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Sandalwood from A Modern Herbal
Sandalwood David Oller
American University TED Case Study




Santalum album LINN.
Family: N.O. Santalaceae

Reprinted from 'A Modern Herbal'
by Mr. M Grieve
Courtesy of logo

Sandalwood. click for larger image










Medicinal Action and Uses
Other Species






Parts Used

Wood, oil.




A small tree 20 to 30 feet high, with many opposite slender drooping branches, bark smooth grey-brown. Young twigs glabrous; leaves opposite, without stipules, petiole slender, about 1/2 inch long, blade 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long, oval, ovate-oval or lanceolate, acute or obtuse at apex, tapering at base into petiole entire, smooth on both sides, glaucous beneath. Flowers small, numerous, shortly stalked in small pyramidal erect terminal and axillary, trichotomus paniculate, cymes panicle, branches smooth, bracts small passing into leaves below.

Perianth campanulate, smooth, about 1/5 inch long, divided into four (rarely five) triangular, acute, spreading segments, valvate, in bud rather fleshy, at first straw coloured, changing to deep reddish purple provided at the mouth with four erect, fleshy, rounded lobes. Stamens four, opposite, perianth segments, filaments short, in serted in mouth of perianth alternating witherect lobes. Anthers short, two-celled, introrse, ovary half, inferior, tapering, onecelled, an erect central placenta, rising from base and not reaching to the top, to the summit of which are attached three or four pendulous ovules without the usual coverings, style filiform, stigma small, three or four lobed on a level with anthers.

Fruit concealed about size of a pea, spherical, crowned by rim-like remains of perianth tube, smooth, rather fleshy, nearly black, seed solitary.

The trees are felled or dug up by roots; the branches are worthless, so are cut off. It is usual to leave the trunk on the ground for several months for the white ants to eat away the sap wood, which is also of no value; it is then trimmed and sawn into billets 2 to 2 1/2 feet long and taken to mills in the forests, where it is again trimmed and sorted into grades. It is heavy, hard, but splits easily; colour light yellow, transverse sections yellow to light reddish brown, with alternating light and dark concentric zones nearly equal in diameter, numerous pores, and traversed by many very narrow medullary rays. Odour characteristic, aromatic, persistent; taste peculiar, strongly aromatic. Indian Sandalwood is a Government monopoly.

Medicinal Action and Uses[1]

Used internally in chronic bronchitis, a few drops on sugar giving relief; also in gonorrhoea and gleet; in chronic cystitis, with benzoic and boric acids. Much used as a perfume for different purposes. The wood is used for making fancy articles and is much carved.

Fluid extract, 1 to 2 drachms. Oil, 5 to 20 drops.


Castor oil is often added, and on the Continent oil of cedar, made by distilling the chips remaining from the manufacture of lead pencils.

Other Species

Pterocarpus santalinus or Santalum rubrum (Red Sandalwood), solely used for colouring and dyeing. Other varieties come from the Sandwich Islands, Western Australia and New Caledonia.



"None but the Mali Mountains contain Sandalwood ...
"- Moho Chi Kuan - Chih-i, ancient Buddhist scripture.


Santalum album L.

David Oller
Oo Copyright 1999-2001 David Oller


Japanese: Byakudan


Sandalwood Flower - Mysore India
Photo by Kyozaburo Nakata

One of the oldest incense materials, Sandalwood has been in use for at least 4,000 years.  Sandalwood is a very important ingredient in Japanese incense, in both traditional and modern formulas.

Today, the Mysore forests are virtually depleted and the remaining trees too immature to produce quality Sandalwood or Sandalwood oil. It is my belief that the highest quality Sandalwood is coming out of Tamil Nadu where more mature trees can be found.

