Santalum album 101
Sandalwood, one of the longest-established medicinal aromatic plants, has been in use by the humankind for 3,000+ years. (Oh gosh! What’s in your head when someone says 3,000 years ago? Story telling?) It has been mentioned in a variety of publications, from poems to medical material, for its prodigious impact on human body and mind. In this blog, I will share more information about Indian Sandalwood, known as Santalum album, identified to have the greatest medicinal value among all Sandalwood oils.
Some background information about Sandalwood.
Have you ever thought of the Sandalwood oil that you have is different from your friend’s?
Sandalwood is a generic term. There are different types of Sandalwood. The most common ones found in Hong Kong are Indian Sandalwood (Santalum album), Australian Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) and Hawaiian Sandalwood (Santalum paniculatum).
The major difference among these is the chemical composition. Santalum album has the highest concentration of α-Santalol and β-Santalol, the major factors in its sedative properties and sweet aroma. α-Santalol also affects cell proliferation and migration and helps in healing of wounds.
Planting and sustainability
As its name suggests, Indian Sandalwood originated from India. As the essential oil is distilled from the heartwood, it leads to felling of sandalwood trees. It takes about 30 years for a wild sandalwood tree to mature for extraction of essential oil, which culminated in over-harvesting and smuggling of Indian sandalwood. (Another example of human greed and environmental degradation… oh no!) This, combined with lack of re-plantation plans in India, led International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) to classify Santalum album as “Vulnerable” specie in 1998. Similar issues occurred in Sri Lanka and Indonesia as well.
(Luckily) In the late 1980s, Australia began to grow Santalum album in plantations. After many years of research and modification, the first batch of commercial Australian Santalum album oil (SAO) was produced in 2014. By focusing on selective breeding with more advanced forestry management, Australia managed to achieve superior growth and better yields. Planation tree also takes shorter cultivation time for the tree to mature, about 15-20 years vs. 30-50 years taken for the wild trees. With the sustainable plantation plan, Australia is now the largest producer of Santalum album oil worldwide (80%).
Why humankind has been so keen on Sandalwood?
Anti-inflammatory: Research has confirmed that Santalum album oil (“SAO”) can reduce inflammation through different pathways, such as suppression of production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines (the signaling molecules), inhibition of 5-lyposygenase (major source of proinflammatory chemical called leukotrienes), reduction of IL-17 (pro-inflammatory factor) levels and curtails the activity of PDE4 (it promotes release of pro-inflammatory factors in skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema).
Anti-aging: SAO significantly improves anti-oxidation process by enhancing both hepatic glutathione enzymes and superoxide dismutase.
Anti-microbial: SAO can be used to treat cold sores as it inhibits transmission of HSV-1 and HSV-2.
Anxiolytic: SAO is a proven relaxant and helps in attaining lower anxiety, calming the nervous system and getting better-quality sleep. Several in-vivo studies on inhalation of SAO demonstrated its sedative effect and an improvement in sleeping pattern of patients with sleeping problem.