YOU MIGHT HAVE HEARD OF THIS WORD: OUD or Oudh or Agarwood or Gaharu (as it is known in Malaysia) or chénxiāng/ Cham Heong as it is known in Chinese. But more than its proper name, you might have heard it described by a myriad of divine metaphors like: “Scent from Heaven”, “Wood of God”, “Sacred Aroma”, “Scent of Nirvana” or “Ambrosial Fragrance”. Whatever its moniker – from Oud comes “The Smell of Musky Luxury” as headlined in an article of the same name in Fortune Magazine. Indeed, it is the bouquet of royalty, eminence, prestige and station in life. Not all can afford to wear a whiff of it. For Oud is, after all, the most expensive essential oil in the world.
So What is Oud?
So what is it, this Oud or Oudh or Agarwood or Gaharu? And why is it so desired and invaluable?“Agarwood is a resinous heartwood that sometimes occurs in trees belonging to the genus Aquilaria (Thymelaeceae family). Aquilaria is a fast-growing, archaic subtropical forest tree, with a population range stretching from South Asia’s Himalayan foothills, throughout Southeast Asia, and into the rainforests of Papua New Guinea. It grows at elevations from a few metres above sea level to about 1000m, with approximately 500 meters being most ideal. At least fifteen species of Aquilaria are known to produce the much sought-after Agarwood. In South Asia, particularly India, Aquilaria agallocha is found. Aquilaria malaccensis is mostly known from Malaysia and Indonesia, while Aquilaria crassna grows primarily in Indochina.”
Excerpted from The Rainforest Project.
Not that Easy to Get ‘The Wood of God’But, Oud or Agarwood or Gaharu is not the tree per se but the dark resin-saturated wood formed in the heartwood (or the dense central core of the trunk) of the Aquilaria species of trees, collectively known as “Karas” in Malaysia. To the untrained eye, Agarwood trees look no different from any other ordinary tree.
And then again, not every Aquilaria species or Karas tree produces Agarwood as a matter of course. They’ve got to be attacked (by insects such as burrowing beetles, perhaps) or wounded first and become infected by a specific type of mould. The tree then produces copious amounts of resin (a viscous liquid) as a defence mechanism to heal itself against the fungal infection. In so doing, it pours its resin into its heartwood and makes Agarwood or Oud. The scented resin is sometimes called “Liquid Gold” for good reason, and is obsessively sought after for its intense and distinctive scent. It is said there is none like it.
Liquid Gold in Oud OilSo who would have thought that an essential oil derived from infected wood would create such a stir among its devotees? For sure, it commands a price far higher than gold not just due to its perfumery and medicinal value but because of its rarity and depletion in the wild. (Not every Karas tree produces Agarwood or Oud, even when infected, and experts say the very best Oud comes from the wild tree and the oldest ones at that, which makes them even scarcer).
Distilling a mere 20ml of essential oil requires 70kg of Agarwood. With this much of wood used, the retail price for one ounce is over USD1500. Now you see why it commands a price far higher than gold?
Where Oud is Taken SeriouslyThis magic tree ─ the sole creator of Oud or Agarwood ─ is an essential tree in the Middle East. Why? Because Middle Easterners use it in many aspects of their daily lives ─ from burning the wood chips as incense to eating it raw for medicinal purposes. It is said that people in the Middle East use up to 1 kg of woodchips in a month! As for the scent of its essential oils, it is used for daily purposes, practical as well as spiritual as well as, as symbols of status.
Here is a Video Documentary from Aljazeera trailing the ‘Scent from Heaven’
Oud Essential Oil Alternative MedicineThe magical essential oil itself revolves around almost ALL alternative medicines, be it traditional Chinese medicine, traditional Cambodian and Vietnamese medicine, Tibetan medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, Japanese medicine and of course, Middle Eastern medicine. (For a list in Wikipedia, click here ). In fact, the highest consumers of Oud are the Middle East and Japan, so says Healthy Focus. Now, Agarwood or Oud is used in Western culture and also in international brand names.
Oud naturally acts as aromatherapy to reduce anxiety, stress, depression and other nervous system disorders. It is a sedative, analgesic (pain relief), carminative (relieves flatulence), antiemetic (anti-vomiting) and antimicrobial. Because the scent is described as musky, deep, sensual and even “animalistic”, it has also been found to be a powerful aphrodisiac. Here is the research in Current Science.
