By Tim Blakley, Aura Cacia aromatherapist/educator
I recently attended the International Sandalwood Synopsis in Honolulu to discuss the future of one of my favorite oils – sandalwood. This was the first conference on sandalwood in over 20 years.
The story behind the conference began about 18 months ago, when someone approached me at a trade show with a bottle of sandalwood essential oil made from Hawaiian sandalwood. I was a bit surprised, as Hawaii has a brutal history regarding sandalwood (massive exploitation between 1810 and 1830 resulted in a near elimination of the species in all but the most remote parts of the islands), and I had no idea anyone was harvesting it today. With the supplier’s permission, I visited the land where the wood was being harvested.
I quickly realized that the private land I was visiting was not producing sandalwood sustainably. There were no trees under 30 years of age, as wild cattle (yes, there are wild cattle in Hawaii, once domestic) and sheep were eating every single seedling. Along with that, the overall population of mature trees was not significant, and trees in the surrounding area were being harvested at a rapid rate and sold as logs to companies in China, Sri Lanka and Australia.
I’m on the board of directors of United Plant Savers, so I introduced a discussion of the plant at our next meeting. We have a scientific tool that helps us determine the degree to which a plant is at risk, based on a score of 0-100 (lowest to highest risk). Plants that are well known to be over-harvested in the wild and have a fair degree of popularity, like ginseng, score in the low 60s. No plant had ever scored in the 70s until I ran the Hawaiian sandalwood – it scored 82.
That led to United Plant Savers co-sponsoring along with Aura Cacia the International Sandalwood Synopsis, where we discussed the many challenges facing sandalwood production around the world. In the mid-2000s, Aura Cacia began sustainably sourcing our sandalwood essential oil from Australia. Currently, about 60 percent of the world supply of sandalwood is coming from western Australia. Experts generally agree that the wild harvest and massive planting of sandalwood plantations in Australia has saved the industry, and they are doing a fairly good job of protecting their wild supply.
Sandalwood poaching will diminish wild populations in nearly every producing country over the next five years and some of these countries will never recover from it. Most likely, Australia will be producing 80 to 90 percent of all the sandalwood oil in the world in 10 years or so.
As for the Hawaiian sandalwood, the goal of United Plant Savers is to encourage the state to do an assessment of the amount of sandalwood presently in Hawaii. Once this is determined, then a plan can be put forth to decide if there can be a sustainable harvest and how much that would be.
Sandalwood is an amazing essential oil with a range of benefits – and I’m optimistic that the sandalwood community can continue to work together to protect this plant. In the meantime, Aura Cacia will continue to source our sandalwood from the Australian suppliers who we know and trust because we’ve seen their harvesting methods firsthand. To learn more about our sandalwood visit www.auracacia.com/auracacia/about/sustainability.