Santalum album

Santalum album

The Indian sandalwood (Santalum album L.) is an arboreal species belonging to the Santalaceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota Domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Magnoliophyta Division,
Magnoliopsida class,
Santalales Order,
Santalaceae family,
Genus Santalum,
Species S. album.
The terms are synonymous:
– Santalum ellipticum Zipp .;
– Santalum ellipticum Zipp. ex Span .;
– Santalum myrtifolium (L.) Spreng .;
– Santalum myrtifolium L .;
– Santalum myrtifolium L. ex Roxb .;
– Santalum ovata R.Br .;
– Sirium myrtifolium L ..

Etymology –
The term Santalum comes from the medieval Latin sandalum, derived from the ancient Greek σάνδανον sándanon.
The specific epithet album comes from white albus, referring to the flowers, leaves, bark or other parts of the plant; in this case to the color of the heartwood.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Santalum album is a plant native to southern India, eastern Indonesia and northern Australia, but currently grows in the tropical and subtropical forests of different countries. Whether this plant is native to Australia and India or was introduced centuries ago by Southeast Asian fishermen, traders or birds is questionable.
The main distribution is in the driest tropical regions of India and in the Indonesian islands of Timor and Sumba.
Its natural habitat is that of areas with a humid, rainy climate (between 450 and 2500 mm per year) and with a temperature between 2 and 38 ° C and, usually, at altitudes below 1,200 meters but occasionally up to 2,500 meters.

Description –
Santalum album is an evergreen tree that grows to a height of between 4 and 9 meters.
The tree has a variable habit, usually from upright to sprawling, and can intertwine with other species.
The bark is reddish or brown in color or can be almost black and is smooth in young trees, becoming cracked with a reddish pattern.
The heartwood ranges from light green to white, as the common name indicates.
The leaves are thin, opposite and ovate to lanceolate in shape; they have a glabrous surface and a bright green color with a pale glaucous back color.
The plant has small flowers.
The fruits are produced after three years, they are globose, fleshy drupes, with a persistent red to purple to black color when ripe, about 1 cm in diameter; the seeds are viable after five. These seeds are distributed by birds.
The plant grows in symbiotic or parasitic association with other plants.

Cultivation –
The Indian sandalwood is a small, very slow-growing, elegant evergreen shrub or tree, whose growth depends on the presence of some other tree species, nitrogen-fixing species, to obtain part of its nutrition.
It grows in tropical and subtropical areas with temperatures between 10 and 38 ° C, with the optimum between 22 – 30 ° C. It can survive temperatures up to 2 ° C.
The reported annual rainfall range for growth is 450 – 2,500 mm, with the optimum being between 800 – 1,400 mm.
This plant prefers fertile, moist but well-drained soil, exposed to the sun or partial shade, with a slightly acidic pH. It prefers a pH in the range of 6 – 7, tolerating 5 – 9.
It is a semi-parasitic plant that derives part of its nourishment from the roots of other plants.
The plant has green leaves containing chlorophyll and is therefore able to photosynthesize: it relies on host plants only for water and soil nutrients, not sugars, which it can produce on its own.
In some natural situations it grows at the expense of nitrogen-providing plants such as Acacia and Casuarina, although it is known to parasitize many other legumes, shrubs, herbs and grasses; normally has more than one guests at a time.
A very frequent natural guest is Drypetes lasiogyna, considered the most prolific species in the vicinity of S. Album.
The species spreads rapidly through the dispersal of seeds by birds, which feed on the external fleshy pericarp. The production of viable seeds occurs when the tree is 5 years old.
Artificial propagation can take place via seed, which is pre-soaked in a 1: 9 bleach solution in a vermiculite-based substrate at 16 – 20 ° C.
The plants are then placed in pots when the roots have reached a length of about 4 cm, placing each plant in a well-drained compost together with a potential host plant.
The plant is long-lived, but harvesting is only possible after many years.
Artificial propagation is easily carried out by directly plucking freshly harvested ripe seeds in plots of worked land, with the onset of the monsoon, in the middle of nurturing bushes or in protected plots. Fresh seed has a 2 month dormancy period. Manual scarification or gibberellic acid can contribute to germination.
The seeds germinate in about 8 – 14 days, with a germination rate of 70%. Lantana camara, which commonly grows in scrub forests in areas suitable for sandalwood, acts as a good nurturer for seedlings in the early stages. Sowing seedlings in containers or branch cuttings is also successful; the trees are grown with a host plant, for example Cajanus cajan, Senna siamea, Terminalia, Lagerstroemia, Anogeissus, Dalbergia, Pongamia, Albizia and Acacia species.
The seeds can also be sown in polyethylene bags together with sandalwood seeds and irrigation should be done once a day. The sandalwood seedlings reach a height of 15 – 20 cm at the time of sowing and are planted in the field together with the host plant. The growth of the seedlings is rapid with 20 – 30 cm obtained at the end of the 1st year and 60-70 cm at the end of the 2nd year.
The plant also produces many suckers. These are emitted from the roots when they are exposed or injured. The nursery phase for growing sturdy 30cm plants is generally 8 months. The primary host species are grown alongside the seedlings in each pot. S. album was propagated vegetatively by tissue culture, branch cuttings, and slit grafting. In some situations, direct sowing is used in the fields. For this reason it can propagate through suckers even during its initial development, establishing small stands.
Remember that this plant parasitizes up to 300 species that provide phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium macronutrients and shade – especially during the early stages of development.

