Agarwood, known as ‘Wood of the Gods’, is a fragrant resinous wood and the secret agent behind most of the expensive perfumes in the world . Not only in perfumes, the pleasant smell emanating from the burning incense sticks is the fragrance of one of the most expensive woods in the world.
Being extremely rare, the price of agarwood is estimated to be around Rs 5 lakh to 6 lakh per kg in India. The market price may be even higher at international level.
The wood is formed in the species of Aquilaria trees. When the trunk of the tree is infected by an insect known as Ambrosia beetle, it forms a type of mould. To protect itself from the infection to be spread further , the tree produces a dark aromatic resin. Agarwood oil is extracted only from those trees that have been infected with mould and saturated by resin. However, the resin is said to occur in only around 3 per cent of Aquilaria trees due to which agarwood is very expensive.
There are about 15 species of Aquilaria trees in the world. However, agarwood is formed mostly in the tree known as Aquilaria malaccensis. Aquilaria trees are found mostly in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia.
Agarwood oil is most commonly extracted by water distillation and steam distillation process. The quality of the oil is much better when the agarwood is old.
For the water distillation process , agarwood pieces are first soaked in water for one or two months. The water is then boiled in huge boilers. The steam containing the aromatic plant molecules is captured and then condensed . When the condensed material cools down , the oil is separated from it.
For the steam distillation process, the wood is placed in a boiler and steam is passed through it. The steam open the pores which causes the release of the aromatic molecules. The vapors carrying these molecules travel within a closed system towards a cooling device. Cold water is used to cool the vapor. As the vapor cools, it condenses and is transformed into a liquid state. As it becomes a liquid, the water and the oil gets separated.
Besides its extensive use in expensive perfumes, agarwood oil also has many medical uses. It is useful for nervous disorders, rheumatism, general pains , nausea, cold etc. Agarwood oil is also used for giving aromatherapy massages as it soothes and calms the human mind and body.
The agarwood industry of India is mainly concentrated in Assam as more than a lakh persons are engaged in growing agarwood or in production of agarwood oil.
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