Sandalwood tree in Jakarta Indonesia
Photo by Kyozaburo Nakata

The sandal tree, botanically known as Santalum Album belongs to the family Santalaceae. The sandal tree grows almost exclusively in the forests of Karnataka, followed by Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, Timor Islands of Indonesia etc. The tree is medium sized 12-15 meters tall. The tree reaches its full maturity in 60 to 80 years, which is when the center of the slender trunk (the heart wood) has achieved its greatest oil content. As the tree grows,  the essential oil develops in the roots and heartwood, which requires atleast 15 to 20 years. Full maturity is reached after 60 to 80 years. The core of dark heartwood gradually develops, which is covered by outer sapwood. The sandalwood tree is never felled, but uprooted in the rainy season, when the roots are richer in the precious essential oil. Vietnam and New Caledonia have well controlled plantations of genuine Sandalwood. The best quality oil comes from the Indian province of Mysore and Tamil Nadu where the harvest of Sandalwood trees are protected by the state government.

"The sandal tree does very well on it's own, and seems to appear in places it was never seen before. However all attempts by man to proliferate and increase the growth of the species have yeilded declining plant populations. It appears very resistant to manipulation!" - Christopher Mc Mahon

Other species

Pterocarpus santalius or santalum rubrum (red sandalwood) solely used for colouring and dyeing. Other varieties come from the Sandwich islands, Western Australia and New Caledonia. The Australian (S. spicatum or Eucarya spicata) produces a very similar oil but with a dry-bitter top note.

Other varieties growing in the West Indies, Venezuelan, Jamacian, and Hatiai are Amyris balsamifera L., and is not even in the same family.

Chemical Constituents

Sesquiterpenes; Sesquiterpenols; Sesquiterpenals; (includes 80 to 90% terpeniod alcohols including a and B-santalols (67%), which is a mixture of two primary sesquiterpenic alcohols) santalic and teresantalic acid, aldehyde, pterocarpin and hydrocarbons, isovaleric aldehyde, santene, santenone.

Today all exports of Sandalwood are closely supervised and regulated by the Indian government and limited supplies of high quality sandalwood oil are coming out of Tamil Nadu. However, the Mysore forests are still being plundered by bandits and poachers who rape the forests of immature trees.




American University TED Case Studies

I. Identification

1. The Issue

The Indian sandalwood tree has become endangered in recent years, and in an attempt to curb its possible extinction the Indian government is trying to limit the exportation of sandalwood.

The tree is already government controlled, and removal is prohibited whether on private or temple grounds until the tree is thirty years old.

This has not stopped many poachers from cutting trees down as soon as authorities are not watching.

Smuggling of sandalwood has created socio-economic and law and order problems in areas bordering the state of Tamil Nadu.

2. The Description

In India, sandalwood is primarily distributed on the Deccan Plateau.

The total extent of its distribution is approximately 9000 km2 of which 8200 km2 is located in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The heartwood of the fragrant tree is considered sacred and prized. The oil distilled from it, 60 kg of oil can be extracted from a ton of heartwood, is used in the formulation of perfumes, lotions, soap and candles. Mashed into a paste, it is used in folk medicine and spread on the skin to purify the complexion and heal rashes.

It is dabbed on the forehead during religious ceremonies and burnt as incense in temples. The sandalwood industry employs thousands of people, especially in Mysore, known as "Sandalwood City." Employees work in incense factories, rolling sandalwood paste on bamboo skewers.

Craftsmen carve the hard yellow wood into boxes, combs, beads and statues of Hindu gods and elephants. Trade in sandalwood dates back to the beginning of trading in India.

Realizing its value, the Sultan of Mysore declared it a royal tree in 1792.

It continues to retain that place today and no individual may own a sandalwood tree.

Even if the tree grows on private land it is owned by the government.

However, an individual is entitled to receive seventy five percent of its value as a bonus for growing and protecting the trees.

Due to its high value and increased demand in internal and external markets, sandalwood prices have skyrocketed.

The increase in price is partly due to a decrease in supply during the 1930s-1950s.

In 1950, 4,000 tons of heartwood were produced, in 1990, this was down to 2,000 tons. Increase in demand can be attributed to the popularity of aromatheraphy and trends in the cosmetic industry toward natural products.

Legislation by the Indian government to protect the sandalwood tree has been inconsistent as the sandalwood trade represents a significant area of export to the U.S. and Middle East. Exports to the U.S. are primarily for use in the perfume industry.

The oil is an excellent base and fixative for other high grade perfumes.

