For thousands of years, agarwood, and the Oud oil derived from it, have been revered by a plethora of cultures and religions. Having become an essential aspect of the cultural and religious life for billions of people, scientific research is now beginning to reveal the extraordinary medicinal qualities of a substance cited in the world’s oldest written texts.
At the end of the 20th Century, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) designated the Aquilaria tree from which agarwood is produced as an ‘endangered species’ — such has been the extent of the illegal logging that has attended the valuable heartwood of the tree.
The tree itself is only of value for the resin contained within — produced naturally, in response to ‘injury’ – but its presence is not perceptible from mere observation. This has led to indiscriminate logging, and the previously parlous state of the species prior to the intervention of sustainable plantation companies such as Asia Plantation Capital.
By using patented technologies and proven husbandry programmes, species of Aquilaria tree are flourishing once again, and with sustainability in mind and environmental awareness acting as key precepts, many different parts of the Aquilaria plant (resin, stem wood, even the leaves) are now being used in a range of value added products.
Asia Plantation Capital has established a Scientific Advisory Board, comprised of leading academics, researchers and practitioners in the field of agarwood and its associated products, of which Professor Dr Yumi Zuhanis Has-Yun Hashim, from the Department of Biotechnology Engineering at Malaysia’s International Islamic University, is among the most notable.
Dr Yumi’s area of specialisation is in the ‘provision of healthy lifestyle and prevention of diseases through the development, use and or consumption of natural products’, and she has brought a wealth of experience and expertise to the Board that complements the plantation giant’s vertically integrated business model.
With Oud oil now in increasingly high demand in the fragrance industry, scientists are also assessing its medicinal efficacy, and early results have proven to be very encouraging.
Throughout history, apart from being feted for its rich, almost elemental aroma, agarwood has been used for the treatment of joint pain, inflammatory-related ailments and stomach disorders. It can act as a sedative, and even a mild stimulant, and evidence suggests that even its crude extracts and some of its isolated compounds demonstrate significant anti-allergic, anti-ischemic (cardioprotective), anti-diabetic, anti-oxidant and anti-microbial qualities. Agarwood also contains certain flavonoids that can contribute to the anti-ageing process, while agarwood tea is known to improve the digestive system and increase the stability of blood pressure.
Shown to have excellent pharmacological properties, and containing several bioactive compounds, extensive research is now underway to examine its effectiveness in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Agarwood has been used in traditional medicines throughout history, despite little previous scientific research or rigorous examination. Significantly however, its apparent treatment in the microbial infections that lead to diseases such as diarrhoea, cough, leprosy and dysentery has led scientists and researchers to look at ways in which the anti-oxidant qualities of agarwood can counteract the ‘oxidative stress’ that can lead to diabetes and cancer.
It is no coincidence that a substance older than recorded history has been lauded and treasured through generations for its health-giving attributes and the sense of wellbeing that it produces. With the help of modern science and the enquiring minds of researchers, agarwood could prove to be a significant ‘discovery’ in the treatment of cancer, along with a wide variety of ailments.
It also means that the need for sustainability in the cultivation and production of agarwood and its associated products has never been more important. Only through responsible and ethically sound practices will the precious substance be available to future generations, in the continuous quest to find viable treatments for life-threatening diseases.