Strings of Errors

Chinese Agarwood -The History of Oud

As it is known in the perfume industry, natural Agarwood is proven to be one of the most rarest ingredient used in perfumes today. It comes in all forms, floral, woody, citrusy, animalistic, the aroma is different from one to another region. The trees are grown in specific locations, mostly in high elevated areas in Central and Eastern Asia. It takes at least 5 years for an aquilaria tree to produce agarwood oil. Historically, however, Agarwood has strong ties to China and the Buddhist religion in particular and has cropped up in the literature as far back as the 3rd century, when it was first discovered in modern-day Vietnam.

With regard to historical records, we can see that Agarwood had three main uses in Chinese culture. While many other countries used the oil from wood, the Oud as we call it, to rub it into their skin, Chinese people would use smaller bits of the Agarwood and burn it as a form of incense, infusing their homes with the intoxicating smell. As the years progressed the Agarwood would eventually also be used to create Oud extracts in China, mainly because it was, and is, incredibly popular but also because it is such a rare and costly resource.

The second main use of Agarwood has a slightly more morbid twist to it as it was used to create coffins for the incredibly wealthy or revered members of Chinese society. The fruity and floral wood was incredibly costly and rare even back then, so having your coffin made from it was seen as a great honour. In fact, the often-mythologised Chinese war general, Guan Yu, was reportedly buried in an Agarwood coffin as a tribute to his incredible battle prowess and bravery.

Third on the list is the use of Agarwood and Oud as traditional medicine. Historically, Chinese healers and doctors would use the wood as a sort of cure-all that helped alleviate several symptoms in a wide range of diseases. This included using it to aid in digestion and gastro, increase circulation, help reduce one’s fever, and alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with rheumatism. As modern medicine progresses, more and more research is being conducted into Aquilaria plants, which is the family of trees we harvest Agarwood from, as this genus is showing promising pharmaceutical benefits that were of course picked up on first by traditional Chinese healers. If you happen to browse the ingredient section of any tincture in a pharmacy you will likely see that Agarwood powder is somewhere on the list making it a piece of tradition that has crept into entirely new crevices around the world.

Lastly, we would like to discuss the third and perhaps most interesting use of Agarwood in China, with specific regard to the Buddhist religion. Buddhist monks with high rankings are distinguishable by their beaded necklaces, the beads on these necklaces are crafted from pieces of Agarwood. It is believed that when these beads are crushed and mixed with water, they can help cure diseases and ailments and relieve those who are suffering. As a result, Buddhist monks would travel all over the country, from town to town and settlement to settlement, to offer ailing folks some relief by giving them the Agarwood drink. Some reports even suggest that when a monk was dying or close to death, they would crush their remaining beads and drink the mixture to ensure a peaceful passing.

As one can see, Chinese Agarwood has a rich and extensive history that stretches back so much further than just using the aromatic oil to create perfumes. It is a cherished and much-loved part of ancient history that has managed to endure the test of time to make it all the way into the perfume bottles you purchase today. When we consider all of this, the rarity, the history and the uniqueness of the scent we can begin to understand exactly why it is such a popular and sought-after ingredient once thought to be so divine it was only used by those comparable to royalty.