Sandalwood

Introduction

Sandalwood is known as Chandana in Sanskrit. The scientific name of sandalwood is Santalum Album L. The herb belongs to the family of Santalaceae. The English names of sandalwood are White sandalwood, Yellow Sandalwood, East Indian Sandalwood, White Saunders, Santal, Tan Xiang, Sandanam, Srigandapuma, Sukhad, and Sandal Safaid. Sandalwood is also known as: Shri Gandha, Aninditha, Arishta Phalam, Bhadhrashraya, Sarpavasa, Chandrakanta, Gandhasara, Thailaparna and Malayaja.

Description of the tree

Sandalwood is native to India. Sandal wood is an evergreen tree indigenous to South India and is also found in Western Ghats and in the mountain ranges of Kalrayan and Shevaroy Hills. It is primarily grown in India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, Philippines and Australia.

Sandalwood is a medium sized hemi parasitic tree. The sandalwood tree is a root parasite. Thus plants must be grown along with sandalwood. A regular sandalwood tree grows upto a height of 30 feet. The herb has a sweet woodsy smell. The wood is heavy, yellow and fine grained. Unlike other trees, sandal tree retains its fragrance for years. A cool climate with moderate rainfall and abundant sunshine and long spells of dry weather is best suitable for cultivation of sandalwood tree.

The leaves have a leathery texture. They grow in pairs each opposite the other on the twigs. The tree and the root contain yellow aromatic oil, known as the sandal oil. The sandal powder and paste is obtained from the trunk of the tree. The white wood or the yellow wood depends on the age of the tree. If the tree is mature, then the wood becomes yellow and if the tree is young, the wood is white, thus known as the White wood.

Gandha (in Kannada) is the paste obtained by grinding the wood in hand on a stone.

Types of sandalwood: There are three varieties of sandalwood: The Indian Sandalwood (Santalim Album. L), which is the best in quality and is also expensive,  the Hawaiian Sandalwood (Santalum Ellipticum), which is expensive, and the Australian Sandalwood (Santalum Spicatum) which is not overly beneficial, but is commercially more in use.

Some of the various unrelated plants with similarly scented wood or oil include:

  • Adenanthera pavonina – sandalwood tree, red or false red sandalwood
  • Baphia nitida – camwood, also known as African sandalwood
  • Eremophila mitchellii – sandalwood; false sandalwood (also sandalbox)
  • Myoporum platycarpum – sandalwood; false sandalwood
  • Myoporum sandwicense – bastard sandalwood, false sandalwood
  • Osyris lanceolata – African sandalwood
  • Osyris tenuifolia – east African sandalwood

Sandal oil

Oil is extracted through a process known as steam distillation of pieces of wood from matured sandalwood trees. For extracting oil, older trees, usually 60 years and above are considered as, older the trees, more the oil and even the aroma will be stronger. The main constituents of sandal oil are; Beta Santalol, Santyl Acetate and Santalenes. Isobornyl Cyclohexanol is a synthetic fragrance chemical produced as an alternative to the natural product.

Puranic Reference

In Ramayana, Lord Rama explains to his brothers and Hanuman as follows: He compares the saints and the wicked, to the sandal wood tree and the axe. While the wicked axe the sandalwood tree, the sandalwood tree in turn gives its fragrance to the axe.

The sandal paste is rubbed on the forehead of gods. While the axe becomes blunt and is thrown into the fire to make it red hot and beaten with a hammer to make it sharp again.

Goddess Parvati created Her son Ganesha out of sandalwood paste that She used for Her bath and breathed life into the figure.

Ayurvedic Uses

Sandal wood, bark and oil is used in the ayurvedic medicinal preparation for more than 4000 years.

Sandalwood has anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, anti phlogistic, antiseptic, anti-microbial, antipyretic, hypotensive, carminative, emollient, demulcent, cicatrisant, sedative, antidepressant, aphrodisiac, and diuretic properties. It is effective on herpes simplex virus too.

Anti-inflammatory: The sandal oil is very effective in treating all types of internal and external inflammations. The oil is particularly effective in treating nervous and circulatory inflammations caused due to the side effects of antibiotics, poisoning, insect bites or wounds.

Antispasmodic: The oil is highly effective in easing spasms and contractions. Thus it is used in treating cough, cramps and aches.

Astringent: The astringent properties of the oil induce contractions in the gums, muscles and skin. This helps in strengthening the hold of the gums on the teeth, strengthens the muscles and tightens the skin.

Antiseptic: Sandal oil acts as an antiseptic agent. It has both external and internal applications. When taken internally, it protects ulcers and other internal wounds from developing infections. When applied externally, it protects the wounds, pimples, pores from becoming infectious or septic.

Diuretic  and urinary tract infection: As the oil acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, it reduces the inflammation in the urinary system, thereby promoting the easy passage of urine. It is a natural remedy for treating inflammation and associated infection of the urinary tract, as it flushes out the toxins in the urine. Half a tea spoon of sandal powder mixed in milk is an antidote for urinary tract infections. For urine in the blood, a teaspoon of sandal powder should be soaked in a glass of water overnight and consumed the next morning.

Carminative: The essential oil in sandalwood soothes the intestinal and abdominal muscles, thereby facilitating the removal of gases. It also prevents the formation of excess gases.

