From the Sacred to the Profane – The Many Uses of Sandalwood

Sandalwood is one of the most expensive woods on earth. It is also the only wood on earth that is sold by weight, measured in kilograms. All other wood is sold by volume, measured in cubic feet. As of 2022, 1 kg of high-quality Indian sandalwood can command a price of up to USD 5000. That’s about five times the price of silver! Perhaps this is the reason it is used extensively as a ritual offering in many religions across the world.

Why is Sandalwood So Expensive? 

For one, its rich, deep, floral aroma that is prized in making everything from sandalwood incense to sandalwood powder, to sandalwood candles, and even sandalwood oil for beard. 

Second, the Sandalwood tree does not grow just about anywhere; it is endemic to specific geographies. Native to southern India and Southeast Asia, the tree has now been exported to Australia and Hawaii as well. Outside of these geographies, sandalwood is rarely found on a commercial scale. Even among these regions, the best quality sandalwood grows only in southern India and Southeast Asia. 

A sub-species of sandalwood, known as red sandalwood or red sanders is even rarer, growing only in a small, remote, hilly region of south-eastern India, due to the unique nature of the soil there which is very high in quartz. This red sandalwood is highly prized for its use in making musical instruments, furniture, and medicines. Very low production and high demand make red sandalwood one of the most smuggled products on earth. 

Third, because sandalwood is a slow-growing tree that takes at least 20 years to reach maturity. The older the tree, the better the quality of the heartwood. The best quality sandalwood comes from trees that are around 30 years old. By comparison, the Eucalyptus tree  – another tree prized for its oil – is ready to be harvested in 5 years. 

Fourth, because despite the short supply and the restricted habitat, sandalwood has always been in great demand because of its centrality to several religions, in particular Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. Sandalwood incense and sandalwood paste have been an essential part of Hindu religious rites for millennnia. Practicing Hindus apply a paste made of sandalwood on their foreheads each morning callled “Tilak” as a part of their daily ritual. It serves as a symbol of their devotion to God, besides keeping the forehead cool in the intense tropical heat of the Indian summer.

What Does Sandalwood Smell Like?

This is the million-dollar question. Given that its aroma is its most prized quality, someone new to sandalwood would indeed want to know what does sandalwood smell like? 

The most dominant sensation one gets when smelling sandalwood is of warmth and sweetness. It is a warm, intense aroma that can be overpowering in its sweetness. Despite being a wood, sandalwood does not smell very ‘woody’. There is perhaps a slight undertone of the woodiness, an afterthought that reminds you of wood shavings after its intensely sweet aroma has washed over you. But for the most part, sandalwood has a rich floral aroma, with only an undertone of wood. Another special thing about sandalwood is that it retains its aroma for years, often decades, where the smell of other woods or substances can fade. 

What color is Sandalwood?

Sandalwood, when cut and harvested, has a color which lies somewhere between pale brown and soft yellow. The naturally occurring sandalwood tree has a grayish-brown bark, which is removed to reveal the underlying heartwood. The rare red sandalwood has a deep blood red color on account of the high concentration of quartz in the soil in which it grows. 

What is Sandalwood Used For?

Sandalwood is used for making a number of  high-quality luxury products such as:

Sandalwood Incense

Nag Champa Incense

Sandalwood Powder

Sandalwood Oil

Sandalwood Candles

Sandalwood Soap

Sandalwood Incense

Sandalwood incense is perhaps the most commonly sold sandalwood product for obvious reasons. Incense sticks are used to freshen up spaces with aroma as scents are known to have a strong regulatory influence on human moods. The right scent can make us happy, meditative, contemplative, energetic, and even erotic! And few other scents do the job better than sandalwood incense. Sandalwood incense is one of the most instantly recognizable aromas in the world. In fact, there is a chance that when you say the word “incense”, most people’s brains would subconsciously associate it with the fragrance of sandalwood. 

To make sandalwood incense, pieces of sandalwood are cut and ground to make powder. They are then soaked in water, mixed with a binder or a paste and rolled into sticks, or even incense cones.

