Sandalwood is both a classic scent and a classic medicine. Used as an aromatic for over 4000 years, and as a medicine in the Ayurvedic system for perhaps a millennium, the wood itself has been greatly valued by mankind. The essential oil, while only becoming popular in the last hundred years, is a truly classic scent, with important science-proven therapeutic medicinal applications. Whether it be for the body or mind, sandalwood oil can offer effective support. Here’s a look at the therapeutic applications of this treasured oil, and how you too might benefit from its medicinal magic.
First just a little background — sandalwood essential oil is steam distilled from the heartwood of the sandalwood tree. Sounds pretty straightforward, until you learn that sandalwood is actually a parasite; it grows only on certain other trees in tropical environments. One cannot simply put a sandalwood seedling in the grown and coax it to grow, it has to be planted next to the right host tree, already of a certain age, for it to climb up. When harvesting the wood, which is very slow to grow, both trees need to be cut down. Clearly this presents challenges for this important resource.
The wood considered the world’s finest is the Santalum album species of India. The trees have been so over-harvested however that they are now endangered. In India and Nepal, it has been decreed that the governments of these nations are now the owners of all the sandalwood trees in these nations. Sandalwood oil has essentially come to a stop in these countries, and the only “legal”oil left is several years old, produced before the ban went into effect. On a very positive note, the acclaimed Indian species of the tree is under large-scale cultivation in Australia (a producer of a very pleasant wildcrafted essential oil as well), though these have not reached maturity in numbers for commercial availability of the essential oil.
It is clear that for the reasons of rarity alone, the essential oil is something to be cherished. However, the oil has some very impressive and important medicinal qualities that make it even more valuable. One application is a direct derivation of the use of the wood’s paste for skin care: The essential oil has been shown to prevent the occurrence of skin cancer if applied before exposure to UVB light as well as chemo-toxins.
Researchers have gone on to elucidate the ways the oil prevents cancers from forming on a microscopic level, noting the effect is a result of the primary natural chemical constituents of sandalwood essential oil. The important point is that this constituent is found in the essential oil from the three primary commercial sources: India, Australia and certain islands in the South Pacific. There are even sources where trees have been specifically selected for “high santalol content” which you can find from some aromatherapy companies. Including sandalwood essential oil in your skin care formulas is an excellent way to potentially make use of this wonderful benefit.
Aside from its therapeutic effects from topical application, the oil’s aroma deeply affects our psyche. The rich, elegant scent has been shown to be both stimulating and calming at the same time. The result is a sense of clarity and awareness. Subjects being researched reported the effects of the whole sandalwood oil, and that of “alpha-santalol”. It was found that the individual constituent was stimulating to alertness and mood, though only the whole oil also resulted in greater relaxation and vigor. This very interesting mix of effects on the mind, which correlate well with the oil’s use as a meditation aid. A drop or two on the wrists, temples, or forehead is a great way to enjoy the aroma for this purpose.
Interestingly, while the oil heightens awareness, it actually supports deeper, more restful sleep. Research on the inhalation of the aroma showed that study participants usually challenged to get a good rest spent much less time awake, and the total time spent in “rapid eye movement” sleep was also increased. The affect was attributed to the oil’s action in the bloodstream after inhalation, not on the sensing of the aroma. So a gentle massage with the oil may be just as effective as using a diffuser for improved sleep with the oil.
This is just a brief look at some wonderful therapeutic actions available using sandalwood. Its skin care properties go far beyond sun protection; these include care for dry skin, mature skin and acne-prone skin as well. The oil is very safe, and well-tolerated by nearly everyone. When you find yourself looking for a source of sandalwood, you’ll find several varieties available. Research has shown them to be fairly equivalent in many respects therapeutically — for skin care, the lower-cost Australian is an excellent choice. For aromatic uses, find one that you enjoy the most! And know that a little goes a long way — start with a small amount, and enjoy its subtle, uplifting nature.
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