By itself it is a mild, long-lasting sweet perfume, but the industry finds that it can blend well with other perfumes and does not impart its fragrance when used as a base. There are several hundred products that use sandalwood oil. Of the traditional areas in Southeast Asia where sandalwood is found, only India has made a strong effort to create plantations which are continually harvested.

Most of the production is earmarked for the extraction of oil and the rest is used for carvings.

In Australia, much of the remaining strands are protected with the rest auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Few sandalwood trees are left in the Indonesian archipelago, while relatively recently discovered supplies in Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific are in danger of being squandered by local villagers, who cut them before they are mature.

The scent of sandalwood is stronger and the value of the wood much higher the longer one waits to harvest the tree.

A tree is considered not worth cutting down until it is at least sixty years old. Although trade in Indian sandalwood is officially restricted, smuggling remains a serious threat to the tree.

In May of 1993 the biggest and costliest manhunt in Indian history was launched to track down the leader of Indiaþs major sandalwood smuggling ring, Veerapan.

Approximately 600 Border Security Force troops were used to back up a special police task force which has been combing the jungles of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states.

The notorious Veerapan carries a four million rupee ($132,000) bounty on his head and has been on the run from the police since killing his first elephant at the age of fourteen.

He claims to have killed 2,000 elephants for their ivory before entering the more lucrative sandalwood trade. He was once arrested in 1986, but escaped from police custody and has since embarked on several killing sprees.

The worst was in April of 1993 when 21 members of a police posse were blown up with land mines after Veerapan lured them into an ambush.

Always dressed in olive fatigues, Veerapan is constantly on the move and said to have approximately sixty camps in 6,000 km of jungles near his birthplace, Gopi Natham, 75 miles southeast of Mysore. According to police and forestry officials in Bangalore and Mysore, Veerapan's gang has amassed a small fortune cutting sandalwood illegally from the state owned forests on both sides of the Cauvery River which forms the border between the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

In a few years, Veerapan has smuggled sandalwood worth 1 billion rupees.

Inspector-General Kodandaramaiah, of the Karnataka police, estimates that approximately 75% of the sandalwood leaving his state is smuggled.

Veerapan has become rich and the hundreds of villagers who help him cut and transport the wood have profited accordingly.

Veerapan apparently pays 10 rupees a day to anyone locating the trees scattered at random across the 150 square miles of forest.

He pays 25 rupees a day for cutting and carrying.

This is more than double what the villagers can earn performing forest chores for the government. Veerapan has become a modern day Robin Hood and is loved by the poor who are either too frightened or too loyal to betray him. The gang smuggles most of its haul north to the oil and incense factories of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Much of the wood ends up in the Middle East, where demand for the wood and its oil extract soars, especially at the end of the Moslem fasting month of Ramadan.

Sandalwood is among the perfumes approved by Islamic tradition, which also include musk, amber, jasmine and myrrh. Saudi and other Gulf customers haggle over the prices as a small vial of the perfume sells for hundreds of dollars.

They buy the raw wood to use as incense and the oil as perfume for the Eid-al- Fitr holiday ending Ramadan, when Moslems abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk. A Saudi wandering through the dozens of perfume shops described sandalwood "as precious as gold" which he kept "in a safe just like jewelry and other important documents."[2]

Saudi Arabia is the biggest importer of sandalwood in the Gulf, with nearly 500 tons of the perfume sold annually for more than 2.5 billion riyals (670 million dollars), according to official Saudi figures.

The wood is openly imported from Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Burma and Thailand although India was the chief source of sandalwood in the past.

Indian sandalwood is shipped secretly to the Gulf, but it is reserved for upscale customers.

Orders are in the range of millions of dollars, because the wood costs up to 13,700 dollars per kilogram.

A vial of the oil extract costs between 400 and 1,000 dollars.

7. Decision Breadth: (1) INDIA

Any decision made by the Indian government, or any of its state governments, to impose a ban on sandalwood exports or stricter cutting rules will primarily affect revenues in their respective jurisdictions.

The continued demand for sandalwood and the resulting decrease in supply will drive the price up; this will affect other nations that import sandalwood and sandalwood by- products, such as Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Other suppliers such as Australia and Indonesia will most likely scramble to fill the demand and the black market trade in sandalwood will continue.

