Cultivated aloes/agar wood

Agarwood, aloeswood, eaglewood, gharuwood or the Wood of Gods, most commonly referred to as oud or oudh (from Arabic: عود, romanizedʿūd, pronounced [ʕuːd]), is a fragrant, dark and resinous wood used in incense, perfume, and small hand carvings. It forms in the heartwood of Aquilaria trees after they become infected with a type of Phaeoacremonium mold, P. parasitica. The tree defensively secretes a resin to combat the fungal infestation. Prior to becoming infected, the heartwood mostly lacks scent, and is relatively light and pale in colouration. However, as the infection advances and the tree produces its fragrant resin as a final option of defense, the heartwood becomes very dense, dark, and saturated with resin. This product is harvested, and most famously referred to in cosmetics under the scent names of oud, oodh or aguru; however, it is also called aloes (not to be confused with the succulent plant genus Aloe), agar (this name, as well, is not to be confused with the edible, algae-derived thickening agent agar agar), as well as gaharu or jinko. With thousands of years of known use, and valued across Muslim, Christian, and Hindu communities (among other religious groups), oud is prized in Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures for its distinctive fragrance, utilized in colognes, 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.[1] Since 1995, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has listed Aquilaria malaccensis (the primary source) in its Appendix II (potentially threatened species).[2] In 2004, all Aquilaria species were listed in Appendix II; however, a number of countries have outstanding reservations regarding that listing.[2]

The varying aromatic qualities of agarwood are influenced by the species, geographic location, its branch, trunk and root origin, length of time since infection, and methods of harvesting and processing.[3]

Agarwood is one of the most expensive woods in the world, along with African blackwood, sandalwood, pink ivory and ebony.[4][5] First-grade agarwood is one of the most expensive natural raw materials in the world,[6] 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.[7] A wide range of qualities and products come to 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.[8] As of 2013 the global market for agarwood had an estimated value of US$6 to 8 billion and was growing rapidly.[9]



The word ultimately comes from one of the Dravidian languages,[10][11] probably from Tamil அகில் (agil).[12]

Vernacular names

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:


The odour of agarwood is complex and pleasing,[26] 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 characterised by a "sweet-balsamic" note and "shades of vanilla and musk" and amber (not to be confused with ambergris).[8] As a result, agarwood and its essential oil gained great cultural and religious significance in ancient civilizations around the world, being described as a fragrant product as early as 1400 BCE in the Vedas of India.[27]

In the Hebrew Bible, "trees of lign aloes" are mentioned in The Book of Numbers 24:6[28] and a perfume compounded of aloeswood, myrrh, and cassia is described in Psalms 45.[29]

Dioscorides in his book Materia Medica (65 CE) described several medical qualities of agarwood (Áγαλλοχου) and mentioned its use as an incense. Even though Dioscorides describes agarwood as having an astringent and bitter taste, it was used to freshen the breath when chewed or as a decoction held in the mouth. He also writes that a root extract was used to treat stomach complaints and dysentery as well as pains of the lungs and liver.[3] Agarwood's use as a medicinal product was also recorded in the Sahih Muslim, which dates back to approximately the ninth century, and in the Ayurvedic medicinal text the Susruta Samhita.[30]

As early as the third century CE in ancient Viet Nam, 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.

Antique agarwood beads with inlaid gold, late Qing dynasty, China. Adilnor Collection, Sweden.

During the sixth century CE 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 is highly revered in Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese Folk Religion and Islam.[3][31]

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.[32] Accounts of international trade in agarwood date back as early as the thirteenth century, note India being one of the earliest sources of agarwood for foreign markets.[33]

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.

It is to this day still used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine where it goes by the name of Chén Xiāng - 沉香 - Literally meaning 'sinking fragrance'. Its earliest recorded mention is from the Miscellaneous Records of Famous Physicians, 名医别录 , Ming Yi Bie Lu, ascribed to the author Táo Hǒng-Jǐng c.420-589.[34]


Production mode

There are seventeen species in the genus Aquilaria, large evergreens native to southeast Asia and south asia, of which nine are known to produce agar wood.[35] Agarwood can in theory be produced from all members, but until recently it was primarily produced from A. malaccensis (A. agallocha and A. secundaria are synonyms for A. malaccensis).[1] A. crassna and A. sinensis are the other two members of the genus that are commonly harvested. The gyrinops tree can also produce agarwood.[36]