Customs and Traditions –
Santalum album is a parasitic plant that can live up to a century and is used in its areas of origin for various uses.
It is also grown in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and northern Australia.
Some peoples have attached great significance to its fragrance and medicinal qualities.
This plant is considered sacred in some religions such as Hinduism and some cultures attach great significance to its fragrant qualities. However, the high value of the species has caused overexploitation, to the point that the wild population is in vulnerable conditions and close to extinction.
In ancient China, the most expensive coffins were made of sandalwood, while in India it was the preferred wood for funeral pyres. Even today it is customary to add at least one single piece of sandalwood. When stocks became scarce, sandalwood from the Australian Santalum species was used for such purposes. Larger pieces of heartwood are now mainly used for wood carving and carving.
Its wood still has high prices for its essential oil due to its high alpha santalol content, but due to the lack of large trees it is no longer used for fine woodworking as it was before.
Santalum album is in fact rated as a “vulnerable” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is threatened by excessive exploitation and habitat degradation due to soil alteration, fire (to which this species is extremely sensitive), certain plant diseases, intensive agriculture and deforestation.
To preserve this vulnerable resource from overexploitation, the legislation of some countries protects the species and cultivation is studied and developed.
Until 2002, people in India could not grow sandalwood. Due to its scarcity, sandalwood cannot be cut or harvested by individuals. The state grants specific permission to some growers who can then cut down the tree and sell the wood. In addition, the Indian government has banned the export of the timber.
The wood of Santalum album was the main source of sandalwood and the essential oil derived from it. The central part of the tree, i.e. the heartwood, is the only part of the tree that is used for its fragrance. The outer part of the tree, the sapwood, is odorless. The sapwood is white or yellow in color and is used to make turning items. The high value of sandalwood has led to attempts of cultivation, this has increased the distribution area of ​​the plant.
The wood of Santalum album has a high content of santalol (about 90%), compared to the other main source of oil, Santalum spicatum which has around 39%; India used to dominate sandalwood oil production around the world, but this industry has been in decline since the 21st century.
The long ripening period and the difficulty of cultivation have limited the extensive plantings. Harvesting the tree involves various stages of maturation and processing, also increasing its commercial value.
Wood and oil are in high demand and represent an important trade item in three main regions namely India, Australia and Sri Lanka.
In India, the use of S. album has been known in literature for over two thousand years. It has use as wood and oil in religious practices. It is also present as a building material in temples and elsewhere. The Indian government has banned the export of the species to reduce the threat of an over-harvest. In the southern Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, all trees greater than a specified size were owned by the state until 2001-2. The logging of trees, even on private property, has been regulated by the Forestry Department. After that it was allowed to be sold to private farmers, but the product can only be sold to the state forest department. Annual production fell from a high of 4,000 tons in the early 1970s to less than 300 tons in 2011. The decline is attributable to government policy and overexploitation, and measures have been taken to encourage planters to grow. trees again.
In Australia the native species, Santalum spicatum, is more common and widely cultivated in the western area, but in 2020 there are two commercial Santalum album wood plantations in full operation based in Kununurra, in the far north of Western Australia: Quintis (formerly Tropical Forestry Services), which controlled around 80% of the world supply of Indian sandalwood in 2017, and Santanol.
Finally, Sri Lanka, where the sandalwood harvest is preferred by older trees. The salable wood may, however, come from trees as young as seven years old. The entire plant is removed rather than cut at the base, as in coppice species. The extensive removal of S. album over the past century has led to an increased vulnerability to extinction.
In addition, as of 2020 there are small plantations of Indian sandalwood also in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and the Pacific Islands.
This plant also covers food uses.
The bark is sometimes chewed as an alternative to betel nuts (Areca catechu).
An essential oil is obtained from the roots and heartwood which is used commercially as a flavoring in a wide range of foods including chewing gum, ice cream and baked goods.
The fruits are edible.
In its medicine, wood contains from 3 to 6% essential oils (mainly alpha and beta-santalol sesquiterpenes), resin and tannins.
All parts of the plant contain these essential oils, with a concentration of at least 90% of sesquiterpene alcohols.
The roots contain the greatest quantity of oil, with about 6 – 10% and therefore are more precious; heartwood yields 4 – 8%; the leaves about 4%; the leaves 2 – 4% and the bark around 2%.
This is why it is considered an aromatic, bittersweet, astringent herb that refreshes the body, calms the mind, relieves spasms and improves digestion.
It has diuretic, analgesic, antiseptic, expectorant and stimulating effects.
The wood or essential oil of this plant is taken internally in the treatment of genitourinary disorders, fever, sunstroke, digestive problems and abdominal pain.
A wood pulp is used externally to treat skin ailments.
Furthermore, the bark contains about 12 – 14% tannin and has a good potential use in the tanning industry.
Finally, Santalum album is considered in India as a species that can be used in agroforestry practices. It is sometimes grown as an ornamental and as a low-branching windbreak, while its leaves provide green compost.

