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Material Study: Indian Sandalwood Crisis

By: Madhugiri Nageswara-Rao, S. Padmini, K.N. Ganeshaiah, R. Uma Shaanker and Jaya R Soneji
Posted: October 20, 2008, from the October 2008 issue of P&F magazine.

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  • From P&F Magazine
  • October 2008 issue, pg. 38—6 pages
  • 6 pages

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Distribution: The distribution of the tree spans 30°N to 40°S from Indonesia in the West to Jaun Fernandez Islands in the East and from Hawaiian Archipelago in the North to New Zealand in the South. In India, although the tree is distributed rather widely, the populations are geographically more concentrated in South India covering parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The state of Karnataka itself accounts for more than 70% of the area. The occurrence of sandalwood is also recorded in Northern (Uttar Pradesh) and Central (Madhya Pradesh, Orissa) parts of India; however, their distribution is very sparse (F-2).

Chemistry and uses: Seeds of all members of Santalaceae possess santalbic acid, which is a characteristic feature of the family. Sandalwood seeds are used in treatment of diuretic hypotensive, antitremorogenic and antiviral activities, in addition to a number of skin diseases. Sandalwood bark extract is a chemosterilant and an insect growth inhibitor. Both wood and oil of the sandalwood tree are used in incenses, perfumes and medicines and have great commercial importance. Heartwood of sandalwood is astringent, bitter, antipyretic and a cooling agent. Being closely grained and amenable to carving, sandalwood is one of the finest woods for this purpose. It is used for making idols, boxes and other curios of exquisite beauty. About 5% of wood produced annually is used in carving idols and other utility articles. Some important centers in South India for carving are Ankola, Bangalore, Honnavar, Kumta, Mysore, Sagar, Sirsi, Talagoppa (in Karnataka), Tirupati in (Andhra Pradesh), Thiruvananthapuram (in Kerala) and some places in Tamil Nadu. However, most of these centers have ceased to function because of nonavailability of sandalwood. The fixative properties and tenacious aroma of sandalwood oil is due to its major odoriferous sesquiterpenic constituents, alpha- and beta-santalols. The highly purified sandalwood oil is used with other perfumery materials and has also earned a prominent place in the incense, cosmetic, fragrance and soap industries.

Other topics discussed: Heartwood and oil; Market demand; Substitutes for sandalwood oil; The Exploitation of Sandalwood; Threats; Genetic diversity loss; Conservation Efforts; Tree regeneration improvement and conservation efforts; The Way Forward

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