Cultivated aloes/agar wood

Agarwood, also known as oud, oodh, agar, aloeswood or lign-aloes, is a dark resinous heartwood that forms in Aquilaria and Gyrinops[1] trees (large evergreens native to southeast Asia) when they become infected with a type of mould. Prior to infection, the heartwood is odourless, relatively light and pale coloured; however, as the infection progresses, the tree produces a dark aromatic resin in response to the attack, which results in a very dense, dark, resin embedded heartwood. The resin embedded wood is commonly called gaharu, jinko, aloeswood, agarwood, or oud (not to be confused with bukhoor) and is valued in many cultures for its distinctive fragrance, and thus is used for incense and perfumes.

Uninfected Aquilaria wood lacking the dark resin.

One of the main reasons for the relative rarity and high cost of agarwood is the depletion of the wild resource.[2] Since 1995 Aquilaria malaccensis, the primary source, has been listed in Appendix II (potentially threatened species) by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.[3] In 2004 all Aquilaria species were listed in Appendix II; however, a number of countries have outstanding reservations regarding that listing.[3]

First-grade agarwood is one of the most expensive natural raw materials in the world, with 2010 prices for superior pure material as high as US$100,000/kg, although in practice adulteration of the wood and oil is common, allowing for prices as low as US$100/kg.[4] A whole range of qualities and products are on the market, varying in quality with geographical location, botanical species, the age of the specific tree, cultural deposition and the section of the tree where the piece of agarwood stems from.[5] Oud oil is distilled from agarwood, and fetches high prices depending on the oil's purity. The current global market for agarwood is estimated to be in the range of US$6 – 8 billion and is growing rapidly.[6]


The odour of agarwood is complex and pleasing,[7] with few or no similar natural analogues. In the perfume state, the scent is mainly distinguished by a combination of "oriental-woody" and "very soft fruity-floral" notes. The incense smoke is also characterized by a "sweet-balsamic" note and "shades of vanilla and musk" and amber (not to be confused with ambergris).[5] As a result, agarwood and its essential oil gained great cultural and religious significance in ancient civilizations around the world, being mentioned throughout one of the world's oldest written texts – the Sanskrit Vedas from India.

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 mentioned agarwood produced in the Rinan commandery, now Central Vietnam, and how people collected it in the mountains.

During the sixth century AD in Japan, in the recordings of the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan) the second oldest book of classical Japanese history, mention is made of a large piece of fragrant wood identified as agarwood. The source for this piece of wood is claimed to be from Pursat, Cambodia (based on the smell of the wood). The famous piece of wood still remains in Japan today and is showcased less than 10 times per century at the Nara National Museum.

Agarwood’s use as a medicinal product has been recorded in the Sahih Muslim, which dates back to approximately the eighth century, and in the Ayurvedic medicinal text the Susruta Samhita.[8]

Starting in 1580 after Nguyễn Hoàng 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 (kỳ nam in Vietnamese), trầm hương (very similar but slightly harder and slightly more abundant), and agarwood proper. A pound of Calambac bought in Hội An for 15 taels could be sold in Nagasaki for 600 taels. The Nguyễn Lords soon established a Royal Monopoly over the sale of Calambac. This monopoly helped fund the Nguyễn state finances during the early years of the Nguyen rule.[9]

Xuanzang's travelogues and the Harshacharita, written in seventh century AD 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 exists in Assam.


Aquilaria tree showing darker agarwood. Poachers had scraped off the bark to allow the tree to become infected by the ascomycetous mould.

Agarwood is known under many names in different cultures:


There are seventeen species in the genus Aquilaria and nine are known to produce agar wood.[23] 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.[2] A. crassna and A. sinensis are the other two members of the genus that are usually harvested.

Steam distillation process used to extract agarwood essential oils.

