Ancient Arab perfumers were seduced by sandalwood’s sweet magic long, long ago:  in pulverised or sawdust form, it formed the base of solid perfumes and incense.  And sandalwood has long key to spiritual traditions in India, too:  so soothing, it’s considered an aid to meditation, helping to still a whirring mind.  In rituals, sandalwood oil may be applied to the forehead, the temples, or rubbed between the eyebrows.  And it’s used as incense and burned on altars, as a way of communicating with the heavens.

Santalum album isn’t actually a tree but a parasitic plant which grows by suckering itself to the roots of other trees, and slowly growing as high as 10 metres.  To extract the deep, sweet woodiness, wood or root chippings are steam-distilled.  If you ever come across a piece of the wood itself, it’s magical:  the scent can still be enjoyed, years after it was harvested.  (A little light sanding re-releases the scent, if it fades.)

Sandalwood’s creamy sweetness is used in the base of as many as 50% of feminine perfumes.  Supremely versatile, it blends exquisitely with cloves, lavender, geranium, jasmine, galbanum, frankincense, black pepper, jasmine and patchouli;  it works as a ‘fixative’, tethering other ingredients and keeping them ‘true’, in a composition.  But it’s under a bit of a cloud, perfume-wise.  So many sandalwood trees have been cut down in India, largely for production of perfume and incense – often illegally harvested, because it’s such a valuable commodity – that it’s become endangered.  The good news, however, is that plantations in Australia are now coming on-stream, producing sandalwood oil of high quality – to the relief of ‘noses’.  (And conservationists.)  And at the same time, a wide range of synthetic sandalwood-like ingredients are now used in place of this at-risk wood, to give that smooth milkiness.

Smell sandalwood in:

Chanel Coco
Dior Hypnotic Poison
Guerlain Samsara
Guerlain Shalimar
Versace Crystal Noir
Byredo Gypsy Water
Montblanc Legend

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