History of Sandalwood

Santalum is a prized gift of the plant kingdom woven into the culture and heritage, it is one of the most valuable trees in the world. It is a small to medium-sized hemiparasitic tree, distributed rather widely in the world.

For more than 5000 years, India has been the traditional leader of sandalwood oil production for perfumery and pharmaceuticals. The aroma of the oil and the wood is esteemed by people belonging to three major religions of the world – Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.

Sandalwood has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic and Australian Aboriginal medicine to treat conditions like stress, insomnia, eczema and acne. Buddhist monks inhaled Sandalwood before meditation and Australian Aborigines used the scent to relax and focus before walkabout.

Sandalwood was traditionally used in the medicine, and burnt as an insect repellent; it is rarely used nowadays because of its scarcity and cash value. Heartwood from sandalwood trees yields an aromatic oil. The oil was traditionally used to a limited extent to scent coconut oil (for application to the hair and body). Today, the oil is widely valued and has been the basis of a lucrative and exploitative trade for hundreds of years.

According to Vamana Purana, the wood is recommended for worshiping God Shiva. Goddess Lakshmi is believed to reside in the sandalwood tree (Brahma Vaivarta Purana). The ancient Egyptians imported the wood and used it in medicine, for embalming the dead and in ritual burning to venerate the gods.


Australia Sandalwood History

In the 1840s, sandalwood was Western Australia’s biggest export earner. With tonnes of the wood sent to China each year to produce incense for Buddhist worship. 1845 Western Australian sandalwood (Santalum Spicatum) was the year Western Australia’s first export of Sandalwood left its pristine shores. Bound for the far east, this valuable and revered wood was to become a great industry for Western Australia. Between 1892 and 1901 more than 50,000 tonnes were exported from Western Australia with nearly all this wood derived from the wheat belt as agricultural country was opened up.


Oil was distilled for the first time in 1875, and by the turn of the 20th century, production of Australian sandalwood oil was intermittent.


It was in the 1920’s that the Sandalwood harvests peaked with over 14,000 tonnes harvested to meet the strong Chinese demand for the wood.  This prompted the Western Australian Government to pass a legislation to limit harvests at a sustainable level. This legislation continues today.


However, in the late 1990s, Western Australian sandalwood oil enjoyed a revival and by 2009 had peaked at more than 20,000 tonnes per year – much of which went to the fragrance industries in Europe. Although overall production has decreased, by 2011 a significant percentage of its production was heading to the chewing tobacco industry in India alongside Indian sandalwood – the chewing tobacco market being the largest market for both oils in 2012.


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