The sandalwood tree, along with its precious oil, has a long history of use across the globe. Countless cultures have developed unique relationships with the fragrant trees, wood, and oil, making sandalwood one of the most prized, as well as expensive, commodities in the world.
Sandalwood’s notoriety dates back thousands of years, when it was discovered that the fragrant heartwood could be used to distill sandalwood essential oil for use in perfumery, body care products, and traditional medicines. The beautiful wood is also highly prized for carvings and woodworking, and the powdered form is often used for incense. Beyond the rich, fragrant oil and wood products, however, the tree itself has a complex botany and a rich history of cultivation, harvest, and conservation, making sandalwood a very valuable resource.
Its long history of exploitation, paired with many countries’ high demand for sandalwood oil—including the U.S. and China—has led to recent efforts to conserve this precious tree. However, this history of exploitation and high demand has also resulted in sandalwood’s production rate and dollar value changing drastically over time. Today, sandalwood essential oil is one of the most expensive and most often adulterated essential oils in production.
Sandalwood products have been valued for their medicinal and spiritual properties for thousands of years because of profuse anecdotal evidence. Today, however, there is large amount of scientific research devoted to exploring these seemingly magical properties of both emotional and physical healing, as well as other health benefits. Moreover, because of recent attempts to protect and revitalize the world’s sandalwood resources, there is also a great deal of research devoted to sandalwood’s genetic composition and its cultivation, with the hope that these studies will provide even more information on how to conserve this resource.
The sandalwood tree’s rich wood and valuable essential oil thus have a long history of ancient use in aromatherapy, body care, Ayurveda, perfumery, woodworking, spiritual traditions, and even cuisine, and today sandalwood is still valued by many of these industries. With this incredible variety of applications, it’s not surprising that sandalwood is such a revered resource.