Formation of agar wood occurs in the trunk and roots of trees that have been penetrated by an wood and oily resin feeding bug. The insect belongs to the family of the Ambrosia beetle named Dinoplatypus Chevrolati (Gen. Sc. Prof. Stephan-Alexander Peter, Lembah Sari National Park Mt. Rinjani Lombok, Indonesia). A life long infection may occur and in response, the tree produces a salutary self defense material, to conceal damages or “infections. 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 color from a pale beige to yellow, orange red, dark brown or black. In natural forests only about 7 out of 100 Aquilaria trees of same specie are infected an produce agar/aloes wood. A common method in artificial forestry is to inoculate all the trees with the fungus. It produces a "damage sap" and is scientifically referred to as "fake" aloes/agar wood.[23] Oud oil can be distilled from real (minimal 45+ years of naturally (Dinoplatypus Chevrolati) fermenting due to its continuously infection)aloes/agar wood status using steam, the total yield of agar wood (Oud) oil for 70 kg of wood will not exceed 20 ml (Harris, 1995).


The composition of agarwood oil is exceedingly complex with more than 150 compounds identified so far.[4] At least 70 of these are terpenoids which come in the form of sesquiterpenes and chromones; no monoterpenes have been detected at all. Other common classes of compounds include agarofurans, cadinanes, eudesmanes, valencanes and eremophilanes, guaianes, prezizanes, vetispiranes, simple volatile aromatic compounds as well as a range of miscellaneous compounds.[4] The exact balance of these materials will vary depending on the age and species of tree as well as the exact details of the oil extraction process.

Aquilaria species that produce agarwood

The following species of Aquilaria produce agarwood:[23]

  • Aquilaria khasiana, found in Bangladesh and India.
  • Aquilaria apiculina, found in Philippines
  • Aquilaria acuminata, found in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia & Philippines
  • Aquilaria baillonil, found in Thailand and Cambodia
  • Aquilaria baneonsis, found in Vietnam
  • Aquilaria beccariana, found in Indonesia
  • Aquilaria brachyantha, found in Malaysia
  • Aquilaria crassna found in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam
  • Aquilaria cumingiana, found in Indonesia and Malaysia

Conservation of agarwood-producing species

Overharvesting and habitat loss threatens some populations of agarwood-producing species. Concern over the impact of the global demand for agarwood has thus led to the inclusion of the main taxa on CITES Appendix II, which requires that international trade in agarwood be monitored. Monitoring is conducted by London based TRAFFIC (a joint WWF and IUCN programme). CITES also provides that international trade in agarwood be subject to controls designed to ensure that harvest and exports are not to the detriment of the survival of the species in the wild.

In addition, agarwood plantations have been established in a number of countries, and reintroduced into countries such as Malaysia and Sri Lanka as commercial plantation crops. The success of these plantation depends on the stimulation of agarwood production in the trees. Numerous inoculation techniques have been developed, with varying degrees of success.[23]

