Sacred Sandalwood: This Ayurvedic Herb is the Epitome of Excellence
Q: Where does Sandalwood come from?
A: Sandalwood comes from the Sandal tree, known scientifically as Santalaceae Santalum Album and in Sanskrit as chandana. In English it is called White Sandalwood or Yellow Sandalwood, depending on the age of the tree. An evergreen tree that grows only in the southern areas of India, Indonesia and somewhat in Australia, it grows to a medium height of 30 feet. After 15-20 years the oil collects in the heartwood, or the center of the trunk, but as the scent of sandalwood grows stronger, the color of the wood becomes more yellow. The value of the wood climbs higher, the older the tree. It is considered at its peak at 60 years old.
When harvested, the heartwood is ground into powder and then steam-distilled into oil for use in cosmetics, soaps, candles, medicines and perfumes. The hard, yellow, outer wood is mostly used for carving statues and decorative articles such as combs, beads and boxes.
Q: Why is the Sandal tree so important to the Vedic tradition?
A: The Sandal tree is highly regarded in the Vedic texts, and the heartwood is considered to be sacred. It is said that chandana, or Indra's Sandalwood tree, scents the whole of paradise with its fragrance. Sandalwood is considered the epitome of excellence, imparting fragrance even to the axe that cuts it. For this reason anything that is excellent is referred to as chandana. It is used in sacred ceremonies and to purify holy places.
Q: What are the medicinal uses of Sandalwood oil or powder?
A: When used externally, Sandalwood oil or Sandalwood paste (made from mixing water with Sandalwood powder) has a calming, cooling effect on body and mind. It helps relieve fever and burns, and stops excessive sweating. In general it relieves Pitta dosha and helps balance the body after overexposure to the sun. The oil or the paste can help heal skin diseases such as infectious sores, ulcers, acne and rashes. Sandalwood powder helps smooth and cool the skin, and can be made into a paste, lotion or soap for cleansing, calming and hydrating sensitive or aging skin. Sandalwood acts as a disinfectant, diuretic, expectorant and sedative. It is bitter, sweet, astringent and cooling. Sandalwood balances the circulatory, digestive, respiratory and nervous systems.
Q: What is the effect of Sandalwood in aromas or incense?
A: Sandalwood incense is made from rolling the paste of the sapwood on bamboo skewers by hand. The scent of Sandalwood essential oil or Sandalwood incense clarifies the mind and helps to awaken intelligence, and is often used as an aid for meditation. It calms the mind, soothes stress and nervous tension, and uplifts the mood. It is said to enliven courage, purpose, strength and happiness.
Q: Sandalwood is reportedly on the endangered list of trees in India. What are the challenges involved in obtaining good sandalwood?
A: The Sultan of Mysore declared Sandalwood to be a royal tree in 1792. Every Sandalwood tree is still under the protection and ownership of the Indian government today, even when grown on private land. The individual who owns the land receives 75% of the proceeds in return for planting and protecting the tree until it reaches maturity. Due to an increased demand in medicines, perfumes and cosmetics that contain Sandalwood oil, and due to the decreased availability as smugglers cut down trees and export them illegally, prices have skyrocketed in recent years. At this time it is illegal to export the wood from India, although the oil can be exported.
Q: What Maharishi Ayurveda products contain Sandalwood?
A: Sandalwood is an ingredient in the Vetiver Herbal Soap, where it is combined with the essential oils of Palm Kernel and Vetiver to repair dry, damaged complexion and restore health and luster to aging skin. Sandalwood oil is also an ingredient in Cedar Sandalwood Herbal Soap. Other topical products containing Sandalwood include Youthful Skin Cleansing Gel, Youthful Skin Cream, Youthful Skin Oil, Youthful Skin Massage Oil for Men, Soothing Herbal Massage Oil, Joint Soothe II, Muscle Ease Balm, and MP16 Herbal Nasya Oil.
Sandalwood is part of several herbal formulas, including Elim-Tox, Elim-Tox-O, Radiant Skin, Smooth Cycle, Hot Flash Relief, Maharishi Amrit Kalash Nectar (both paste and tablets), Prostate Protection, Glucostat and Liver Balance.
Q: What about Red Sandalwood? Is it the same thing?
A: Red Sandalwood, also known as Red Saunders, comes from an entirely different species (Pterocarpus Santalinus), related to the legume family, and grows in the Caribbean and Indonesia as well as India. It is used to balance digestion and skin health, and also helps balance purification through the sweat glands and skin. It is found in Radiant Skin, Vital Lady, Liver Balance and Prostate Protection. Please note that three of these — Radiant Skin, Liver Balance and Prostate Protection — contain both Sandalwood and Red Sandalwood (listed as Red Saunders). Red Sandalwood also is used as a dye, as incense, and as a decorative powder in sacred ceremonies.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.