Sandalwood is a tree with a highly aromatic wood. It is economically and culturally important to many countries around the Pacific and Eastern Indian Ocean regions where it grows or is traded. The wood is prized for making furniture, ornaments, sacred objects, carvings and joss sticks (incense). The essential oil is used in medicine, perfume and aromatherapy.
There are 16 species of sandalwood (Santalum) that grow naturally throughout the Pacific and Eastern Indian Ocean regions. Sandalwoods are evergreens ranging in size from tall shrubs up to large trees. They grow in a variety of climates–from the Australian desert to subtropical New Caledonia–and at elevations from sea level to over 8000 feet. Sandalwood is a parasitic plant, equipped with special structures on its roots that penetrate the roots of host plants and obtain nutrients.
The most well-known and economically important species is Santalum album, or Indian sandalwood. Indian sandalwood has the highest oil content (6 to 7%) and a desirable aroma profile. New Caledonia’s S. austrocaledonicum and Fiji’s S. Yasi are also distilled to produce essential oil. S. spicatum from Australia has been valued for its wood for many years, and has recently also become a source for essential oil. Many of the other species are used for their wood, for building, firewood and for furniture making.
Trees harvested for oil are selected by age and size because of the higher proportion of heartwood (and thus essential oil) in larger trees. Dead-standing or fallen trees are also harvested because the wood holds onto the essential oil for many years. The whole tree is harvested and used–including the sawdust and the stump (which has the highest oil content) and the sapwood (which contains a small amount of oil). The lower grades of sandalwood, such as the sapwood, are used for incense and for chips and powder, while the better logs are used in carving (from small objects to furniture).
Sandalwood was first used in ancient times–probably more than 4,000 years ago. In India, it’s been valued for at least 2,000 years as one of the most sacred trees–an important part of devotional rituals. The wood has been used to make various religious artifacts such as staffs and figurines, and a sandalwood paste was made for marking the skin. Because of its resistance to white ants, the wood was also used in early buildings.
Sandalwood was an important medicinal herb in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicines. By 700 B.C., it was an important trade item and has been found in Egyptian embalming formulas. It was also used in death rituals in other countries–in India it was burned on funeral pyres or even used to make coffins for the very wealthy.
A key ingredient in perfumes and incense, lotions and body oils, sandalwood has been one of the most important perfume materials for more than 2000 years. In China, sandalwood joss sticks are very popular as incense. Sandalwood’s use in European and American perfumery was not significant until the 1900s, where it was (and still is) appreciated for its fixative ability as well as its fragrance. Today it is often used in fine perfumes.
Following tradition, the wood of the sandalwood tree is still used to make sacred objects, carvings, and various handcrafted ornaments. In the past, it was often used for temple doors, and it is still valued for intricately carved furniture–although with today’s high prices, it is used for this purpose less than in the past. Chips of wood are burned as an incense or ground to make incense sticks.
Sandalwood essential oil is derived from the heartwood of the sandalwood, which is a heiparasitic evergreen that grows by joining the root system of other trees.1 The tree belongs to the Santalaceae family and is also known as East Indian sandalwood.2
Sandalwood oil has been used since over four thousand years ago, making it among the oldest-known materials used for its exotic scent. It has found its way in fragrances, cosmetics and personal care products, and meditative/spiritual practices.
This essential oil is extracted through steam distillation of pieces of wood from matured sandalwood trees that are ages 40 to 80.3 Eighty years old is preferred, because the older the tree, the more oil available and the stronger the aroma.
The oil has a woody, exotic smell that’s subtle and lingering. Its color ranges from pale yellow to pale gold. Although expensive, it has many wonderful characteristics that make it useful and beneficial for health and wellness. For one, sandalwood oil creates a calming, harmonizing effect for the mind, helping reduce tension and confusion.4 It is also traditionally used in Ayurveda, India’s holistic health system, for the treatment somatic and mental disorders.5
Find out more about where sandalwood oil comes from in this video:
To make sandalwood oil,13 billets of wood are chipped and reduced to a powder. Most sandalwood oil today is produced by steam distillation of the powder. The high boiling nature of the oil makes the process rather slow, taking many hours to complete.
The yield of oil is highest in the roots and lowest in chips, which are a mixture of heartwood and sapwood. The oil content of the heartwood varies from three to tree, and is higher for older trees. Light-colored wood yields three to six percent oil, while dark brown wood yields about 2.5 percent oil. Furthermore, oil from younger trees has a slightly lower santalol content than the mature trees, which makes it ill-advised to harvest at a very young age.
eHow.com14 provides a quick recipe for homemade sandalwood oil:
Things you’ll need:
1 cup carrier oil (olive or jojoba)
¼ oz. sandalwood powder
Medium saucepan with lid
Jar with lid
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pour 1 cup of the carrier oil into a saucepan, and stir in the sandalwood powder.