See also


  1. The genus Gyrinops, is closely related to Aquilaria and in the past all species were considered to belong to Aquilaria. Blanchette, Robert A. (2006) "Cultivated Agarwood – Training programs and Research in Papua New Guinea", Forest Pathology and Wood Microbiology Research Laboratory, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Minnesota
  2. 1 2 Broad, S. (1995) "Agarwood harvesting in Vietnam" TRAFFIC Bulletin 15:96
  3. 1 2 CITES (25 April 2005) "Notification to the Parties" No. 2005/0025. (PDF) . Retrieved on 2013-07-22.
  4. 1 2 3 Naef, Regula (March 2011). "The volatile and semi-volatile constituents of agarwood, the infected heartwood of Aquilaria species: a review". Flavour and Fragrance Journal. 26 (2): 73–87. doi:10.1002/ffj.2034.
  5. 1 2 Dinah Jung, The Value of Agarwood: Reflections upon its use and history in South Yemen, Universitätsbibliothel, Universität Heidelberg, 30 May 2011, (PDF) p. 4.
  6. International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences, ISSN 2305-0330, Volume 2, Issue 1: January 2013)
  7. International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences, ISSN 2305-0330, Volume 2, Issue 1: January 2013)
  8. "Publications: Forestry". Traffic. 2006-11-17. Retrieved 2014-01-22.
  9. Li, Tana (1998) Nguyễn Cochinchina: southern Vietnam in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Southeast Asia Program Publications, Ithaca, New York, p. 79, ISBN 0-87727-722-2
  10. Pusey, Edward Bouverie (1885) Daniel the Prophet: Nine Lectures, Delivered in the Divinity School of the University of Oxford Funk & Wagnalls, New York, p. 515, OCLC 5577227
  11. "Aguru" Archived 7 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine. in Sanskrit Dictionary from Bhaktivedanta VedaBase Network
  12. Thứ Hai (9 April 2006) "kỳ nam và trầm hương" Tuổi Trẻ Online. Retrieved on 2013-07-22.
  13. Morita, Kiyoko (1999). The Book of Incense: Enjoying the Traditional Art of Japanese Scents. Kodansha USA. ISBN 4770023898.
  14. Burfield, Tony (2005) "Agarwood Trading" Archived 1 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine. The Cropwatch Files, Cropwatch
  15. Branch, Nathan (30 May 2009) "Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Oude Arabique (extrait)" (fashion and fragrance reviews)
  16. 1 2 3 Yule, Henry and Burnell, Arther Coke (1903) "Eaglewood" Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive (2nd edition) John Murray, London, p. 335, OCLC 33186146
  17. Parfionovitch, Yuri; Dorje, Gyurme and Meyer, Fernand (1992) Tibetan medical paintings: illustrations to the Blue beryl treatise of Sangye Gyamtso (1653–1705) (English edition of Tibetan text & paintings) (2 volumes) Serindia, London, ISBN 0-906026-26-1
  18. Aromatics, an encyclopedia. 2010. Please note: due to the method of assigning names to medicinal botanicals used in Tibet, it must be considered that woods with similar medicinal properties are named as varieties of the same medicine, and not according to anything akin to the nomenclature of Western botany. Tibetan botanical taxonomy is still in the earliest stage: "white aloeswood" actually refers to the non-aromatic portions of the Indian sandalwood tree; "yellow aloeswood" refers to the scented heartwood of Santalum album. Unique aloeswood is the highest grade of Aquilaria agallocha resin, known in English as Agallochum, while "black aloeswood" is the resin infused wood of the same tree; "brown aloeswood" is actually the scented wood of several Dalbergia species from India and Bhutan.
  19. Panda, H. (1 January 2009). Aromatic Plants Cultivation, Processing And Uses. National Institute Of Industrial Re. p. 182. ISBN 978-81-7833-057-0. Retrieved 8 October 2010.
  21. "สํา นัก คุ??ม ครองภูม ิป ??ญ ญาฯ", page 1 (๑), in Thai
  22. Hkum, Seng Hkum N and Maodee, M. (July 2005) "Marketing and Domestication of NTFPs in North Phonsali Three Districts" NPADP Presentation, NTFP MIS Workshop Luangprabang, North Phongsali Alternative Development Project, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
  23. 1 2 3 4 Ng, L.T.; Chang Y.S.; Kadir, A.A. (1997). "A review on agar (gaharu) producing Aquilaria species". Journal of Tropical Forest Products. 2 (2): 272–285.
  24. Aquilaria filaria information from NPGS/GRIN. Retrieved on 2013-07-22.
  25. Aquilaria hirta information from NPGS/GRIN. Retrieved on 2013-07-22.

Further reading

Snelder, Denyse J.; Lasco, Rodel D. (29 September 2008). Smallholder Tree Growing for Rural Development and Environmental Services: Lessons from Asia. シュプリンガー・ジャパン株式会社. p. 248 ff. ISBN 978-1-4020-8260-3. Retrieved 8 October 2010. 

Jung, Dr. Dinah (1 January 2013). The cultural biography of agarwood (PDF). University of Heidelberg: HeiDOK: Journal article: JRAS. pp. 103–125. Retrieved 30 October 2016. 

External links

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