Common name: Agarwood, oudh, agalocha
Plant family: Thymelaeceae
Species: There are about 15 species of the genus Aquilaria
Agarwood is thought to be the most expensive wood in the world – its essential oil is equally as expensive. This resinous, fragrant heartwood is known by many names and revered by many cultures. It’s botanical name (Genus) is Aquilaria but you might hear it called agarwood, eaglewood, oudh (Arabic), oud, aloeswood, gaharu or agalocha.
Agarwood has been used to make high-quality fragrance and incense for centuries. Its smell is described by the Chinese as “a sweet, deep but balanced fragrance” who use it in religious and festive celebrations, as do Japanese, Indian and Arab people. You may also see Oud as part of many traditional pharmacopoeias, dating back to medieval times. It is still prescribed by Chinese doctors to cure or alleviate the symptoms of colds and digestion problems. Most commonly, however, it can be found in many Arabic perfumes.
Agarwood is a resinous heartwood that occurs in trees belonging to the species of Aquilaria, Aetoxylon (A.symeatalum) and Gonystylus genus of Thymelaeceae family. Aquilaria is the most commonly used genus for the production of Agarwood as it is fast growing and evergreen.
Oudh or Agarwood is produced from a reaction to a bacterial or fungal attack. When the tree gets infected it will secrete a fragrant oily resin which helps heal and protect the wounded wood. As a result, the heartwood will get darker and harder.
Agarwood essential oil is extracted in three different ways. Co2 or supercritical extraction using carbon dioxide, steam and hydrodistillation, the most common forms of extraction being the latter two. Typically oils that come from hydrodistillation tend to have a more round, three-dimensional quality that sets it apart from the other methods. Another aspect that affects the quality of the oil is he age of the tree; the older the tree, the higher the resin count and the more full and rounded the fragrance. Oud essential oil will also improve with age.
My personal view of Oudh is that it has, on first smelling, a very animalistic, barnyard quality to it that is strong, heavy and pungent. However, as this initial top note dries off you get a sweet, floral complex fragrance, that by itself does not really need anything else. It is exquisite but is certainly an acquired taste. You can find many middle eastern fragrance houses that sell Oudh based perfumes, the ones catered for the western markets tend to ease off on the oud somewhat whereas the ones for the Far and near East are strong and heady . One nice combination is Oud with Rose essential oil. It is a wonderful combination and was the inspiration for our Rose Oud candle which takes the best of both Moroccan Rose and the dark and mysterious aspects of Agarwood.