Agarwood

Aqualaria crassna (Thymelaeaceae)

Characteristics

There are 17 species in the genus Aquilaria, large evergreen trees, and nine are known to produce agar wood. Aquilaria crassna is one source of agar wood, a resinous heartwood, used for perfume and incense. The resin is produced by the tree as an immune reaction in response to infection by mould. Prior to infection, the heartwood is odorless, relatively light and pale colored. As the infection progresses, the tree produces the dark aromatic resin, called agar (not to be confused with the edible, algae-derived agar), which results in a very dense, dark, resin-embedded heartwood.

Distribution

Native to Southeast Asia and New Guinea. Cultivated in plantations in some tropical regions.

Natural Medical Properties

Agar wood is an astringent, stimulant, tonic herb that relieves spasms, especially of the digestive and respiratory systems, and lowers fevers.

In Western, Chinese and Indian medicines the incense is used against cancer, especially of the thyroid gland. In China it is applied as a sedative against abdominal complaints, asthma, colic and diarrhoea, and as an aphrodisiac and carminative.

The grated wood enters into various preparations used especially during and after childbirth, and to treat rheumatism, smallpox and abdominal pains. Decoctions of the wood are said to have anti-microbial properties, e.g. Against Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Shigella flexneri.

Did you know?

First grade agarwood is one of the most expensive natural raw materials in the world, with prices for superior pure material as high as US$ 100’000 per kg. The current global market for agarwood is growing rapidly.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species