What is Sandalwood?
Sandalwood (tan xiang, 檀香) refers to the wood, or heartwood, from tree species that fall under the family Santalaceae and genus Santalum. While there are many species of trees that fall under this genus, the most prominent ones are the East Indian sandalwood (Santalum album) and Australian sandalwood (S. spicatum).
Heavy, yellow and fine-grained, Sandalwood can retain its characteristic fragrance for decades. Thus, Sandalwood essential oil is extracted from these woods for use in perfumes and aromatherapy. Often cited as one of the most expensive woods in the world, the distinctive fragrance that it produces has been highly valued for centuries due to its medicinal usage. Consequently, some species of these slow-growing trees have suffered over-harvesting in the past.
Sandalwood has also played a significant role in spiritual practices in Chinese culture, since ancient times till today. It is believed that the first known sculpture of Buddha was crafted with Sandalwood, which was believed to be the closest thing to the extraordinary presence of Buddha.
Today, Sandalwood is still widely used in meditation and therapy for its calming effect, as well as being a symbol of casting out negativity to unveil purity. Prayer beads crafted out of Sandalwood are highly regarded in Chinese culture as it is believed to offer grounding, comfort and blessings to the individual wearing it.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Sandalwood falls under the category of “Herbs that regulate the qi“. This herb targets the Lung, Spleen and Stomach, and it exhibits acrid, aromatic and warm properties.
Functions and Benefits of Sandalwood
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shows that Sandalwood has the following functions.
Sandalwood can promote the movement of qi to relieve pain and discomfort in the Stomach. For example, it can help to relieve abdominal pain, epigastric pain, vomiting of clear fluids, poor appetite, hiccups, nausea in the chest, nausea in the throat region and belching.
A natural yang remedy, Sandalwood can also disperse Cold to relieve pain and discomfort by restoring a healthy yin-yang balance for individuals who are experiencing too much Cold in their body. The warming properties of Sandalwood can activate yang to regulate qi in the Heart, harmonise the Stomach and Spleen. For example, Sandalwood can relieve constricting chest pain, angina, dyspnea, feelings of chest oppression.
Sandalwood is also said to possess the ability to balance mind, body and spirit when used in herbal and moxibustion therapies. In TCM, Sandalwood has also been used as an antiseptic and astringent for the treatment of headache, stomachache, urinary and genital disorders.
In the Traditional Ayurvedic Medicinal system, Sandalwood oil has been used as a diuretic and mild stimulant, as well as to smooth the skin. The leaves and bark of Sandalwood were used by early Hawaiians to treat dandruff, lice, skin inflammation and sexually transmitted diseases. Other Sandalwood essential oil benefits include repelling against the crop pest Tetranychus urticae (two-spotted spider mite).
Other than the above Sandalwood benefits, modern studies have also suggested that Sandalwood can be used for conditions such as acne, dysentery, gonorrhea, anxiety, cystitis, fatigue, frigidity, impotence, nervous tension, eczema and stress.
The warm, woody scent of Sandalwood is also commonly used in incense, cosmetics, perfumes and soaps. It is also used as a flavour for foods and beverages.
How to Use Sandalwood
Within the Chinese Pharmacopeia, Sandalwood is often used in the form of a powder or decoction as a formula to treat certain diseases as mentioned above. Many herbal shops and Asian specialty stores sell Sandalwood in the above forms, as well as Sandalwood oil and raw Sandalwood.
The recommended daily dosage of Sandalwood is 1g – 1.5g. However, Sandalwood should be consumed under the supervision of a licensed healthcare provider, and the treatment should last no longer than six weeks. If applied externally on skin, you can dissolve Sandalwood in water and apply it to your skin several times a day.
In particular, Sandalwood essential oil should be dosed in a resistant coating that protects against Stomach secretions. That is because the oil should not be ingested in its natural state.
When it comes to aromatherapy, there are many ways to use Sandalwood at home. You can try putting a few drops in your favourite lotion, or adding it to an essential oil diffuser.
Cautions and Side Effects of Sandalwood
While Sandalwood is considered non-toxic by the Compendium of Materia Medica (Ben Cao Gang Mu, 本草纲目), and there are no known adverse reactions and serious side effects in the oral administration of Sandalwood, it needs to be used with caution when it comes to individuals who are experiencing Yin Deficiency, effulgent Fire or hemorrhage due to Excess Heat. The Treasury of Words on the Materia Medica also said that it should not be used in case of cough caused by the stirring blood in the pattern of fire excess from Yin Deficiency.
For individuals who experience internal body Heat symptoms such as night sweating, hot flushes or constant thirst, should consult a physician before consuming this.
Some individuals may experience a mild skin irritation from topical applications of Sandalwood essential oil. If you are concerned about an allergic reaction, test a small amount of Sandalwood essential oil mixed with a carrier oil or lotion on a small patch of your skin. Wait to see if there is any allergic reaction before you start using larger amounts on your skin.
Also, it is advised that individuals with Kidney disease, infants and children should not use Sandalwood internally. It is recommended that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take Sandalwood internally as well until further research is conducted.
We strongly encourage you to consult your healthcare provider before deciding to add Sandalwood into your healthcare routine!
Here is a summary for Sandalwood:
- Herb name (Chinese): 檀香
- Herb name (Pin Yin): tán xiāng
- Herb name (English): Sandalwood
- Herb name (Botanical): Lignum Santali Albi
- Origin of species: Santalum album L.
- Part(s) of herb used: Heartwood
- Geo-specific habitat(s): Hainan, Guangdong, Yunnan, as well as Taiwan, India, Australia, Indonesia
- Taste(s) & Properties: Pungent; Warm; Administrates the Spleen, Stomach, Heart and Lung Meridians
- Actions: Eases chest and stomach discomforts
Kumar, R., Anjum, N., & Tripathi, Y. C. (2015). Phytochemistry and pharmacology of Santalum album L.: a review. World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, 4(10), 1842-1876.[Accessed on 15th October 2022]
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