Facts About the Indian Sandalwood Tree - Description & Uses
The Indian sandalwood tree has been used in India since 4000 years ago as an essential ingredient in traditional medicine. The scientific name of the Indian sandalwood is Santalum album.
Santalum album is known by many names such as Indian Sandalwood, White Sandalwood, Mysore Sandalwood, East Indian Sandalwood, and Chandan.
The sandalwood tree grows in abundance in Eastern India in Mysore, Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. This tree is also being cultivated in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and North-Western Australia.
The sandalwood tree is highly valued for its sandalwood oil extracted from the heartwood of this tree. This tree can live up to a hundred years.
The wood of the sandalwood tree is yellow and fine-grained. These trees retain their fragrance for decades. Sandalwood trees are semiparasitic trees that belong to the same family as the European mistletoe.
Santalum album is a species indigenous to South India and grows in the Western Ghats and few other mountain ranges. In Kununura in Western Australia, the Indian Sandalwood is grown on a large scale for the commercial production of sandalwood oil.
Scientific Classification of the Indian Sandalwood
Kingdom – Plantae
Division – Magnoliophyta
Class – Magnoliopsida
Order – Santalales
Family – Santalum
Species - album
Description of the Indian Sandalwood Tree
The Indian sandalwood tree is a semi-parasitic small evergreen tree that is 6- 8 meters tall. It obtains some of its nutrients from other plants for its growth. The sandalwood trees are drought tolerant but need a suitable host to flourish.
Santalum album is semi-parasitic, meaning that they are green and make most of their food but rely on the host tree largely for water and nutrients.
They send out specialized roots that attach to the roots of the host plant to obtain water and nutrients from the plant. In India, Acacia and Casuarina trees are used as hosts to grow this tree.
The bark of the tree is reddish-brown. The smooth trunk of the tree turns rough with age and develops deep vertical fissures.
The leaves are ovate or ovate-elliptical, arranged opposite each other with a bright green and a glabrous texture.
The flowers are tiny in numerous racemes in varying colors of purplish-brown, straw, reddish, green, or violet about 4 -6 mm long. The fruit is a small, globose, fleshy drupe with an edible inner seed.
The sandalwood tree is rich in sandalwood oil. The center of the tree trunk, called the “heartwood,” has the maximum concentration of this oil. The heartwood is dead wood that acts as a pillar of support to the tree.
The outer part of the tree trunk is called “sapwood” and is living. The primary function of the sapwood is to carry water from the roots to the other parts of the tree.
The sandalwood tree is well-known for its sweet, warm, rich sandalwood oil that is used as a body fragrance and as an ingredient in perfumes, incense, aftershaves, skincare, and many other cosmetic products.
Sandalwood has been a part of the religious and spiritual traditions of India and has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years.
Due to the great demand for sandalwood oil, these trees are cut down illegally. The trees are difficult to propagate and must grow for at least thirty years before they become suitable for harvesting.
How is Sandalwood Oil Extracted?
The heartwood of the roots of the sandalwood tree has a rich content of the aromatic essential sandalwood oil.
Sandalwood oil is extracted using the steam distillation method. In this method, the heartwood is first powdered, and then steam is passed through this powdered wood, and the steam comes out carrying the sandalwood oil. The steam is then cooled and further processed to obtain sandalwood oil.
Sandalwood oil can be extracted from the tree only after about 30 years. The trees are not felled but uprooted so that the roots can also be used to extract the aromatic sandalwood oil.
Sandalwood Oil for Aroma Therapy
In India, sandalwood oil has been used in Ayurvedic medicines for thousands of years. It has a soothing, relaxing effect and is used in aromatherapy to relieves stress and have a calming effect.
Medicinal Uses of Sandalwood Oil
In traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, sandalwood oil is used for curing health conditions such as digestive problems, cough, laryngitis, sore throat, nervous disorders, depression, and anxiety.
Sandalwood oil is gentle on the skin and is used to cure skin conditions such as dry, cracked, or chapped skin, rashes, and acne.
Use of Sandalwood Oil in Perfumes
The perfume industry primarily uses sandalwood oil. Sandalwood oil acts as a base and helps to blend the distinct aroma of oils used in making natural perfumes, also known as “Attar.”
Sandalwood oil blends and preserves the distinct smell of each essential oil used to make the perfume. It helps to merge two essential oils without overpowering the aroma of other essential oils that are used to make the perfume.
Uses of Sandalwood for Spiritual Purposes
Sandalwood is used for -
- crafting deities of God for worship
- making incense that is burned during worship
- constructing parts of temples
Sandalwood is also used for making meditation beads and sandalwood paste that is used in many sacred rituals.
Sandalwood trees are being cut down in large numbers and are almost extinct in the wild. The Government of India has banned the export of sandalwood to prevent further cutting down of these trees.
© 2014 Nithya Venkat