Tag Archives: Woods

THE MAGIC OF SCENTS

Ever since I can remember scents were always important; they would work on my imagination and carry me off. I never thought about it because it has always been such a vital part of who I am, but lately I have looked at what scents do to me. (Mind you, scents can even be smells or stinks…it doesn’t matter, I make no difference.)

When I think of scents, there is a whole world opening up in me; scents are the embodiment of history, every single story told and untold. They evoke mystery and adventure, they are the whiff of faraway lands, dreams and colors, displaying a whole array of emotions and music within. Scents are truly Grace.

I believe scents have not changed that much through history; lavender probably smells the same as it did centuries ago, so we might actually have the same experience now as was had then…scents span time. A story from the bible tells of Maria Magdalene rubbing Jesus’ feet with the oil of Spikenarde (Nardostachys jatamansi). I love that oil with its fresh, deep and musky scent. Knowing the properties of the oil (calming, grounding…) makes the story so much more interesting. I can rub my feet with Spikenarde and have the same experience 2000 yrs later – mind-boggling! Look at ancient poetry and you will find that the herbs, plants and oils haven’t changed. The poems speak of rose, jasmine, sandalwood, aloeswood, rosemary and thyme…

In the bible, poems and other written work through history we can find recipes for perfumes and scents that were used at the time. By recreating them we get an idea of the evolution of perfumery. Every century had its own “scent-fashion” and it has changed over time. Some of the perfumes, or scents, from ancient times would not be very popular today. At the time much of the known perfumes were connected to religious ceremony since scented matter oftentimes was costly and difficult to come by. By offering these expensive and evocative perfumes to the God(s), people hoped that the gods would be benevolent towards them.

The earliest perfumes were usually made from resins and woods, mixed into fat and then burned or anointed. Little by little, over time, the art of securing the evocative and fleeting scent of flowers was found and has been perfected ever since. Today lots of synthetics and alcohol is used in perfumes which somewhat takes away the “heady emotional reaction” to a scent, though the pleasure of it is always there. Everybody reacts on scents in some way, even anosmic people. Scents evoke memories, even long-buried ones, to be brought forth in vivid detail; matter might desist, but scents remain forever.

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VALUABLE ESSENTIAL OILS FROM WOOD

There are a few, very popular oils that come from the heart-wood of trees; Oud (Aquilaria agollocha, A. malaccensis, A. crassna) that I have written about earlier, Rosewood (aniba rosaeodora) and Sandalwood (santalum album). I will not write again about Oud, but concentrate on Rosewood and Sandalwood. These oils come from the heartwood of trees – trees take a long time to grow and for each tree that is cut down we need to plant many, many more or the tree will become extinct.

Rosewood (aniba rosaeodora) is a tree that grows in the Amazonian rain-forest, Brazil being the main producer of essential oil. It is a large, evergreen tree reaching up to 30 m in height and 2 meters in diameter. All parts of the tree are fragrant although only the heartwood is traditionally harvested and distilled. To give an acceptable amount of essential oil the tree needs to be 40 years old and have a diameter of about 30-40cm, but because of indiscriminate felling even trees with a diameter of 15cm will be cut as it is getting progressively harder to find fully grown trees. Because of its high content of linalool, the essential oil has been widely used in perfumes and soaps. Now linalool is produced synthetically for perfumes and the use of rosewood has diminished; In the 1960s, exports of rosewood oil from Brazil alone were around 500 tonnes per year. Today, the world market for rosewood oil is about 100 tonnes per year. Rosewood essential oil is often substituted by the cheaper Chinese Ho oil (cinnamomum camphora l. linaloolifera leaf oil)

Over the years the heavy harvesting of rosewood have diminished the number of wild-growing trees to a point where they are rapidly becoming a threatened species. Development of sustainable planting is underway, but a lot of wild trees are still felled for the sake of essential oil. Recent research aims to develop new essential oil production derived from rosewood leaves and stems.

Pricing of Rosewood essential oil: 10 ml  €6,40 or 8,65 US dollars.

Sandalwood (santalum album) grows in forests of southern India, the best known being Mysore. The tree reaches a height of 20 meters. It is a hemiparasitic plant as the roots attach themselves to nearby plant roots, obtaining nourishment and causing the host plant to die. Essential oil is produced in the heart-wood and the roots. The tree is mature at 60-80 years when it is harvested and the heartwood is distilled. The trees start producing heartwood at 30-50 yrs. As with rosewood, the trees are being over-harvested and today they are felled already when they are 30 years. Sandalwood has been used as an incense ingredient for the last 4000 years and is an important plant in Asia, used in all manners for its spiritual powers. Today the forests are too young to produce any essential oil, and since the late 1990’s there is only a mere 5% of forest left.

In late 1980 – early 1990 India exported 100 tonnes of sandalwood-oil/year. In 1996 the Indian government regulated export of sandalwood-oil, bringing the yearly amount down to 5 tonnes. This created a huge raise in the price of sandalwood essential oil; on the Indian market the price went from Rs20 000/ton in 1980 to Rs200 000/ton in 1990. Much work is being done in India to create a sustainable replanting of sandalwood-trees, but since it takes such a long time before the trees produce essential oil, this is less popular. Due to the extremely high prices, large amounts of trees are still illegally cut down and smuggled out of the country. In 1993 sandalwood-oil cost 185-200 US dollars/kg, during the last 5 years, the price has increased to 1000-1500 US dollars/kg.

A new player on the scene is Western Australia where sustainable plantations of sandalwood has been going on for some time. They have become the biggest exporters of sandalwood and are now even exporting to India, who is a huge user both of oil and wood. The sandalwood-oil from Australia is half the price of the Indian.

Price of Sandalwood essential oil: 5 ml: €27 (37 US dollars) or 10 ml: €42 (58 US dollars)

So you see, the value is not in the pricing or the oil, the value is in nature; in taking care and always returning something for that what we take and protecting our environment.