8. Legal Standing: LAW

The Indian government currently controls the cutting of sandalwood trees.

However, while there are laws in effect concerning the cutting of sandalwood, there are no laws barring its export.

Until recently there has been limited enforcement of the law and smuggling has resulted.

III. Geographic Clusters

9. Geographic Locations

a. Geographic Domain: ASIA
b. Geographic Site: SOUTH ASIA
c. Geographic Impact: INDIA

Sandalwood harvesting take place mainly in Asia, specifically South and Southeast Asia.

This particular case deals with India because India is the traditional supplier with the strictest protection measures.

Despite India's recognition of the need to protect the sandalwood tree and instituting cutting laws to this effect, smuggling has become a threat to its existence.

10. Sub-National Factors: YES

While sandalwood legislation takes place on the national level, a ban on sandalwood exports is unlikely due to opposition on the local level. Many people are employed by the sandalwood processing industry and certain areas of the country receive substantial revenues from the trade in sandalwood creating an effective lobby.

An additional important sub-national force is that the areas of India that possess sandalwood are rural with an overwhelmingly poor population.

It is this poverty that the smuggling rings exploit and the local villagers benefit from aiding the illegal trade. The

villagers cooperate with the sandalwood smugglers making effective regulation of the sandalwood trade difficult for local officials.

11. Type of Habitat:TEMPERATE

Sandalwood is an evergreen tree which generally grows in the dry, deciduous forests of the Deccan Plateau. A circle with the city of Bangalore as its center and a radius of 200 km is the main zone of the natural distribution of sandalwood.

It can grow to a height of 20 m and obtain a girth of 1.5 m. It thrives best under rainfall conditions of 500-2000 mm and at elevations of 650-1200 m. It can occur beyond these ranges, but under high rainfall conditions the heartwood formation is negligible.

The dry habitat makes it prone to fire damage. Sandalwood is capable of growing in different kinds of soils like clay, sand, laterite and loam.

Even very poor or rocky soils can support sandalwood.

If protected, established plants start fruiting and regenerating naturally.

IV. Trade Clusters

12. Type of Measure: REGulatory BAN

Recent attempts by the national government to introduce legislation to limit the exportation of sandalwood have been met by opposition by a powerful sandalwood lobby.

Many legitimate businesses are involved in the sandalwood trade making an export ban unlikely.

Local and national efforts to clamp down on smuggling have resulted in violence with little effect on the illegal trade in sandalwood.

13. Direct v. Indirect Impacts: INDirect

The Government of India internally protects the sandalwood tree by maintaining control over its harvesting.

The effect on trade is indirect because there are no restrictions on the wood or its by-products once it is ready for export.

16. Economic Data

Due to sandalwoods high value and rising demand in internal and external markets, sandalwood prices have skyrocketed, as shown in Table 1.

Sandalwood Prices, 1900-1990



Note: US$=Rs 17
Source: "Status and Cultivation of Sandalwood in India," Symposium of Sandalwood in the Pacific. (Honolulu: Hawaii), April 9-11, 1990, p. 68

The rise in prices is partly due to a decrease in supplies. During the 1930s through the 1950s, the country's production was roughly 4,000 tons of heartwood a year; now it is only 2,000 tons. The recent clamp down by authorities to stop illegal trade in sandalwood has resulted in higher prices (10-12 percent above normal) for sandalwood at recent auctions.

The volume of oil related exports does not seem to be affected.

Indian exports to the U.S. are exceeding last years numbers, already amassing 7,000 kilos, according to figures from the U.S.Department of Commerce, 2,000 kilos more than this time last year. 17. Impact of Trade Restriction:


An export ban would have significant effects on employment in geographic areas that process the raw wood.

In addition, it would cut into a significant area of export to the United States, making such a trade restriction improbable.

18. Industry Sector: WOOD

19. Exporters and Importers: India and MANY

V. Environment


20. Environmental Problem Type: SPLL

DEFORestation is side effect of this case, but the primary concern is the loss of a particular plant species.

