Agarwood, as an aromatic material, has been used since ancient times for it’s mystifying musky fragrance. It has been held sacred in many cultures throughout the world, including Asia, the Middle East, and has been mentioned in the Holy Bible of Christianity. In China it is said that prayers rise up to the creator through the gentle smoke of agarwood. In India it is thought agarwood helps to open the third eye. Even the Sufis use agarwood oil in ceremonies.
The complex scent has traditionally been correlated with spiritual awakening and it is said it has the ability to calm the mind.
Other names for agarwood include: Aloeswood, eaglewood, gaharu, jinko, oud, and oudh.
What is Agarwood?
Agarwood comes from several varieties of Aquilaria trees, which are native to South Asia, in regions such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India. These trees grow up to 40 meters in height, and initially, the tree bares no fragrance other then from it’s white flowers.
The amazing thing about this tree is that when the wood becomes damaged, such as when an ant burrows into it, it sometimes becomes infected with a bacteria known as Phialophora Parasitica, causing the tree to expel a considerable amount of fragrant resin in order to help heal itself.
This resin is considered by many to be one of the most divine aromas found in nature. Many people believe agarwood has no equal in the realm of fragrance. Unfortunately, this also makes fragrant agarwood extremely difficult to cultivate.
The Rikkoku Gomi
The Rikkoku Gomi translates to “Six Countries of Agarwood” and “Five Tastes” is the traditional Japanese way of classifying agarwood scent profiles.
Unfortunately, the costs of wild agarwood have been skyrocketing since the 70s and 80s. You used to be able to obtain high-quality agarwood for cheap prices back then, but due to global demand, there was an event in South Asia which was similar to the Gold Rush in America. The people of South Asia became increasingly aware of the prices of agarwood and begun hunting for it, knowing that finding even a single piece of it may change their family’s lives.
Things haven’t changed much in modern times, with the prices of quality wild agarwood soaring higher every year. Due to this, there has been massive over-exploitation of agarwood in these regions and agarwood has since become a protected species under CITES Appendix II.
This has led to farmers attempting to replicate the formation of agarwood resin via man-made methods, but the cultivated agarwood has yet to reach the same quality. The issue is, it takes many years for agarwood resin to form, and even more years for it to be of a reasonable quality, but every year the farmers don’t harvest their trees, they run a risk of something happening to them and losing their time and money. This results in the farmers harvesting the trees in a short time-span and most of the cultivated agarwood holds a bit of a flat aroma.
Agarwood in Perfume
Agarwood has a long history of use in perfume as well, particularly in India and the Middle East. In the Middle East it is known as oudh (or oud), and is typically a dark distillation of agarwood, which may or may not have added ingredients. Pure oudh oil is typically very expensive and there are many counterfeits out there.
Agarwood is also used by some of the top perfume houses in the world, such as Yves Saint Laurent and Amouage.