October 10, 2006

Sandalwood

Natural perfume fans know that sandalwood, like a number of natural materials, has become so rare and precious is it almost as difficult to obtain as the holy grail. The conditions that are required to grow it, and the economic forces that have shaped and devastated the natural world in general have caused it to become so precious, it is now worth more than its weight in gold. Thieves have stolen ancient beautifully carved temple doors of sandalwood and had them reduced to sell the essence, statues and artifacts of old sandalwood (which is considered far superior to fresh sandalwood) must be closely guarded at all times or they will disappear. Government officials have been murdered in attempts by black marketers to obtain it. The source of the best sandalwood has become so restricted that it is very difficult and expensive to obtain for export from India, most of the newly produced crop each year stays in the country. The Indian government automatically owns all sandalwood trees, which take many decades to grow to a size that is most useful for harvest, and then much of the crop is needed for religious purposes. It has been used for thousands of years to center the mind in meditation, as an offering of love and respect to the Hindu gods, and in ayurvedic medicine. Numerous attempts at cultivation have failed, it has a delicate symbiotic/parasitic relationship with the plants around it and needs very particular conditions in which to grow. It has been cultivated in Australia but many feel that the product derived is not the same substance at all as which comes from the last few areas of forest in India, somewhat like many feel about certain wines that cannot be produced outside of certain ancient vineyards in France. It also grows in Sri Lanka and some Pacific Islands, but must be protected from poachers and black marketers who would ransack the trees and cut them down before their prime, wasting most of the productive parts of the wood. If it is to be used for therapeutic purposes, it is best to obtain and pay for the true Mysore sandalwood, use it judiciously and not expect to replace it. If for use as fragrance, the various oils available that use a part sandalwood extended with other essences or even well made chemical imitation must serve the purpose. It is sad because the true sandalwood has an almost magical quality to blend and ground other essences together, making more of them as a combination than they are seperately. It has no counterindications for anyone, it has been used for over a thousand years to ease anxiety, depression, headaches, skin and gastrointestinal ailments, and many have used it in meditation because the fragrance and substance itself is considered to encourage the release of the"self" and create ease and balance between body and mind. The quality of the scent itself is deeply satisfying and woody, a true connection to the earthy fragrance of a rare wood and the energy and force of nature itself.
Here are links to some vendors of true sandalwood essence that also provide good background information.
Here is a good in depth article on the production of sandalwood in India, explaining how it is grown, its uses, and how the heartwood, sawdust, chips and other parts are guarded, saved and used. Sandalwood is also used in other relgions, and there is reference to that and other good information in this wiki article and this Kew site, Creed has a sandalwood perfume that uses true sandalwood from a temple garden in Sri Lanka with which they have an exclusive agreement.
Above, a miniature showing The Marriage of Vsudeva and Devaki, with Sandalwood incense in use from the British Library, North India c. 1760.

4 comments:

chaya ruchama said...

Ohhh, Luccia-
Bingo!
You nailed it...
As un-PC as it is, I've admitted for a long time now,that I really crave only the Mysore variety.
I feel plenty guilty, believe me, but there it is...

Such a lovely post... and that miniature is wonderful.
But, like it or not, I have always been a subcontinental wannabe-
If any nice Jewish girl can grow many arms and morph into a goddess, then I will be the first to do so...
[Repeats the line from Dune -"it is by will alone I set my mind in motion"]

Anya said...

I just don't use it in my perfumes. It's easy to be creative and act as if it doesn't exist. For those thousand of years that have preceded us when it could be used (relatively) lavishly, wonderful for them. We are but a blip on the time line, and perhaps in two hundred years, it will be plentiful again. Perhaps not, only time will tell.

Like overfishing the seas, overharvesting the sandalwood has created this problem. Time, and good managment, will change all that. Again, perhaps.

zztopp said...

Hi,

Thanks for the informative article. What Creed perfume uses the true sandalwood from Sri Lanka? Both Santal Imperial and Bois De Santal smell great - with Bois De Santal the superior one to my nose.

Lucy said...

Hi ZZ -- the Creed representative said that they had that Sri Lanka temple exclusive supplier for their sandalwood, but did not say that they only used it for one perfume. I am not completely sure but I believe that they use that sandalwood for any of the perfumes that include it...I know they use materials and methods the same way they have done since the 1700s, no other large house still does this, and they take great pride in that...