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The sandalwood tree is used to produce two fragrant items, an oil and a wood. The oil was used in perfumes, medicines, and incense. The wood was used to make decorative objects. The wood is light coloured and fine grained and exudes a powerful fragrance for a long time. In the west, we use cedar closets to protect clothing from damaging insects. In the ancient world, people used sandal wood. Though the plant grew in the East Indies and India proper, it was hauled west by the Arab traders to the Holy Land long before the age of Christ.
For the Israelites, it was a rare perfume brought from afar. A rich extravagance used to fragrance ointments, perfumes, and oils. It is likely to have been one of the rich ointments used to soothe Jesus' troubles away by Mary Magdalene. It is not called for in the recipes for the holy anointing oils used in the Temple. This suggests that it may not have made its way to the Holy Land in the early biblical days. Later in the Bible it does appear and always as a deluxe luxury good. The beguiling scent of sandalwood mesmerized the ancient people; the Israelites were no exception.
The wood is from India and we will start looking at it from the Indian perspective. The Indians noticed chandana, as it is called there, and its fragrant wood at an age well before the written record. Its production was a science; the collection of sandalwood was a bit more involved than grabbing an axe. Much work went into sandalwood before it got packed on the camels heading for the Holy Land. The tree was first dug up by the roots and its small branches were removed. The trunk was then allowed to sit on the ground for half a year or more. Humans do not do anything to the wood while it rests on the ground; instead they take advantage of a few local insects. Ants are used to eat away the sap wood which is useless. Once the sapwood has been eaten away, the wood is chopped into smaller pieces and sorted according to grade. This was the process in the Israelite days and it is the practice in the modern day.
In India, sandalwood oil is a focal point in Hindu worship. It is used to anoint idols and is applied to the body in purifying rituals. From the earliest date, the wood was used to carve delicate boxes and furniture which would exude the fragrance of sandalwood almost forever. The Parsis used the wood in their fire temples as the wood of choice for making offerings to the gods. The Hindus place their dead on a big stack of wood and light the whole affair on fire as a final goodbye to their loved one. It is traditional to toss some sandalwood onto the funeral pyre. The rich construct funeral pyres out of sandalwood. The poor toss on a few shavings. Regardless of class, sandalwood is an essential in the funeral practices of the Indians.
As long as its fine fragrance has been appreciated, it has been used in medicine. In "Indian Plants and Drugs" we find the following: "sandalwood has been regarded as bitter, cooling, astringent, and useful in bilious fevers; applied externally in the form of a paste with water in prickly and skin eruptions; to the temples in headaches and fevers and to skin diseases to allay heat and pruritus (itching). In cases of morbid thirst the powder of the wood is taken in coconut water; the powder made into pills, or in cows milk, is administered in for gonorrhea; locally applied, the powder allays prickly heat and checks copious perspiration."
"The essential oil contained in the heart wood, and obtained by means of distillation, is a popular remedy as a demulcent, diuretic, and mild stimulant in gonorrhea and kindred affections and in chronic cystitis. It is given in five drop doses gradually increases to 10-20 minims, it is good to accompany it with a drop or two of liquor potasse, it is commonly given in capsules or in emulsion. In cases of gonorrhea, even obstinate gleet (chronic gonorrhea), it is useful, and best given in a little omum water or infusion of ginger. Externally the oil is an excellent application in scabies in every stage and form."
As you have read, the Indians use sandalwood to treat urinary infections, skin problems, and headache. They also use it as a treatment for bronchitis and other respiratory diseases. There are a number of medical schools in India and I think it would pay to have a look at what the different schools had to say about the drug. In a book entitled "Comparative Materia Medica" we find a sampling of various Indian schools thinking about sandalwood.
Ayurveda: "It has a bitter taste and produces a light sensation in the body and a cooling effect on the mind. It cures fatigue. It is used in consumption, poisoning, worms, thirst, blood disorders, and burning."
Unani: "Externally it is used as a refrigerant and sedative. Internally it is more powerfully refrigerant and gives cooling effect to the mind and provides strength to the mind."
Siddha: "It is an anti-maniac, anti-diabetic, and antiviral agent. It is used in chicken pox, measles, and small pox to relieve itching."
This business about it being sedating and easing a troubled mind is of note. Not least of which, Mary Magdalene kept relaxing ointments in her bag of tricks. You will recall that the disciples took issue with her spending money on such luxuries! Sandalwood, with its relaxing and soothing properties, was an oil Mary M. would have known.
The plant seems to have a particular affinity for the skin, especially if the skin is painful or itchy. This business of it being cooling, or having a cooling effect, makes it well suited for people with eczema and psoriasis. It may not make the condition go away, but it will help take the burning sensation away. This is particularly good for children who scratch themselves to the point of bleeding, only to relive the burning sensations. Some individuals are allergic to the oil and it is important to do a test patch before applying it to a large portion of the body!
The Indians do use the decoction made in water against hot burning agues, and the overmuch flowing of the menses, erysipelas, the gout, and all inflammations, especially if it be mixed with the juice of the nightshade, houseleeke, or purslane. The white saunders mixed with rose water, and the temples bathed therewith, easeth the paine of the megrim, and keepeth back the flowing of humors to the eies. Auicen affirmeth it to be good for all passions of the heart, and maketh it glad and merry, and therefore good to be put in collises, iellies, and all delicate meates which are made to strengthen and revive the spirits.
Sandalwood oil is an herbal tranquillizer. To use the oil to relax, massage it in, vaporize it in a candle in a darkened room, smell it, or put a few drops in a bath. Put some on a tissue and put the tissue under the nose. You can even put it in an inhaler and keep the inhaler in your pocket for moments when you feel stress coming on. It really quiets anxiety; it will stop an anxiety attack quite quickly. It is excellent in situations with performance anxiety like job interviews, drivers tests, and stage fright.