Steam distillation process used to extract agarwood essential oils

Agar wood forms in the trunk and roots of trees that have been penetrated by an Ambrosia beetle insect feeding on wood and oily resin, Dinoplatypus chevrolati. The tree may then be infected by a mould, and in response will produces a salutary self-defence 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 colour from a pale beige to yellow, orange, red, dark brown or black. In natural forests, only about 7 out of 100 Aquilaria trees of the same species are infected and produce aloes/agar wood. A common method in planted forestry is to inoculate trees with the fungus. It produces a "damage sap" and is referred to as "fake" aloes/agar wood.[35]

Oud oil can be distilled from agar wood using steam; the total yield of oil for 70 kg of wood will not exceed 20 ml.[37][full citation needed]


The composition of agarwood oil is exceedingly complex with more than 150 chemical compounds identified.[7] 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.[7] 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.


Oud has become a popular component in perfumery. Most brands have a creation based on or dedicated to "oud" or an accord of oud created through the use of certain chemical scent components. Few perfume houses use real oud in their creations. This is because oud is very expensive and potent. Oud is generally used as a base note and is traditionally paired with rose. Oud essential oil is available on the internet but care should be taken in choosing the vendor. Due to the fact that oud is such an expensive material there is a big market for diluting oud oil with patchouli or other chemical components.

Oud scent is popular in the Middle East, the Arab world, and in Arab culture, where it is used as a traditional aromatic and perfume in many forms. Oud is also one of the reasons why the Arab region developed trade routes in ancient times. Popular amongst Muslims, it has been traditionally used in Mosques where the incense chips are burned.[38]

Aquilaria species that produce agarwood

The following species of Aquilaria produce agarwood:[35]

* Sri Lankan agarwood is known as Walla Patta and is of the Gyrinops walla species.

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 Cambridge-based TRAFFIC (a joint WWF and IUCN programme).[41] 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.[42]

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.[41] The success of these plantations depends on the stimulation of agarwood production in the trees. Numerous inoculation techniques have been developed, with varying degrees of success.[35]