Preparation Method –
Sandalwood oil is rarely used in modern herbal medicine, its main application is in aromatherapy.
Sandalwood oil, steam distilled from heartwood, roots, branches, etc. is an indispensable aromatic material in perfumery, where its exceptional fixing properties and excellent toughness, blending capacity and highly attractive fragrance have made it a basic component of countless perfumes, cosmetics and toiletries. It goes well with other essential oils such as patchouli, vetiver, geranium and musk.
It is also used in soap making and medicines.
An essential oil is also obtained by acid hydrolysis of distilled sandalwood shavings and sawdust. This oil differs in scent and appearance from real sandalwood oil.
Heartwood powder, mixed with gum arabic and saltpetre and often with other aromatic substances, is used to make incense sticks which also burns as a perfume in homes and temples, or is ground into a paste and used as a cosmetic. This is put in sachets and stored in linen cabinets etc. to perfume clothes.
Finely ground sandalwood, mixed with water, is rubbed into the body for its cooling effect.
A compound extracted from the bark exhibits hormonal activity in insects, disrupting their development. It also has a chemosterilizing effect, but is not used commercially.
The seeds produce a red drying oil that is mainly used as a lamp oil and can be used in the manufacture of paints.
Fresh leaves give a pale yellow wax; this has a melting point of 30 ° C and contains 75% of unsaponifiable compounds.
The wood, which weighs 870 kg / m3, is heavy, hard, durable and strong, but difficult to split and is not attacked by termites. It is odorless as soon as it is cut, it becomes strongly aromatic with aging.
Its fine-grained heartwood is widely used for ornamental and carving work.
Wood has been used as a fuel, but is generally considered too valuable for this purpose.
It is traditionally burned at Buddhist funerals and is also ground into a powder to make the paste used in Hindu caste marks.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
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Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

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