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Monday, April 23, 2018


By: Evelyn Vincent
L. Santalum, Ar. şandal, Hisp. Ar. sandal, Fr. sandal, ME saundres, saundreys, sawnderys, sawndres, poudreofcolowre (coloring powder), Eng. sandalwood, the powdered wood of Pterocarpussantalin. In the Middle Ages, the term was applied especially to red sandal-wood, also referred to as red sanders used principally for coloring food. 

Physically, this tree looks like an oak. It has oval leaves, small flowers and a fruit similar to the cherry. The wood is brownish-yellow and when burnt it emits an excellent odor and has been used as incense.

It was so lauded by Al-Andalus poets that they used it as a metaphor as did Ibn ‘Ammar (1031-1086), the Sevillan governor, who flattered Muhammad Ibn Abbad, Poet King of Seville (1039-1095) by saying ‘No other perfume is necessary while you are referred to as the sandalwood that makes the brassier of my mind ardent.’ The tree is a native of the Indian coasts but obviously took root in Spain as Abu l-Jayr al-Isbili, 11th C Sevillian agronomist, author of Kitab al –Filaha (Book of Agriculture) states in the “nisba,”the section on the origin of trees that his sandalwood tree lived 150 years. 

On the Maldives Islands, in the Indian Ocean, now the Republic of Maldives, the oil was used frequently as an aromatic ointment referred to by Ibn Battuta (1304-1368), from Tangier, in his accounts of his travels, now in book form titled: "Rihla - My Travels." Spain imported the tree and made its own perfumes and oils from it and the roots from which they extracted yellow aromatic oil. 

According to Al-Idrisi, it was used with black nightshade juice or butcher’s broom to raise the spirits and with rosewater it is efficacious against heat. It was applied as a calming antiseptic for fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, respiratory problems, a mild astringent for oily skin and it softened dry skin. It was blended with benzoin, black pepper, cypress, frankincense, jasmine, lemon, myrrh, and ylang-ylang for these purposes. In England, it was a basic ingredient for Saracen sauce (definitely from Arab influence) and used in other sauces and desserts for coloring and as a spice. 

The Anón Al-Andalus provides a recipe for an electuary of red sandalwood made with rosewater and  sugar. The author maintains that it reduced fever cause be jaundice, cut thirst, fortifies the liver, stomach and other organs. Further, after distilling the wood, it was used in soap, incense, candles, and potpourri, the odor, of which, lasts for years. See Idrisi, Al-. 

[Anderson. 1962:12:33:51 etc; Anón/Huici. 1966:496:271:535:289; Curye. 1985:180; and ES: Shamsuddín. “Aromas.” Jul 23, 05]

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