At any rate, its aphrodisiac value is mentioned in at least 20 websites, maybe even more. Here are just six links:
China’s Love of OudChina has had a love story with Oud as far back as anyone can remember. “As early as the third century AD in ancient China, the chronicle Nan zhou yi wu zhi (Strange things from the South) written by Wa Zhen of the Eastern Wu Dynasty ( from 11th century BC–473 BC) mentioned Agarwood produced in the Rinan commandery, now Central Vietnam, and how people collected it in the mountains.” Excerpted from Wikipedia.
If you want to read more about China’s scent history, here’s a great story titled China: Fragrance Culture, Fragrance History, & Oud (沉香) from the blog Kafkaesque.
There is a Chinese saying which goes:
“To take a whiff of good Agarwood fragrance, you need three lifetimes of good karma”.
It is also believed that the scent of the oil is able to absorb negative energies and convert them into opportunities and prosperity. In China, people use Agarwood to promote the flow of ‘qi’ and relieve pain. And, it acts as an ointment for smallpox and for various abdominal complaints.
Internal Healing including CancerOud that is mixed with coconut oil, and also in boiled concoction can treat rheumatism and other body pains. By sprinkling on clothes and skin, it also acts as an effective insect repellent against fleas and lice. And then, there is internal healing part − Oud oil is also used to treat asthma, epilepsy, cirrhosis of the liver, kidney problems, lungs and stomach tumors, not to mention Cancer. Yes Cancer.
Cancer ResearchHere is the research from Yumi Zuhanis Has-Yun Hashim, Abbas Phirdaous and Amid Azura from the Department of Biotechnology Engineering, International Islamic University Malaysia, titled: “Screening of anticancer activity from Agarwood essential oil”, Pharmacognosy Research (2014); 6(3) published on NCBI.
The research backs up the use of Oud essential oil as a treatment for inflammatory related diseases and suggests that Oud oil possesses anticancer activity toward MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Oud oil concentration of 44μg/ml was able to inhibit 50% of control cell growth. This means that Oud oil, with further research, could result as an alternative breast cancer treatment.
In another study published in the Alexandria Journal of Medicine, Agarwood essential oils from the Aquilaria crassna species showed that it inhibited metastasis (further growth and migration of cancer cells) and induced apoptosis (cancer cell death) in the pancreatic cell line (MIA PaCa-2), meaning that Oud essential oils have anti-pancreatic cancer properties too. The results showed that the essential oils exhibited potent cytotoxic activity against MIA PaCa-2 cells, inhibited cell migration and at a higher dosage, obstructed colony formation of the pancreatic cancer cells.
External Healing for Skin and BeautyOud essential oil is great for skin care too. A few drops added to a warm bath definitely creates a relaxing experience. No wonder it is a popular essential oil used in beauty salons and spas.
Oud turned into soap naturally removes dirt and impurities from your skin. Added with Oud dust as a scrub agent, it is an exfoliating agent of dead skin and can help to smoothen and refreshen the skin. The same skin health applies to lotions and creams added with Oud oil.
These are, but the 101 wonders of Oud essential oil but The Magic Tree isn’t done yet. In giving to the world, it gives everything…including bountiful health from its leaves too. Drink Gaharu or Agarwood leaf tea and coffee for detoxification, weight loss, and clear skin, not to mention manage Diabetes, Gout and many other ailments. In healing itself, the Magic Tree heals mankind.
So watch this space in the next week or two for the next healthful instalment on The Magic Tree. Read:
From The Magic Tree: The Wonders of Agarwood Leaves (Beverages for Healing Part 2)
Further Research on the Miracles of Oud Oil:
- Antioxident activity of Aquilaria Malaccensis from Pharmacognosy Research
- Study on Agarwood (Aquilaria Malaccensis) to evaluate antibacterial and antioxidant activities of n – hexane, chloroform and ethyl acetate extracts from Pharmatutor
- Study on the characterization of the chemical constituents of Agarwood oils from Malaysia by Comprehensive Two-Dimensional Gas Chromatography–Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry from Science Direct