Cover the saucepan and place it in the oven, allowing the sandalwood and oil to cook together for two to four hours. Check frequently and stir to prevent burning.
Strain the mixture into a jar using cheesecloth. The oil is ready for use.
According to eHow, the quality of the oil will depend on the quality of the sandalwood powder used. Homemade oils like this one will last approximately six months before its contents start to decompose. So make sure to label your jars with the date they were made. Store them in a cool, dry place as well.
Several preliminary studies suggest that sandalwood essential oil may help alleviate anxiety. In a pilot study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in 2006, for instance, researchers found that receiving aromatherapy massage enhanced with sandalwood essential oil helped reduce anxiety in patients undergoing palliative care.
In addition, a 2009 study from Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that aromatherapy massage involving the use of sandalwood essential oil helped lessen anxiety among women with breast cancer. The study included 12 breast cancer patients, each of whom received a half-hour aromatherapy massage twice a week for four weeks.
It should be noted that the aromatherapy massage in the above study also included sweet orange essential oil and lavender essential oil, and that it’s unknown whether the treatment’s
anxiety-reducing effects resulted from the aromatherapy, the massage, or the combination of the two therapies.
Find out more about using sandalwood to relax using aromatherapy in this video:
Sandalwood has long been known for its skin-friendly cleansing properties. First of all, it serves the purpose of a cicatrisant and soothes your skin to a great extent. If you have ugly scars, blemishes, spots or eczema on your skin, then this oil can help you get rid of those quickly and reduce the chances of developing them again. It is also an effective astringent that tones your skin and rejuvenates it perfectly. People with dry skin can bring their skin back to life with the help of this essential oil (1).
The best way to get the mental clarity benefits of sandalwood is to apply a few drops, about 2-4, to the ankles or wrists at times of high stress or overwhelm throughout the day. You can also directly inhale the oil if you do not want to apply it directly to your skin. You can also use it in a diffuser to allow everyone in the house to enjoy it. Or add a few drops to the bath water at the end of a long day.
Sandalwood essential oil is anti-inflammatory by nature. It has a soothing effect, which helps in getting relief from severe internal inflammations. This oil is of great use in curing the soreness of nervous system (including brain), circulatory system, digestive system and excretory system. If any of these biological systems gets infected due to fever, antibiotic medicines, insect attacks, toxic materials, or injuries, this oil can reduce the inflammation considerably by making the region cool.
Add 3 to 7 drops of sandalwood essential oil to dry locks especially the ends after a shower, to retain moisture and give your dry dull locks a natural sheen.
Stimulate hair growth:
Massage your scalp with a mix of 1 teaspoon of extra virgin coconut oil and 3-5 drops of sandalwood essential oil to stimulate hair growth and promote long luscious locks. Sandal wood essential oil will also help cool down the scalp, remove dandruff and add fragrance to your hair!
Find out more about using sandalwood oil and other essential oils on your hair in this video:
It is the disinfectant property of sandalwood essential oil that justifies its wide use in religious ceremonies and cosmetics. Its fragrance keeps away microbes and small insects, which is why it is extensively used in incense sticks, sprays, fumigants and evaporators to disinfect large areas. Moreover, this oil can be mixed with bathing water or other lotions or oils to apply on the skin and wounds to ensure their protection from infections. This oil can also be safely taken with milk to cure internal infections, such as those of the throat, esophagus, stomach, intestines, and excretory tracts.
As a well-known astringent, sandalwood essential oil is very useful in getting rid of overly oily skin by tightening large pores and controlling excess sebum secretion. To make an oil-control face mask, mix 1 teaspoon of gram flour with the right amount of water to form a paste. Add three drops of sandal wood essential oil to the mixture. Apply this onto your oily face and let it sit for 15 minutes. When the face mask turns dry and starts to crack, it’s time to rinse off thoroughly with cold water.
Due to its relaxing and anti-inflammatory properties, it soothes inflammation in the urinary system and induces relaxation, thereby promoting the easy passage of urine. It also increases the frequency and quantity of urination. This helps in treating infections and inflammation in the urinary system, because it flushes out dangerous toxins in the urine.
Sandalwood has been studied for its potential to decrease blood pressure. A 2004 study found that when subjects had sandalwood oil applied directly to the skin, without smelling it, there was a decrease in systolic blood pressure when compared to control groups.