Disinfectant: The aroma of the sandal oil keeps small insects away. Thus sandal oil when used in bath water acts as a disinfectant and protects the skin from wounds and infections. To clear internal infections of the throat, oesophagus, stomach, intestines and excretory system, a teaspoon of oil mixed with a glass of milk is effective.

Hypotensive:  A few drops of sandal oil mixed with water or milk taken regularly reduces blood pressure. A paste of the sandal powder applied on the body also has the same effect. A teaspoon each of amla powder, sandalwood powder, and coriander leaves all should be soaked overnight in a cup of water. In the morning, mixture (after straining) should be consumed for few days.

Insomnia:  Sandal wood powder or oil has a cooling effect on the mind. Inhaling a cloth soaked in fifteen drops of sandal oil, 10 drops of chamomile oil and 5 drops of lemon juice calms the mind and induces sleep.

Expectorant: Sandal oil acts as an expectorant and is effective in treating coughs, viral infections and flu.

Memory Booster: Sandal powder or oil keeps the brain cool thus reducing the stress or anxiety. Thus it is increasingly used to treat anxiety, stress, nervousness restlessness and depression. Sandal oil or the bark is said to arrest memory loss and improve concentration. The scent in the oil awakens intelligence and is often used in meditation. Using of sandal oil during meditation is said to bring in positive thoughts, happiness and courage.

Anti diabetic: A mixture of one tablespoon of sandal powder and amla powder each boiled in water should be reduced to half. Regular intake of this mixture keeps the sugar levels in check. Red sandal wood is effective in treating Type-2 diabetes.

General tonic: The oil can be used as a general tonic especially in children, as it improves overall immunity in the body without any side effects.

Skin care: Sandalwood powder or oil is a natural remedy for skin care. A teaspoon of sandal powder mixed with turmeric applied on the face makes the skin radiant. For treating acne, a paste of sandalwood powder, coconut oil, and lime juice should be taken in equal parts and left on the skin overnight. A mixture of sandalwood, water, lemon, yogurt and rose water helps reduces blemishes on the face and improves the complexion.

Psoriasis: For treating psoriasis, boil three cups of water mixed with a teaspoon of sandal powder. The liquid should be reduced to half, add a spoon of rose water and some sugar. Taking this mixture thrice a day is an excellent antidote.

Eczema: A mixture of sandalwood powder, rosewater or plain water should be made into a paste. To this mixture, a spoon of camphor should be added and applied on the affected area.

Oily skin: A paste of sandalwood powder mixed with fuller earth or Multani mitti, and rose water should be applied on the face. It should be allowed to dry for half an hour and then washed in plain water.

Reducing wrinkles: A mixture of rosewater, sandalwood powder, and glycerine is a natural remedy for reducing wrinkles. Sandal paste improves the skin texture, soothes the burnt skin and is effective in treating rashes.

Sun burns: A mixture of four tablespoon of sandal oil along with 2 tablespoon of almond oil and five tablespoons of coconut oil is effective for healing sun burns. It also softens the skin. For prickly heat, a paste of rose water and sandal wood powder applied on the affected area gives relief.

Cardiac tonic: Sandalwood is effective in treating cardiovascular disorders. The herb improves the blood circulation in the body. Half a teaspoon of sandal powder mixed in a cup of water is effective in easing chest pain.

Headache: A mixture of sandal paste with Tulsi leaves relieves headache. For headaches caused due to heat, application of sandal oil on the forehead relieves the pain.

Smelly hair: A spray of sandal powder mixed in water on hair is effective in treating smelly hair.

Dysentery: Five pinches of sandal powder mixed with honey is effective in treating dysentery.

Fever: Application of sandal paste on forehead reduces fever.

Chemotherapy and radiation: Regular use of sandalwood oil internally and externally is effective in combating the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

Excessive Sweating: Few drops of sandal oil mixed in bathing water provide relief from excessive sweating.

Other uses: Besides being used for medicinal purposes, sandal powder and paste is used in the manufacture of toiletries, deodorants, perfumes, incense and mouth fresheners. The hard yellow outer wood is used to make decorative articles like combs, key chain, boxes etc.

Precaution: People suffering from kidney and liver diseases should not use this herb, externally as well as internally.

Sandal oil should always be diluted before use. It can be mixed with any of other essential oils like lavender, rose, geranuim, cedarwood, bergamot, ylang-ylang, basil, myrrh, etc and used on the skin.

Significance

Sandalwood is considered sacred in India. Thus it is used in religious ceremonies. It is offered to gods and goddesses during worship and also on Kalasha. Sandalwood is considered as the epitome of excellence, as it imparts fragrance to the axe that cuts it. It is for this reason that Chandana is synonymous with excellence. It is used in sacred ceremonies to purify the places.

It is used to decorate the bride and bridegroom during marriages. In certain communities in South India, people apply sandal paste on their body before the commencement of the daily prayers.

Images of gods and goddesses are sculpted out of yellow wood. The wood is also used in the making of temple doors.

The wood is used for pyre at the time of cremation of a body.

In Tirupathi, after the religious tonsure, sandal paste is applied on the head to protect the skin.

The Sultan of Mysore declared the sandalwood tree as the Royal tree in 1972. Every sandal tree including those on private lands is protected and owned by the Government of India.

Sandalwood beads worn as either bracelets or necklaces will induce spiritual awakening and bring in positive energy.

Ancient Egyptians used sandalwood for embalming and in honouring their gods.