but independent functions. If the essential sandalwood oil is used in reasonable ratios in a scent, it acts as a superb fixative or a liquid sprayed for protection that increases the additive properties of other perfumes. Incidentally, the vital oil extracted from sandalwood is used extensively in the cosmetic industry and hence is relatively very costly. Since, most nations have declared the pure sandalwood trees as a secluded variety, there is always a wide inconsistency between the demand and supply of this precious tropical aromatic tree and the gap is never met. However, a section of unscrupulous businessmen trade different species of trees as ‘sandalwood' and it would be worth mentioning that there are over 19 varieties of plants in the santalum species only that can be passed as sandalwood! In fact, many unscrupulous merchants regularly pass on oil extracted from species that are intimately linked to different genus of the santalum species as well as the oil extracted from the West Indian sandalwood, scientifically known as ‘Amyris balsamifera' from the Rutaceae family, as the oil from pure sandalwood. Hence, there is need to adopt caution while dealing in sandalwood oil.

The vital oil extracted from the sandalwood was used extensively as an important medicine till the period between 1920 and 1930. During this period, the sandalwood oil was primarily used internally as an internal medication to treat urinary as well as genital disorders and externally as an antiseptic. Chemical analysis of the sandalwood oil has been found to enclose about 90 per cent of beta-santalol, the main ingredient that possesses anti-microbial actions. It has been found that the anti-microbial action of beta-santalol in the sandalwood oil helps it to keep the skin free from blackheads (small plug up of shady greasy substance jamming a follicle on the skin, particularly on the face) and blemishes. However, it is essential to dilute the sandalwood oil with a carrier oil before applying the substance on the skin. As the sandalwood oil is very potent, it is advisable not to use it without carrier oil. Or else, it may prove to be detrimental.

Other medical uses

Habitat and cultivation

The sandalwood tree is indigenous to the eastern parts of India. Currently, the tree is commercially cultivated in different parts of tropical southeast Asia as the sandalwood tree is prized for its aromatic timber as well as the necessary oils extracted from it. There is no specific season for felling the trees and they are usually cut down on maturity.

Constituents

Sandalwood contains 3-6% volatile oil (which consists predominantly of the sesquiterpenols alpha- and beta- santalol), resin, and tannins.

Usual dosage

The essential oil extracted from sandalwood is beneficial for toning up the skin as well as healing skin disorders when applied externally. To treat the infected areas on the skin dilute a few drops of sandalwood oil in water and soak the affected area with the solution directly. This will not only help in healing the skin infection, but also tone up the epidermis.

Side effects and cautions

Although the essential oil extracted from sandalwood is not known to have any serious side effects, sometimes people have complained of moderate skin irritation following the external application of sandalwood oil.

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