Saturday, June 1, 2013

Gaharu – Black Gold of the Forest

Gaharu also known as agarwood, aloeswood or eaglewood is the resinous, fragrant and highly valuable heartwood produced by the Aquilaria tree which has been widely used by the aromatic industry.

When the trees were infected with mold, it begins to produce an aromatic resin in response to this attack. As the infection grows, it results in a very rich, dark resin within the heartwood. The resin is commonly called gaharu, jinko, aloeswood, agarwood, pokok karas or oud and is valued in many cultures for its distinctive fragrance, and thus is used for incense and perfumes.

Aquilaria spp. tree is an evergreen angiosperm of the family Thymelaeaceae (Ng. et al., 1997).  The mature tree could grow up to 40 meter high and 60 centimeter in diameter with moderately straight stem.  It bears white flowers that are sweetly scented.  A total of about fifteen (15) species of Aquilaria have been reported and have significant commercial value. These species include Aquilaria malaccensis, A. agallocha, A. baillonii,  A. crassna, A. hirta, A. rostrata, A. beccariana, A. cummingiana, A. falaria, A. khasiana, A. microcarpa, A. grandiflora, A. chinensis or A. sinensis. A. boneensis, and A. bancana.  

Aquilaria species, generally,   have smooth, thin, pale, gray bark with dense, dark foliage of shiny elliptical to oblong leaves with average leaves size of  7.5 – 12 cm long and  2.5-5.5 cm wide  (Ding Hou,  1960).   A shade-tolerant tree,  Aquilaria is an understory tree of mature evergreen and semi-evergreen forest occurring at low to medium altitudes,  generally up to 1000 m above sea level depending on the type of  species.  All these Aquilaria species are significantly important for gaharu industries.

In the market,  gaharu  is the trade name generally refers to   “fragrant wood” or “scented wood”  or “aromatic resinous wood”  source from  Aquilaria spp. timber tree.   This fragrant wood has several other common names,  such  as “agarwood, eaglewood or aloeswood” (English), “agor” (Bangladesh), “akyaw” (Myanmar), “calambour” (French), “adlerholz” (Germany), “kalambak, calambac or tengkaras” (Kalimantan, Sabah and Sarawak), “kikaras” (Sundanese), “alim, halim or karek” (Sumatra), “agaru or sasi” (India), “kanankoh” (Vietnam) and “Ch’Ing Kui Hsiang, Ch’En Hsiang, Chan Hsiang, Chi Ku Hsiang or  Huang Shu Hsiang (China). 

Gaharu served as raw material for the production of many aromatic medicinal products, such stimulant, tonic and carminative medicine.  The essential oil extracted from the wood served as constituent of medicines for palpitation of the heart and other ills (Burkill, 1966).  For an example, in Japan, the “scented wood” has also long been used as incenses for stomachache remedy and sedatives of the Oriental medicine as well as used to anoint the dead (Okugawa et al., 1993).   In India, the essential oil extracted from the “scented wood” has been used in the production of perfume and other new products such as gaharu essence, soap and shampoo (Chakrabarty et al., 1994).  In Malaysia, Gaharu continue to be highly demanded by the cosmetic and manufacturing industries.

For more than 200 years, Gaharu has been traded across Europe and Asia. The main consumers are from the Middle East and China (Burkill 1935).  In the Middle East, particularly the Arab, gaharu are largely used as incense in religious ceremonies or spiritual rituals.

Currently the demand for gaharu is high and large quantities are traded in domestic and international market. Internationally, gaharu are widely traded to the Middle East, China, Taiwan and Japan in the form of solid wood to be used as incense for traditional and religious ceremonies, medicinal purposes, and in distilled pure resin form for perfume and perfume component. The traded price ranges from low to extremely high depending on the values and qualities of the gaharu produced.  

Annual Gaharu exports from Malaysia amounted to RM72mil a year. In Peninsular Malaysia, approximately 0.5 million kg of gaharu was exported from 1998 to 2003 which contributed an estimated amount of RM36 million to the national economy. 

Agarwood trees are able to be harvested after 7 years of planting. Inoculation process can be applied when the tree is 5 years old and it can produced excellent Agarwood continuously over the 2 years.

Gaharu can be produced through conventional and non-conventional methods. Conventionally, gaharu is produced by wounding the Aquilaria tree involving slashing with parang or knife in order for the trees to be infected and begin to produce aromatic resin.  On the contrary, non-conventional method for the production of large volume of quality gaharu from Aquilaria tree is also available and continuously explored.

Currently China is the biggest consumers of gaharu with an import of 500 tons per year. The biggest consumers of agarwood products are Middle East, Taiwan and Japan whereas the biggest exporter of gaharu is Indonesia.

 Gaharu Plantation

Agarwood tree



Gred A, Agarwood
 Gred B, Agarwood

  Gred C, Agarwood

 Gred D, Agarwood

No comments: