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Agarwood or just Agar is the resinous heartwood from Aquilaria trees, large evergreens native to southeast Asia. The trees occasionally become infected with mold and begin to produce an aromatic resin in response to this attack. As the infection grows, it results in a very rich, dark resin within the heartwood. It is this precious resinous wood that is treasured around the world.
The resin is commonly called gaharu, jinko, aloeswood, agarwood, or oud, and is valued in many cultures for its distinctive fragrance, thus it is used for incense and perfumes.
One of the reasons for the relative rarity and high cost of agarwood is the depletion of the wild resource. Since 1995 Aquilaria malaccensis, the primary source, has been listed in Appendix II by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. In 2004 all Aquilaria species were listed in Appendix II; however, a number of countries have outstanding reservations regarding that listing.
The odour of agarwood is complex and pleasing, with few or no similar natural analogues. As a result, agarwood and its essential oil gained great cultural and religious significance in ancient civilizations around the world. In as early as the 3rd century, the chronicle Nan zhou yi wu zhi (Strange things from the South) written by Wa Zhen of the Eastern Wu Dynasty mentioned agarwood produced in the Rinan commandery, now Central Vietnam, and how people collected it in the mountains.
Starting in 1580 after Nguyen Hoang took control over the central provinces of modern Vietnam, he encouraged trade with other countries, specifically China and Japan. Agarwood was exported in three varieties: Calambac (Khi Nam in Vietnamese), Tram Huong (very similar but slightly harder and slightly less rare), and agarwood proper. A pound of Calambac bought in Hoi An for 15 taels could be sold in Nagasaki for 600 taels. The Nguyen Lords soon established a Royal Monopoly over the sale of Calambac. This monopoly helped fund the Nguyen state finances during the early years of the Nguyen rule.
Xuanzang’s travelouges and the Harshacharita, written in 7th century A.D. in Northern India mentions use of Agarwood products such as ‘Xasipat’ (writing-material) and ‘aloe-oil’ in ancient Assam (Kamarupa). The tradition of making writing-materials from its bark still exist in Assam.
Agarwood is known under many names in different cultures:
- It is known as Chén-xīang (沉香) in Chinese and Jin-koh (沈香) in Japanese, both meaning “sinking incense” and alluding to its high density.
- Both agarwood and its resin distillate/extracts are known as Oud in Arabic (literally wood) and used to describe agarwood in nations and areas of Islamic faith. Western perfumers may also use agarwood essential oil under the name “oud” or “oude”.
- In Europe it was referred to as Lignum aquila (eagle-wood) or Agilawood, because of the similarity in sound of agila to gaharu
- Another name is Lignum aloes or Aloeswood. This is potentially confusing, since a genus Aloe exists (unrelated), which has medicinal uses, . However, the Aloes of the Old Testament (Num. 24:6; Ps. 45:8; Prov. 7:17; and Cant. 4:14) and of the Hebrew Bible (ahalim in Hebrew) are believed to be agarwood from Aquilaria malaccensis.
- In Assamese it is called as “ogoru”.
- The Indonesian and Malay name is “gaharu”.
- In New Guinea it is called “ghara”.
- In Vietnamese, it is known as trầm hương.
- In Hindi (India), it is known as “agar”, which is originally Sanskrit based.
- In Laos it is known as “Mai Ketsana”.
There are fifteen species in of the Aquilaria genus and eight are known to produce agarwood. In theory agarwood can be produced from all members; however, until recently it was primarily produced from A. malaccensis. A. agallocha and A. secundaria are synonyms for A. malaccensis.A. crassna and A. sinensis are the other two members of the genus that are usually harvested.
Formation of agarwood occurs in the trunk and roots of trees that have been infected by a parasitc ascomycetous mould, Phaeoacremonium parasitica, a dematiaceous (dark-walled) fungus. As a response, the tree produces a resin high in volatile organic compounds that aids in suppressing or retarding the fungal growth. While the unaffected wood of the tree is relatively light in colour, the resin dramatically increases the mass and density of the affected wood, changing its colour from a pale beige to dark brown or black. In natural forest only about 7% of the trees are infected by the fungus. A common method in artificial forestry is to inoculate all the trees with the fungus.
High quality resin comes from a tree’s natural immune response to a fungal attack. It is commonly known as agarwood #1 (first quality). An inferior resin is created using forced methods where aquilaria trees are deliberately wounded, leaving them more susceptible to a fungal attack. This is commonly called agarwood #2.
Trade and use
Agarwood is used in Arab countries (especially in the Persian Gulf) as incense. In Japan, it is used in Kōdō or “incense ceremony” along with Sandalwood. Agarwood (Aloeswood) was used by the Ancient Egyptians for embalming dead bodies. Agarwood extract is rarely used in western perfumery due to its prohibitive price.
Due to its rarity and the high demand for it, agarwood and agarwood extracts bring high prices. Indiscriminate cutting of trees of the relevant species in the hope of finding agarwood has resulted in depletion of wild trees. One species has been CITES-listed. Projects are currently underway in some countries in southeast Asia to infect cultivated Aquilaria trees artificially to produce agarwood in a sustainable manner.
Apart from the resin and the aloe-oil, historically in Assam, the bark of the Agarwood has been also in use for making a flat material (Xasipat/ Sanchipat) for writing. Currently, export oriented commercial cultivation of Agarwood is being carried out in the district of Nagaon in Central Assam.
In the past, Malaysia (formerly Malaya) was a popular spot for traders to seek perfumes. The native perfumes produced from real woods and petals from Malaya successfully attracted traders from all over the world, especially from Portugal and Britain. However, the popularity of agarwood in Malaysia faded after the colonization of Malacca.
Nature of Agar wood oil:
Agar wood oil Nature (Affect) is hot.
Pure Agar wood oil are become freezing at 22°C & become oil in 40°C (India Normal Temperature)
Agar wood oil are best for medicinal & Cosmetics uses. Mostly in Middle East Country are used this oil as a perfumes. It is also so good for skin. Agar wood oil Nature is hot, so also used in increasing Sexual power.