Known also as Oud oil, agarwood is one of the most precious, rare and certainly most expensive essential oils in existence today. Agarwood is sometimes called Aloeswood. The essential oil is derived from the heartwood of the agarwood tree. There are a number of popular species but typically aquilaria malaccensis, aquilaria agallocha or Aquilaria crassna are used to make the oil. Agarwood is native to India as well as several areas of South East Asia including Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia.
When the trees are healthy, agarwood has a light or pale color but when it is infected by disease, the process of infection creates a response to the attack resulting in a very dark and incredibly aromatic resin known as oleoresin. It is this rich dark resin which is so highly prized and from which agarwood essential oil is extracted.
In the wild, the production of this resin can take many years and like a good wine, the older the resin-the more prized it becomes. Because of its huge cost and extreme rarity in the wild, the trees are now cultivated and the resin is actually created by artificial infection and its essential oil extracted by water distillation.
There are many grades of Agarwood oil. The quality of grade is dependent on the grade of wood used and the length of distillation. Typically, the longer the distillation time the higher the grade.
It costs hundreds for 5ml and it is typically sold by weight. Because of its rarity and mythic status in almost all of the worlds religions–it is extremely expensive. The scent is particularly sought after. It is believed to be the most powerful natural aphrodisiac.
Most Agarwood oil is purchased and consumed primarily by Saudi Arabia and Japan. There are no truly similar species or known sythetics that come close to the real scent. The fungal infection that helps create the resin makes its extract very unique.
Adulteration can and does happen on many levels. On the raw materials level–trees either uninfected or a lower grade of wood. Often it can even be a different but similar species of tree. Even among infected trees the method of infection (natural or stimulated) can have an effect on the compounds in the wood.
On the distillation level–the distiller can include the hydrosol with the essential oil or lie about the length of distillation.
On the distribution level–the oil is cut with other oils or synthetic chemicals are added to attempt to replicate the scent.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT AGARWOOD
- Religious texts were written on bark from agar trees and Srimanta Sankardev referred to agarwood as one of the divine trees with the ability to fulfill human desire.
- Burning Agarwood was called the ‘scent of Nirvana’ by The Lord Buddha.
- It is extensively mentioned in the Sanskrit Vedas as a favorite of Lord Krishna.
- Agarwood has played an important role in many religious traditions all over the world. It has been revered for millennia for its fragrance in religious ceremony and its incense burned at the burial of Jesus Christ.
- King Louis XIV had his clothing washed in water scented with agarwood.
- Agarwood smoke was used to scent the armor of Samurai warriors before heading into battle.
- In Genesis, agarwood is mentioned as the only tree from which Adam and Eve could take cuttings.
- Although it is not that well known in the West, agarwood has a rich history of medicinal use in many cultures. It has been used for centuries by physicians in Tibet, India, China and the Arab world to treat a range of physical and mental conditions.
- The Prophet Mohammed used Agarwood to perform fumigation rituals, a practice which is continued today by Orthodox Muslims.