Natural Materials: Sandalwood

Sandalwood… ahhh… my favorite oil. It’s not only a pleasure to sniff, but it is fantastic to work with in oil blends. It must be used consciously and in small amounts, and it is one oil I will always treasure.

Sandalwood

  • Source from India, santalum spicatum from Australia, santalum austrocaledonicum from Vanuatu and New Caledonia
  • Plant parts used – heartwood (interior wood, not branches and twigs)
  • Aromatic extract– Steam distilled essential oil, sometimes also a solvent extracted absolute

Santalum album from India is highly prized for its exquisite aroma. It is warm and sweet, a deep earthy and woody scent with vanilla-like overtones. Mysore, the “City of Sandalwood,” produces oil that is considered the best quality of all sandalwoods. Unfortunately the area has been, and continues to be, overharvested. Consequently oil from Mysore is very expensive.

Santalum spicatum is a sandalwood similar to santalum album that grows in Australia. Its aroma is similar but spicier. Australian sandalwood also may be solvent extracted for a higher yield. This absolute is stronger in scent than distilled oil, but it is not as delicate.

Santalum austrocaledonicum is harvested in Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Its fine aroma is close to Indian sandal, and many find it the best replacement for Indian sandalwood. This type is the one I’ve been using in my perfumes. It is sourced from a company that has been planting sandalwood trees for years to offset the harvested trees.Currently there are plantations in Australia, Vanuatu and other areas, but the claims of sustainability are dubious. Trees must mature for up to 60 years for the highest yield of oil and for the oil to be of the best quality. Wild-harvesting will continue until these plantations mature and yield enough wood to keep up with its demand. Until such a time, natural sandalwood oil will be something of a rarity.

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