The “Wood of the Gods” has been traded and highly coveted for thousands of years. The resinous wood is used as incense, for medicinal purposes, and pure resin in distilled form is used as an essential oil as well as a perfume component. Outside its native countries, it is most widely known in the Middle East, China, Taiwan, and Japan. A strong connection exists between use, religion, and curative properties, and elaborate traditional and religious ceremonies are known around the world. Faith healers in the Middle East use it at curative ceremonies, Japanese pilgrims donate flowers and agarwood oil to Shinto-Buddhist temples, and Vietnamese religious groups are obliged to bring agarwood to ceremonies at their temples in Mekong Delta communities.
Agar wood is the rare and famous, resin-containing heartwood that is produced mainly from old and diseased trees of several members of this genus. In trade a distinction between the wood from these species is rarely made. The fragrance produced by the burning agar wood has been highly valued for thousands of years, and its use as incense for ceremonial purposes in Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism is widespread throughout eastern and southern Asia.
In Thailand it is put into funeral pyres, while in Japan, the incense is used in tea ceremonies. Wood only partly saturated with resin but still fragrant, and occasionally also the wood remaining after distillation, is made into sticks called ‘joss-sticks’ or ‘agarbattis’ which are burnt as incense. The incense is also used as an insect repellent. Agar-wood oil is an essential oil obtained by water and steam distillation of agar wood. It is used in luxury perfumery for application in e.g. Oriental and woody-aldehydic bases, chypres and fougeres
It produces interesting odour notes with clove oil, e.g. In carnation bases. The oil is so rare and expensive that it is only produced on request. Agarwood oil is a yellow to dark amber, viscous liquid with a characteristic balsamic and woody odour. Its aroma has some resemblance with vetiverol or styrax and has a sweetness similar to that of sandalwood oil.
Its odour is long-lasting and exhibits a good tenacity in applications. The silvery inner bark can be removed from the trunk in a single large sheet. It is highly valued for its strength and durability and is made into cloth and ropes. It is also made into writing material which was formerly only used for chronicles of important events and religious books. The timber of undiseased trees, known as karas, is soft and very light with a density of about 400 kg/m3 air dry.
It is creamy white to pale yellowish-brown or greyish-brown, heartwood and sapwood not clearly differentiated. The texture is rather coarse and the wood diffuse-porous. It is suitable for making boxes, light indoor construction and veneer. The scented wood differs from the normal wood due mainly to deposition of an aromatic resin. The resin is concentrated in the included phloem strands. Because of the resin content the scented wood is relatively hard, brittle and heavy.