Agarwood’s Long History
Agarwood has been treasured for thousands of years by cultures around the world for its one-of-a-kind, complex fragrance. Like sandalwood, agarwood is a fragrant wood which retains its pleasing aromatic qualities. It’s also similar to sandalwood in that it’s been used to create incense, essential oils, and perfumes since ancient times. China, Vietnam, India, New Guinea, parts of Europe and many other places have long cherished or even revered agarwood for its various qualities. Relative scarcity and the potential for overharvesting have endangered the future of this precious wood, but the introduction of cultivated agarwood chips to the market is helping to protect it.
Agarwood In The Wild
Agarwood and sandalwood share another characteristic: both are found in multiple tree species. Unlike sandalwood, however, finding a tree that produces agarwood relies upon more than simply knowing which species to choose. That’s because agarwood is actually formed due to a special reaction between the tree and a mold which grows inside of it. Harvesting prized agarwood chips from wild sources has always posed a challenge.
In order to procure agarwood chips or the essential oils produced by agarwood, the harvester must first find trees known to be able to produce it. Then, they must ensure that the trees have already been exposed to the mold which results in the production of the rich, dark resin that makes agarwood unique. Even once this is identified, the entire tree isn’t composed of agarwood; only the heartwood. The demand for agarwood has always outstripped the supply, but with modern harvesting technology, it became easier to overharvest wild sources of agarwood.
Because of their special significance to many cultures and its unique fragrance profile, agarwood chips are still in great demand today. However, continuing to harvest agarwood from wild sources is problematic. First, wild sources could not come close to meeting the demand for this much beloved scent. Second, overharvesting could endanger the future supply of agarwood. The common sense solution to this problem is cultivated agarwood. Cultivated agarwood is produced by the same species of trees as agarwood found in the wild, but it’s carefully propogated and harvesting is responsibly scheduled in order that these agarwood resources may be renewed.
The Future of Agarwood
Wild trees which produce agarwood chips are now under legal protection in many locales in order to prevent their extinction, while cultivated agarwood chips have grown in popularity.