SANDALWOOD RED ~ SANDERSWOOD Pterocarpus santalinus
This tropical tree of the pea family is native to Southern India and Sri Lanka. It has long been used as a timber species and incense base. It was considered rare a hundred years ago and has been cultivated since then to ensure continued supply. However, trade restrictions still apply. Despite its name, this tree bears no botanical relation to White Sandalwood - though in the popular mind of India these species are considered brother and sister. Although the tree was known in the Arab world and Middle East since ancient times, very little information is available concerning its uses. It was imported to Egypt for use in construction of temple buildings since it is a durable hardwood of a striking blood red colour. It was also used as incense, though probably more for the visual effect than for its fragrance, which is very subtle. An interesting fact about the red colour of this wood is that it is not readily soluble in water, but only in alcohol. The dye has been used as a colouring agent for food and cosmetics.
Western herbalism does not use this plant for medicinal purposes. In Ayurveda it is considered cooling, astringent, and tonic. A paste is made as a cooling application for headaches. Externally it is also used for inflammation, toothache and hemicrania. It is said to purify the blood, aid skin conditions and relieve poisonous affections. It is also said to be useful for eye diseases, haemophilic disorders and ulcers. A decoction of the pods has a reputation as an astringent tonic for dysentery. Some recent scientific investigations have found it useful for wound healing.
Magically the wood chips are mostly used as an incense base to be blended with various oils or balsams. Macerated in alcohol the dye becomes soluble and can be used as magical ink. The blood red colour of these wood chips suggests an affinity with the juice of life.