21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species: Santalum album, ENDANGered

22. Resource Impact and Effect: LOW and PRODUCT

23. Urgency and Lifetime: HIGH and 100s of years

24. Substitutes: SYNTHetics

Sandalwood oil substitutes have been developed for use in the perfume industry.

However, most top grade perfumes still use sandalwood oil as their base.

The historical prestige associated with sandalwood combined with the wood's natural qualities makes chemical substitutes unappealing at present. The Indian government instituted policies concerning the planting and harvesting of sandalwood trees long ago.

It is the enforcement of these practices that is the problem.

However, recent renewed efforts to stop illegal cutting should help the conservation effort.

VI. Other Factors

25. Culture: YES

Culture is a factor for both the exporting and importing countries.

Sandalwood is part of Indian culture and heritage. It is the epitome of excellence, imparting fragrance even to the axe that cuts it. Sandalwood is mentioned in the one of the oldest pieces of Indian literature, the Ramayana (around 2,000 B.C.).

Sandalwood has nearly fifteen different names in various Indian languages, "chandan(a)" being the Hindi name. In the past, it has been said that Santalum album was introduced to India from the Timor Island of Indonesia. Sandalwood has such strong links with Indian culture and literature that it is difficult to support this hypothesis of its introduction. The wood is used for burning in certain rituals by Hindus and Buddhists.

It is also believed to have antiseptic, cosmetic and medicinal qualities. The wood paste and oil are used as coolants to treat burns.

The wood paste is also smeared on the skin to purify the complexion and heal rashes.

There are descriptions by Kalidasa of this use of sandalwood in his Sanskrit epics (300 B.C.)

Sandalwood oil is used in soaps that clarify the complexion. The oil also has an important place in the indigenous system of medicine.

Sandalwood oil has been used in the treatment of bronchitis and diseases of the urinary tract. It is also considered to be a cure against the migraine.

The hard yellow wood is used for carving into combs, beads and religious artifacts.

The sapwood is used for manufacturing joss sticks, incense sticks burned in Hindu temples. Because of this long history, it is inconceivable that Indians will stop using sandalwood products despite the dwindling supply and increasing cost. As previously mentioned, the reverence given to sandalwood also extends to the Middle East where the oil is regarded as a luxury item.

It is one of the few approved scents for use in the Islamic religion.

The tradition of using sandalwood and its by- products in religious ceremonies has contributed to the current problem.

26. Trans-Boundary Issues: NO

27. Rights: YES

The trade in Indian sandalwood has raised several human rights concerns.

The illegal smuggling rings have benefited local village populations financially.

The wages paid by the rings are higher than the amount the villagers could earn legally .

However, the villagers are threatened by the rings leaders to remain silent if questioned by authorities.

Ringleaders have killed informants to make an example of them to the others. There are also rumors of human rights violations concerning the conduct of police officials.

Authorities apparently have harassed the locals to give information that would aid in the capture of the smuggling rings leaders.

There are tales of torture and brutality on both sides at the expense of the rural population.


[1] Bear in mind "A Modern Herbal" was written with the conventional wisdom of the early 1900's. This should be taken into account as some of the information may now be considered inaccurate, or not in accordance with modern medicine.

[2] Habib Trabels, "Gulf demand for Asian sandalwood perfume soars for Muslim holiday," Agence France Presse, February 2, 1997 (Lexis-Nexis retrieval).




History of Japanese Insense

Murphy, Kevin. "Incense Maker Finds Success is Sweet," International Herald Tribune. October 9, 1995.

Nagreni, H.C. and Rai, S.N. "Influence of Host Plants on Growth of Sandal," My Forest, Vol. 26, pp. 156-60.

Rai, Shobha. "Status and Cultivation of Sandalwood in India," Symposium of Sandalwood in the Pacific. (Honolulu: Hawaii), April 9-11, 1990, pp.65-71.

Trabelsi, Habib. "Gulf Demand for Asian Sandalwood Perfume Soars for Muslim holiday," Agence France Presse. February 2, 1997. (Nexis-Lexis)

"Sandalwood Cutting Rules May Limit Indian Oil Supply." Chemical Marketing Reporter. October, 1993, p.19.


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