Think sandalwood – a key fragrance in our Sonorous range – and most of us immediately conjure images of India, carved wooden boxes and burning incense. That’s the variety long known to the world as Santalum album, as treasured in the past as gold, and prescribed in ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for everything from relieving stress to delivering enlightenment. The intoxicating aroma of Australian sandalwood oil, hinting at romance and adventure, was enough to lure pirate ships and to seduce princes. According to McHugh (Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in Indian Religion and Culture, 2012), ‘Anyone who was anyone had to possess some sandalwood and use it. No king could be a king without it, and it was essential adornment both for important people and for the gods in the temple.’ In ancient Egypt, sandalwood oil was used in religious rituals - and Cleopatra is said to have prized too, not only for its scent but its calming effect and ability to lift moods and focus the mind. (She had a lot on her mind, including Caesar and Mark Antony!) In many classical poems, snakes are associated with sandalwood trees, adding an element of mystery and danger. In 1792, the Sultan of Mysore declared sandalwood a royal tree, meaning that no commoner could grow it. Needless to say, a thriving black market emerged in India which continues to this day.
Australian sandalwood oil has always been expensive. The trees do not reproduce easily, and require a delicate ecosystem of plants around them to survive. The world has around 29 tropical or subtropical sandalwoods or Santalum species. Fortunately, sandalwood also has a New World home, in the dry inland of south-west Australia, with a variety known as Santalum spicatum. The indigenous Noongar people there have accessed the plant they call uilarac as a food source (seed kernels, fruit) for centuries. Back in the 19th century, thousands of forest acres were cleared in Western Australia for wheat farming, and exports of sandalwood to the Far East accounted for over half the colony’s earnings.
Today, Australian Sandalwood oil is sourced from trees growing up to forty feet high, in government controlled, sustainable plantations. The harvested branches are chipped into pieces smaller than a coin and passed through a specialised steam distillation plant. Because Australian Sandalwood oil is held very tightly within the grain of the wood, the distillation process can take up to a week.
Australian sandalwood oil is wonderfully suited to the human skin. The oil has a highly distinctive, creamy smooth woody odour; it’s traditionally been blended in the so-called ‘floriental’ family of scents, combined with jasmine, gardenia and orange blossom. The main olfactory difference in the Australian from the Indian species is a slightly more bitter top note, delivering a sharper nose that’s more contemporary. It’s the perfect base for our Sonorous range of products, where it’s combined with amyris to create a unique new fragrance for the body and mind.
Check out our discoveries about lime too.
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