Agarwood, also known as oud, oodh or agar, is a dark resinous heartwood that forms in Aquilaria and Gyrinops trees (large evergreens native to southeast Asia) when they become infected with a type of mold. Prior to infection, the heartwood is relatively light and pale coloured; however, as the infection progresses, the tree produces a dark aromatic resin in response to the attack, which results
in a very dense, dark, resin embedded heartwood. The resin embedded wood is commonly called gaharu, jinko, aloeswood, agarwood, or oud (not to be confused with 'Bakhoor') and is valued in many cultures for its distinctive fragrance, and thus is used for incense and perfumes.
One of the main reasons for the relative rarity and high cost of agarwood is the depletion of the wild resource. Since 1995 Aquilaria malaccensis, the primary source, has been listed in Appendix II (potentially threatened species) by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. In 2004 all Aquilaria species were listed in Appendix II; however, a number
of countries have outstanding reservations regarding that listing.
The odour of agarwood is complex and pleasing, with few or no similar natural analogues. As a result, agarwood and its essential oil gained great cultural and religious significance in ancient civilizations around the world, being mentioned throughout one of the world's oldest written texts – the Sanskrit Vedas from India.
As early as the third century AD in ancient China, 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.
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.
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.
Agarwood is known under many names in different cultures:
In Urdu (Pakistan), it is known as agar(in Bengali, also aguru).
It is known by the same Sanskrit name in Telugu and Kannada as Aguru.
It is known as chénxiāng (沉香) in Chinese, "Cham Heong" in Cantonese, trầm hương in Vietnamese, and jinkō (沈香) in Japanese; all meaning "sinking incense" and alluding to its high density. In Japan, there are several grades of jinkō, the highest of which is known as kyara (伽羅).
Both agarwood and its resin distillate/extracts are known as oud (عود) in Arabic (literally "rod/stick") and used to describe agarwood in nations and areas in Arabic countries. Western perfumers may also use agarwood essential oil under the name "oud" or "oude".
In Europe it was referred to as Lignum aquila (eagle-wood) or Agilawood, because of the similarity in sound of agila to gaharu.[
Another name is Lignum aloes or Aloeswood. This is potentially confusing, since a genus Aloe exists (unrelated), which has medicinal uses.
In Tibetan it is known as (a-ga-ru). There are several varieties used in Tibetan Medicine: unique eaglewood: (ar-ba-zhig); yellow eaglewood: (a-ga-ru ser-po), white eaglewood: (ar-skya), and black eaglewood: (ar-nag).
In Assamese it is called as "sasi" or "sashi".
The Indonesian and Malay name is "gaharu".
In Papua New Guinea it is called "ghara" or eaglewood.
In Thai language it is known as "Mai Kritsana"
In Tamil it is called "akil" though what was referred in ancient Tamil literature could well be Excoecaria agallocha.
In Laos it is known as "Mai Ketsana".
There are fifteen species in the genus Aquilaria and eight are known to produce agarwood. In theory agarwood can be produced from all members; however, until recently it was primarily produced from A. malaccensis. A. agallocha and A. secundaria are synonyms for A. malaccensis. A. crassna and A. sinensis are the other two members of the genus that are usually harvested.
Formation of agarwood occurs in the trunk and roots of trees that have been infected by a parasitc ascomycetous mould, Phaeoacremonium parasitica, a dematiaceous (dark-walled) fungus. As a response, the tree produces a resin high in volatile organic compounds that aids in suppressing or retarding the fungal growth, a process called tylosis. 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 dark brown or black. In natural forest only about 7% of the trees are infected by the fungus. A common method in artificial forestry is to inoculate all the trees with the fungus.
Aquilaria species that produce agarwood
The following species of Aquilaria produce agarwood:
Aquilaria khasiana, found in Pakistan & India.
Aquilaria apiculina, found in Philippines
Aquilaria acuminata, found in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia & Philippines
Aquilaria baillonil, found in Thailand and Cambodia
Aquilaria baneonsis, found in Vietnam
Aquilaria beccariana, found in Indonesia
Aquilaria brachyantha, found in Malaysia
Aquilaria crassna found in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam
Aquilaria cumingiana, found in Indonesia and Malaysia
Aquilaria filaria, found in New Guinea, the Moluccas, and Mindanao (Philippines)
Aquilaria grandiflora, found in China
Aquilaria hirta, found in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia
Aquilaria malaccensis, found in Malaysia, Thailand, and India
Aquilaria microcapa, found in Indonesia and Malaysia
Aquilaria rostrata, found in Malaysia
Aquilaria sinensis, found in China
Aquilaria subintegra, found in Thailand
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 is subject to controls designed to ensure that harvest and exports are not to the detriment of the survival of the species in
In addition, agarwood plantations have been established in a number of countries. The success of these plantation depends on the stimulation of agarwood production in the trees. Numerous inoculation techniques have been developed, with varying degrees of success.