The Santalaceae family is the family of Sandalwood Trees that produce essential oils. The Santalum genus may include up to 20 tropical, evergreen and semiparasitic trees and shrubs (Weiss 1997). Growing to approximately 29ft tall when it reaches full maturity at approximately 60 years of age (Rhind, 2012). More than 15 of the Santalum species have the ability to produce essential oils. Sandalwood is native to Southern Asia, the great majority growing in the Mysore region of Eastern India, (Santalum album). Other species grow in Australia, (Santalum spicatum, Santalum lancelatum) and the Pacific Islands (Santalum paniculatum) which is used in perfumery for its aroma as it lacks the medicinal properties of the Indian and Australian species. The Sandalwood tree family is battling extinction due to unethical over-harvesting, greed and exploitation.
The three Sandalwoods used widely in aromatic therapies include Santalum album, also known as White or East Indian Sandalwood, and two Australian Sandalwoods, Santalum spicatum and Santalum austrocaledonicum. Santalum album is used more widely than any of the other species. Notably regarded for its dense aromatic wood and roots, which produce the essential oil and is extracted through hydro and/or steam distillation. You can learn more about the different types of Sandalwood essential oil here.
Sandalwood's Aromatic History
The history of Sandalwood and its many uses are recorded as far back as 2500 years in India’s history. Before it was used for rituals and ceremonies, it was traditionally used in carpentry, carving sacred objects, creating sacred incense and in perfumery. Santalum album’s lack of top notes makes it an efficacious fixative, anchoring aroma of a blend, as a natural perfume base, while sustaining and amplifying other notes in the synergy. “Contributing to soft, woody, powdery notes, down to the dry-out” (Aftel 2008).
Caravans of Sandalwood were frequently seen on well-known routes of trade from India to Egypt, Greece, and Rome. It’s calming effect made Sandalwood useful for meditation and religious ceremonies, in India and China alike. It was burned at funerals, with the intent to free the soul in death. The Egyptians used Sandalwood in embalming, as well as to treat various sexually transmitted diseases.
Therapeutic Effects of Sandalwood
Santalum album is also used in Ayurvedic medicine. Recent research has shown indicators that its components have anti-tumoral properties (Kim et al 2006). Cited in (Baldovini et al 2011), showing great potential as topical use for the human papillomavirus, as well as pre-cancerous skin lesions, and skin cancer preventative. “Used in traditional Chinese medicine for cancer prevention and therapy, (Dozmorov et al. 2014) it was found that Sandalwood essential oil-induced non-selective cancer cell death via DNA damage and cell cycle arrest” (Rhind, Blending, 2016).
Studies support Santalum album’s anti-microbial actions, which seem to have an affinity for genital urinary tract infections. Anti-viral properties have shown success with Herpes simplex 1. Santalum album also demonstrated higher anti-microbial potential than Tea Tree (Beylier and Givaudan, 1979). In fact, the bacteriostatic
effect of Staphylococcus aureus was 25 times greater than that of tea tree oil, containing terpin-4-ol. Also inhibiting growth of Herpes simplex virus 1, cold sores and genital herpes (Aromatherapy Science, Lis Balchin, 1999). Santalum spicatum and Santulum album have a tenacious bronchio-dilating action, proving beneficial in respiratory infections. These essential oils also aid in maintaining healthy skin, alleviating symptoms of acne, eczema, psoriasis and other forms of topical dermatitis. It also has diuretic and depurative properties, and acts as an effective lymphatic and venous decongestant (Price & Price 2007).
Santalum album essential oil is light yellow in color and is very viscous. Its delicate woodsy aroma comes from (Z)-B-santalol and trace amounts of 2-a-transbergamotol, a sesquiterpenoid. According to Bowles (2003) the main chemical constituents are sesquiterpene alcohols, e.g. a-Santalol (50%), b-Santalol (25%). According to (Erligmann 2001), the constituent responsible for giving Santalum
album its heavy lifting capabilities is B-santalene and small amounts of phenols (Eugenol and para-cresol). Monoterpene alcohols such as linalool, and Ketones such as nor-a-trans bergamotene are trace constituents with a powerful influence (J.P.Rhind.2012).
Sandalwood has been successfully used as a vulnerary, in wound healing and bruising, as a mouth rinse for sore throats and carminative, and stomachic for gastrointestinal concerns. It is also said to be highly anti-inflammatory due to the combined Santalol content. It can be used for hemorrhoids and burns alike and other inflamed skin conditions. It has been used as a hemostatic to stop bleeding (Botanicals, F. Amelio, 1999). Stimulating the immune system, sex hormones and reproductive cells. It has a mild ability to fight fungal infections such as athlete’s foot and candida.
Santalum spicatum has over 70 constituents. Similar to Santalum album, it is mainly Sesquiterpenes. While having lower levels of (Z)-B santalol, and contains much less Z-a-santalol. The missing link between Santalum spicatum and Santalum album is a Sesquiterpenol not found in album. II-Farnesol, over 5%. With these differences in
constituents, it makes sense that the aroma is also slightly different. Santalum spicatum offers a more balanced aroma, containing top, middle, and base notes. Santalum album, mainly base notes, has a more amber-like aroma and spicatum, more balsamic and or resinous (Erligmann 2001)(Rhind, 2012).
Sandalwoods Effect On The Mind
“Sandalwoods subtle properties are equally reflected in its traditional use as an aid to meditation, prayer, spiritual practice....
Sandalwoods cooling, calming and tonifying effect on the nervous system, is effectively used for hot agitated emotional states that lead to a headache, insomnia, nervous exhaustion. It is therefore indicated for states of obsessive worry and for worldy over- attachment” ~Gabriel Mojay, Healing The Spirit, 1997.
Sandalwood proves to be energetically grounding and centering. Lending one the ability to focus and think with clarity. Supplying strength in times of weakness or indecision. Helps to maintain a solid ground when facing trying decisions, or trying life transitions. Bringing stability to those who suffer from trauma, grief or emotional exhaustion.
Very little research has been done in regards to spicatum. And traditionally has not been used in aromatherapy to the extent of album. As the supply of Santalum album becomes more restricted and therefore costly, the popularity of Australian Sandalwoods in aromatherapy will increase. Sadly, again due to unethical harvesting
methods, profiteering, and extortion, East Indian Sandalwood is on its way to becoming exiguous. To preserve these invaluable trees, the harvesting of Sandalwood is now regulated under government jurisdiction allowing the trees to reach the mature age of 30+ years before they can produce a considerate amount of essential oil.
Sandalwood oil is often adulterated with less expensive oils, including less expensive sandalwoods. Balsam copaiba, Atlas Cedarwood fractions Amyris, and other woody oils like Muhuhu. Diluting them with solvents and often with sandalwood like synthetics (Aromatherapy Science, Lis Balchin 2006).
Sandalwood is non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitizing. Therefore, can be used safely in a variety of topical applications, such as massage, compresses, baths, douches, ointments and skincare. It can be used with various methods of inhalation or diffusion safely (Battaglia, 2003). On very rare occasions adverse skin reactions have occurred. The suggested dermal limit is a maximum of 2% (Rhind, 2016).
Learn more about your favorite essential oils when you sign up for the Institute's free class!
Or, check out our Courses page if you are ready to expand your knowledge of essential oils and dive into the career of aromatherapy! We offer in-person aromatherapy certification programs as well as aromatherapy certification online.