See also


  1. ^ a b Broad, S. (1995) "Agarwood harvesting in Vietnam" TRAFFIC Bulletin 15:96
  2. ^ a b CITES (25 April 2005) "Notification to the Parties" No. 2005/0025 Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine. (PDF) . Retrieved on 22 July 2013.
  3. ^ a b c López-Sampson, Arlene; Page, Tony (20 March 2018). "History of Use and Trade of Agarwood" (PDF). Economic Botany. 72: 107–129. doi:10.1007/s12231-018-9408-4. ISSN 0013-0001. S2CID 49875414.
  4. ^ "Top 10 Most Expensive Woods in the World". Salpoente Boutique. 18 November 2016. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  5. ^ "11 Most Expensive Woods in the World". Ventured. 22 July 2020. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  6. ^ Andy Ash (27 August 2020). "First-grade agarwood can cost as much as $100,000 per kilogram. Why is it so expensive?". Business Insider. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  7. ^ a b c Naef, Regula (March 2010). "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.
  8. ^ a b Dinah Jung, The Value of Agarwood: Reflections upon its use and history in South Yemen, Universitätsbibliothel, Universität Heidelberg, 30 May 2011, (PDF) p. 4.
  9. ^ International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences, Archived 16 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine ISSN 2305-0330, Volume 2, Issue 1: January 2013)
  10. ^ Burrow, T., and M. B. Emeneau (1984). A Dravidian etymological dictionary (2 ed.). Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. p. 4. Ta. akil (in cpds. akiṛ-) eagle-wood, Aquilaria agallocha; the drug agar obtained from the tree; akku eagle-wood. Ma. akil aloe wood, A. agallocha. Ka. agil the balsam tree which yields bdellium, Amyris agallocha; the dark species of Agallochum; fragrance. Tu. agilů a kind of tree; kari agilů Agallochum. / Cf. Skt. aguru-, agaru-; Pali akalu, akaḷu, agaru, agalu, agaḷu; Turner, CDIAL, no. 49. DED 14.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Turner, R. L. (Ralph Lilley), Sir (1962–66). A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan Languages. London: Oxford University Press. p. 3. agaru m.n. ʻ fragrant Aloe -- tree and wood, Aquilaria agallocha ʼ lex., aguru -- R. [← Drav. Mayrhofer EWA i 17 with lit.] Pa. agalu -- , aggalu -- m., akalu -- m. ʻ a partic. ointment ʼ; Pk. agaru -- , agaluya -- , agaru(a) -- m.n. ʻ Aloe -- tree and wood ʼ; K. agara -- kāth ʻ sandal -- wood ʼ; S. agaru m. ʻ aloe ʼ, P. N. agar m., A. B. agaru, Or. agarū, H. agar, agur m.; G. agar, agru n. ʻ aloe or sandal -- wood ʼ; M. agar m.n. ʻ aloe ʼ, Si. ayal (agil ← Tam. akil).((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Shulman, David (2016). Tamil: A biography. Harvard University Press. pp. 19–20. We have ahalim [in Hebrew], probably derived directly from Tamil akil rather than from Sanskrit aguru, itself a loan from the Tamil (Numbers 24.8; Proverbs 7.17; Song of Songs 4.14; Psalms 45.9--the latter two instances with the feminine plural form ahalot. Akil is, we think, native to South India, and it is thus not surprising that the word was borrowed by cultures that imported this plant.
  13. ^ Palmer, A. Smythe (1882) Folk Etymology
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ "Aguru" Archived 7 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine in Sanskrit Dictionary from Bhaktivedanta VedaBase Network
  17. ^ Morita, Kiyoko (1999). The Book of Incense: Enjoying the Traditional Art of Japanese Scents. Kodansha USA. ISBN 978-4770023896.
  18. ^ Thứ Hai (9 April 2006) "kỳ nam và trầm hương" Tuổi Trẻ Online Archived 15 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 22 July 2013.
  19. ^ Persoon, G.A. "Agarwood: the life of a wounded tree". IIAS Newsletter. 45 (2007). IIAS, Leiden: 24–25.
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ 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 the scented wood of several Dalbergia species from India and Bhutan.((cite book)): CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  22. ^ Burfield, Tony (2005) "Agarwood Trading" Archived 1 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine The Cropwatch Files, Cropwatch
  23. ^ Branch, Nathan (30 May 2009) "Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Oude Arabique (extrait)" Archived 6 September 2012 at (fashion and fragrance reviews)
  24. ^ "สำนักคุ้มครองภูมิปัญญาฯ" Archived 25 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine, page 1 (๑), in Thai
  25. ^ 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
  26. ^ International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences, ISSN 2305-0330, Volume 2, Issue 1: January 2013)
  27. ^ López-Sampson, Arlene; Page, Tony (1 March 2018). "History of Use and Trade of Agarwood". Economic Botany. 72 (1): 107–129. doi:10.1007/s12231-018-9408-4. ISSN 1874-9364. S2CID 255560778.
  28. ^ Numbers 24:6, KJV
  29. ^ Psalms 45: "All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad."
  30. ^ Barden, Angela; Anak, Noorainie Awang; Mulliken, Teresa; Song, Michael (2000). Heart of the Matter: Agarwood Use and Trade and CITES Implementation for Aquilaria malaccensis (PDF). Cambridge, England: Traffic International. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-85850-177-2. Archived (PDF) from the original on 23 November 2008.
  31. ^ Furlong, Monica (1986). Zen Effects: the Life of Alan Watts. Houghton Mifflin. p. 196. OCLC 13821191. ISBN 9780395353448.
  32. ^ 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
  33. ^ Ghosh, Sahana (25 October 2018). "Facing extinction, India's scented agarwood is finding ways to grow in home gardens, polluted fields".
  34. ^ Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica Revised Edition by Dan Bensky (Author), Andrew Gamble (Compiler), ISBN 0939616157
  35. ^ a b c d 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.
  36. ^ 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
  37. ^ Harris, 1995
  38. ^ "The history and meaning of oud in the Middle East". 11 November 2021.
  39. ^ "Aquilaria filaria". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 22 July 2013.
  40. ^ "Aquilaria hirta". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 22 July 2013.
  41. ^ a b Lim, Teckwyn; Awang Anak, Noorainie (2010). Wood for the Trees: A review of the agarwood (gaharu) trade in Malaysia (PDF). Petaling Jaya: TRAFFIC Southeast Asia. p. 108.
  42. ^ Thompson, I. D.; Lim, T.; Turjaman, M. (2022). Expensive, Exploited and Endangered, A review of the agarwood-producing genera Aquilaria and Gyrinops: CITES considerations, trade patterns, conservation, and management (PDF). Yokohama, Japan: International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).

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.