Sandalwood is the name of a class of fragrant woods from trees in the genus Santalum. The woods are heavy, yellow, and fine-grained, and unlike many other aromatic woods, they retain their fragrance for decades. Sandalwood oil is extracted from the woods for use. Both the wood and the oil produce a distinctive fragrance that has been highly valued for centuries. Consequently, the slow-growing trees have been overharvested in many areas.Sandalwood oil has a distinctive soft, warm, smooth, creamy and milky precious-wood scent. It imparts a long-lasting, woody base to perfumes from the oriental, woody, fougère, and chypre families, as well as a fixative to floral and citrus fragrances. When used in smaller proportions in a perfume, it acts as a fixative, enhancing the longevity of other, more volatile, materials in the composite.Sandalwood oil in India is widely used in the cosmetic industry. The main source of true sandalwood, S. album, is a protected species, and demand for it cannot be met. Many species of plants are traded as “sandalwood”. The genus Santalum has more than 19 species. Traders will often accept oil from closely related species, as well as from unrelated plants such as West Indian sandalwood (Amyris balsamifera) in the family Rutaceae or bastard sandalwood (Myoporum sandwicense, Myoporaceae).Sandalwood paste is integral to rituals and ceremonies, to mark religious utensils, and to decorate the icons of the deities. It is also distributed to devotees, who apply it to their foreheads or the necks and chests. Preparation of the paste is a duty fit only for the pure, and is therefore entrusted in temples and during ceremonies only to priests.
The paste is prepared by grinding wood by hand upon granite slabs shaped for the purpose. With the slow addition of water, a thick paste results (called kalabham in South India), which is mixed with saffron or other such pigments to make chandan. Chandan, further mixed with herbs, perfumes, pigments and some other compounds, results in javadhu. Kalabham, chandan. and javadhu are dried and used as kalabham powder, chandan powder and javadhu powder, respectively. Chandan powder is very popular in North India and is also used in Nepal. In Thirupathi after religious tonsure, sandalwood paste is applied to protect the skin. In Hinduism and Ayurveda, sandalwood is thought to bring one closer to the divine. Thus, it is one of the most used holy elements in Hindu and Vedic societies.Sandalwood essential oil was popular in medicine up to 1920-1930, mostly as a urogenital (internal) and skin (external) antiseptic. Its main component, santalol (about 75%), has antimicrobial properties. It is used in aromatherapy and to prepare soaps. Due to this antimicrobial activity, it can be used to clear skin from blackheads and spots, but it must always be properly diluted with a carrier oil. Because of its strength, sandalwood oil should never be applied to the skin without being diluted in a carrier oil.
The sandalwood tree can grow in almost any part of India (which is why any Indian will recognize the fragrant wood, even though they might refer to sandalwood by one of its many aliases.) The sandalwood tree flourishes in regions where the climate is cool with moderate rainfall, plentiful sunshine and long periods of dry weather.