Sandalwood essential oil is an extract obtained from the wood of the sandal tree. Sandal trees belong to the genus Santalum, and the essential oil they produce is one of the most popular botanical fragrances. Both the essential oil and the wood itself are infused with its richly pleasant aroma.
Sandalwood and its essential oil have been used for many purposes throughout history. The wood retains its fragrance for many years, so it is highly valued for carved statues and prayer beads. The wood may also be ground into a paste and mixed with water to produce incense. Sandalwood essential oil is valued both as a pure fragrance and as a component of many perfume blends. It may also be added to bath products and candles.
In aromatherapy, sandalwood essential oil is believed to have a calming effect. It is also used to focus the mind for meditation. Sandalwood may be used to treat skin, respiratory and nervous disorders. For therapeutic purposes, it may be warmed in an infuser over a small flame to disperse its aroma. The fragrance may also be administered in the form of sandalwood-scented candles and incense.
The sandal tree is native to India and Southeast Asia and is widely cultivated in Australia. It grows to a height of up to 50 feet (17 m), with a slender trunk and abundant foliage. Its bright green leaves are shiny and pointed, and its pale purple flowers produce small, red fruit.
A sandal tree must mature to at least 8-years-old before it is harvested for its essential oil—however, the quality improves significantly when the trees are harvested at 15 years or older. Both the heartwood and the roots of the sandal tree are rich with essential oil, so the whole tree is uprooted for harvesting. Sandalwood essential oil is obtained through a four-step distillation process that requires boiling, steaming, condensing and separating. It takes about one pound (453g) of sandalwood to produce one ounce (29ml) of sandalwood essential oil.
The highest quality sandalwood essential oil is produced in the Mysore and Tamil Nadu provinces of southern India. In India, however, all sandal trees have been government-owned and controlled since 1792, when the sultan of Mysore declared it a royal tree. Even trees that grow on private land are considered government property. Despite government restrictions, sandal trees are prey to poachers who engage in illegal sandalwood trade.