Agarwood. Aloeswood. Eaglewood. Gharuwood. These names all refer to the fragrant resin formed in the heartwood of the Aquilaria trees. You might know it as gaharu wood incense, jinkoh incense, or simply Oud. Whatever you call this majestic substance, one thing remains the same – it is one of our world’s most valuable natural materials.
But how does agarwood come to be?
How Agarwood Is Formed
When an Aquilaria tree gets wounded or naturally cracks and splits, it becomes susceptible to infection by a mold called Phialosphora parasitica. The tree’s natural defense mechanism activates as a result of the infection, producing a dark, fragrant resin. This resin serves to seal off the wounded area, preventing the spread of infection by the mold.
The interaction between the resin and infected wood leads to the formation of a dense aromatic heartwood over time. This heartwood is what we know as Oud or agarwood.
Harvesting Oud is no simple task. First, the trees need to be mature, at least several decades old. The infection process can also take several years, leaving a limited number of trees ready for harvesting conditions. Once the conditions are met, harvesting Oud is a labor intensive process involving carefully extracting the resinous wood.
Once harvested, Oud can be used directly or distilled to produce essential oils. Its scent is complex and pleasing, with a warm sweetness mixed with woody and balsamic notes highly prized in perfumery, especially in the Middle East.
In the past, a small number of old-growth Aquilaria trees would produce agarwood or Oud. Given the unparalleled value of this fragrant wood, it shouldn’t be surprising that these trees quickly become the target of collectors worldwide.
However, Oud harvesters had no way of knowing which trees contained agarwood, so they started cutting them indiscriminately. Naturally, this brought old-growth Aquilaria trees to the brink of extinction.
To save what’s left of the Aquilaria trees, researchers had to find a way to stimulate Oud formation in relatively young trees. Of course, this method also had to be significantly more sustainable than the past practices.
Fortunately, they managed to replicate the natural resin formation and harvest it more sustainably. Researchers found a way to wound the Aquilaria tree in a specific manner and then apply treatments to accelerate its immune reaction. Thanks to this, agarwood can now be harvested in two to three years, compared to the natural process that could take up to 10 years.
Where Can Agarwood Be Found?
Aquilaria trees, the building blocks for producing agarwood, are native to the rainforests of Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Borneo, the Philippines, and New Guinea. Sadly, these trees have become rare in most countries due to overharvesting.
Several international agreements have been reached to prevent this tree from going extinct. Agarwood harvesting is now illegal in most natural forests as a protection measure.
This move has led to the creation of forests where agarwood is cultivated sustainably. These sustainable forests can be found across numerous countries, including Vietnam, Bhutan, Thailand, and New Guinea. All Khalm products use sustainably-harvested Oud from Vietnam groves.
Many countries, like Bhutan and Vietnam, are fully committed to protecting the old-growth Aquilaria trees. After all, they provide seeds for the next generation of trees, ensuring the species’ survival. That’s why they’ve welcomed research in this department with open hands, and their local farmers carry out harvesting ethically.
The Fascinating History of Oud
The use of Oud goes back centuries. This highly-regarded resinous wood was even mentioned in sacred texts like the Bible, the Quran, and Buddhist scriptures. “Mentioned” is undoubtedly an understatement since these texts revere this ancient wood.
Agarwood has been used in Buddhist and Islamic cultures for centuries for spiritual and medicinal purposes. Several religions burn this wood to aid meditation, seeing it as an invisible string to the divine realm. It’s said that Buddha proclaimed that burning agarwood evokes “the scent of Nirvana.”
Going beyond traditional medicine and incense ceremonies, Oud gained immense popularity in the fragrance world thanks to its unique scent, often described as deep, warm, and complex. Oud-infused perfumes now fly off the shelves, despite their rather hefty prices.
These perfumes reign supreme in the Middle East, in countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Arab world has a passion for Oud, as the most popular instrument in Arabic music, nicknamed the “King of Instruments,” is also called Oud.
After being used in perfumes, Oud entered the skincare world.
Oud: The Ultimate Beauty Elixir
- A clearer, softer complexion
- Protection against environmental aggressors
- Glowy and even skin
This line has become the gold standard of clean beauty, all thanks to the vision of the brand’s South Asian founders and the power of Oud.