Sandalwood is a sacred tree whose aroma has been revered throughout centuries. There are many reasons it is considered sacred, not the least of which is the profound exchange that occurs when Sandalwood oil is extracted from the wise old trees. To capture the beautiful soft aroma we have come to treasure in Sandalwood oil, the tree needs to be 30 years old at the time of harvest. Once the tree has reached this impressive maturity, it is harvested and the essential oil is extracted from the heartwood of its trunk and from its roots. Unlike other essential oils that are obtained from harvesting flowers, leaves, and bark that grow back on a tree, Sandalwood comes from deep inside its heart and from the very roots that keep it planted in the ground. For this reason, its oil is something to respect and cherish. It begs the question as to whether Sandalwood oil found its way into spiritual ceremonies because of reverence for its remarkable journey in reaching us...or if we continue to be drawn to it, because it elevates our spirit as much today as it did thousands of years ago for our ancestors. Perhaps it is both, which illuminates the timeless adoration we have for botanicals.
The conundrum that exists with natural fragrance materials these days lies in the grey area where human/plant connection intersects with environment/plant connection. Human pleasure vs. plant species sustainability. The way we are wired to connect with essential oils vs. synthetic fragrances is remarkable. We fit together like a lock and key, as a result of millions of years of co-evolution. However, when sustainability is overlooked, we face an ethical challenge, and it is essential to be mindful of the impact the harvest has on the Earth and the surrounding communities. This is especially true for Sandalwood, since the mature tree is harvested.
Santalum album trees grown in their native region of Mysore India have long been lauded as the premier source of the most coveted Sandalwood essential oil in the world, as the woody aroma has a unique softness, shaded by warm, creamy sweetness. Today, Mysore Sandalwood oil is very difficult to come by, as the precious trees have been severely over-harvested and are now protected and controlled by the state government of Mysore. To come across Mysore Sandalwood is a tricky situation. Unless it is a vintage oil, coming into its possession can often be at the expense of endangered trees or it can be a well-crafted synthetic version of the real thing, as it is so revered in the perfume industry and often synthetically recreated.
Fortunately, Sandalwood trees grow in other parts of the world. However, finding an oil that has the smooth, sweetness of the signature Mysore Sandalwood oil, yet is grown sustainably, entails an old fashioned treasure hunt. Sandalwood oils distilled from trees in other parts of the world have their own unique beauty but most often do not have the coveted warm, richness. After smelling global samples of Sandalwood over the past three decades, we were recently awe-inspired by a sustainable Australian vintage with some of the most exquisite aroma nuances imaginable. The warmth of this batch, directly from the producer, has the soft, sweet, creaminess one only dreams of with that first whiff.
As one of the few essential oils that appreciates with time, it will only become more valuable and beautiful. It is something to consider setting aside with your most beloved treasures to revisit as it evolves over the years. While memories often become sweeter and gilded with time, few material things do. Sandalwood is the exception, as it becomes ever more gorgeous in its material form, while also offering the transcendent opportunity to merge scent experiences with emotions and create sweet golden memories in and of themselves.