Although sandalwood and sandalwood incense mostly comes from India, it is the Japanese who have raised the process of making sandalwood incense to an art. This is because sandalwood incense is used extensively in Japanese religious practice, and being the perfectionists that they are, can never settle for the ordinary. 

If you are new to sandalwood incense, you can’t go wrong with Nippon Kodo. The classy packaging they come in also ensures that they make a great gift for just about anyone – friends, family, lovers, your mom, grandma, or even your boss. 

Check out Nippon Kodo sandalwood incense here. 

Nag Champa Incense

Nag champa is a popular fragrance that comes from India, and is made by mixing sandalwood with the magnolia champaca or champak. Sometimes, frangipani is also used in place of magnolia champaca to make Nag Champa incense. This is an incense that is widely used in aromatherapy. Its fragrance can best be described as sandalwood, blended with notes of amber and patchouli. 

The most popular Nag Champa incense brand is Satya Sai Nag Champa. If you’ve been to aromatherapy, yoga, or eastern mediations sessions, you’re probably already familiar with the fragrance of Satya Sai Nag Champa incense. If not, you can check it out here. 

Sandalwood Powder

Sandalwood powder has medicinal properties besides being fragrant, which make it a very high-demand product. It is used most commonly to treat skin eczema, redness, dermatitis, and similar common skin ailments. It is also great for keeping the skin cool during hot summers. Sandalwood powder also contains antioxidants that can help keep the skin looking fresher and younger. Sandalwood powder is safe for everyday use and is an indispensable part of the cosmetic cabinets of households in South India, where the humid, tropical climate makes the soothing touch of sandalwood powder a much-needed relief. 

Yardley’s of London make a very fine quality sandalwood-scented talcum powder for cosmetic use that you can check out here.

If however, you are looking for pure sandalwood powder you should try this natural sandalwood powder by Planet 007.

Aromine make very good quality red sandalwood powder from the much rarer and more expensive red sandalwood. You can check it out here.

Sandalwood Oil

Sandalwood oil is a valuable essential oil that is obtained either by cold pressing sandalwood chips, or through steam distillation. The oil finds application in aromatherapy, cosmetics, and medicine. But did you know, you can even consume sandalwood oil? If you’re surprised, you should definitely try consuming sandalwood oil for its numerous health benefits. It is great for help with liver ailments, herpes, and cases of internal bleeding. Recent studies have even linked the usage of sandalwood oil with preventing skin, prostrate, and breast cancer.

Edens Garden have a great therapeutic, non-edible  sandalwood oil that you can check out here.

For the gents, Caveman have a classic sandalwood beard oil that blends the goodness of sandalwood with the fruity freshness of apricot. It also acts as a conditioner, keeping your skin moisturized and itch-free. You can check it out here

A great edible grade sandalwood oil that comes straight from India is Anmol edible grade sandalwood oil. You can check it out here.

Sandalwood Candles

Sandalwood candles are a great way to induce a sense of tranquility in your space. You’ll be surprised how the aroma of a sandalwood candle helps you rejuvenate and unwind after a long day. Sandalwood candles also work great if you’re in the mood for love. The warm sensuous aroma of sandalwood can hit just the right spot to release oxytocin, the love hormone. So make sure you keep a few handy in your bedroom for those special evenings. 

Most sandalwood candles come with one or more other fragrances blended with them to soften the overwhelming intensity of pure sandalwood. 

If you’re not sure which sandalwood candle to buy, try out this great blend of sandalwood and rose well by Yankee Candles.

Sandalwood Soap

Natural sandalwood soap has all the anti-microbial properties of sandalwood oil, with the added benefit of being able to exfoliate the skin and cleanse clogged pores. Sandalwood soap is gentle on the skin, and contains essential oils that make sure your skin is not left dry. 

If you want to try out sandalwood soap, Mysore sandalwood soap straight from the sandalwood growing heartland of India has been synonymous with sandalwood soaps for over a century. Check it out here.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s