Tony Burfield Jan 2004.
would like to introduce the first bulletin of “Cropwatch” – an occasional
bulletin focussing on various issues surrounding the status and exploitation of
aromatic & medicinal crops. In this first issue we review and comment on
some current news items which you may have missed …
“The Sandalwood tree is being smuggled out of
With the above quote from the Earth Report (2000) in mind its not surprising
that the combination of excessive demand and shortage of supply for East Indian
Sandalwood oil from Santalum album has lead to the prices rising to
around $700-750/Kg in recent months. Worries about the present
sustainability of Sandalwood supplies, lead to a clampdown on Sandalwood
harvesting and distillation by the Indian authorities in 1995, so that by now
much or most of the E.I. Sandalwood oil coming on to the market is smuggled. The
international essential oil trade itself tends to be tight-lipped about its
precise sources of the oil. Anon (2002) reports that mobile squads of
Forest Department officials in Chitradurga and Shimoga districts to curb
sandalwood smuggling from the 30 or so private sandalwood-based factories in
Andarha Pradesh close to the Karnataka border. Our information is that advance
warning of impending visits of officials is causing a few quality control
problems amongst producers - since impending visits of officials cause a
panicked acceleration of the distillation process in order to quickly finish the
task and “spirit away” the end-product. This over-hasty production, in turn,
often results in Sandalwood oils that fail the ISO 3518 tests - for example with
respect to solubility of the oil in 70% ethanol.
Uses. Sandalwood has long been prized for carving and for
tourist souvenirs; it is used as an ingredient of joss-stick manufacture
(especially in China & Japan) in the form of powder, wooden spills etc.
Export of Sandalwood logs is theoretically prohibited from India, and so the
export of lower oil-yielding Sandalwood logs from Australia (S. spicatum)
has taken over much of this market.
Sandalwood oil E.I. is used for its creamy, precious fine wood notes and
blending properties in perfumery and cosmetics, and in aromatherapy for its
anti-depressant, sedative & calminative effects, useful in alleviating
stress and nervous tension (Sheppard-Hanger 1995). Other Sandalwood oils, where
available, often do not possess the smooth creaminess and present a more woody
and occasionally a somewhat urinic odour, character compared with the East
Indian sourced oil. In spite of the worries about sustainability and smuggling,
the essential oil of S. album is still, for example, stipulated as an
obligatory oil to study for Aromatherapy National Occupational Standards in the
UK (see http://www.skillsforhealth.org.uk/standards_database/index.htm
and click on Aromatherapy and then AY2) – the author has asked the NOS to reconsider this listing.
Distillation. Many customers do not realise that production of
E.I. Sandalwood oil involves several stages. The first distillation of
pulverised wood or milled Sandalwood sawdust is soaked 48 hours and distilled
2-3 days oil if carried out at a pressure of 30-40 psig, to produce the crude
oil. The first 2-5% of “sandalwood terpenes” are rejected, as it contains
compounds like N-fufuryl pyrrole. This compound in extremely low concentrations
smells like wheat popcorn, but in higher concentrations detracts from the
sandalwood odour. The terpenes fraction also contains sesquiterpene hydrocarbons
such as the a-
which detract from the solubility of the oil in alcohol. The oil is then
redistilled at 30-40 psig, again, often rejecting the first few fractions.
Finally the resulting oil is rectified.
The relatively high energy input to produce a unit amount of Sandalwood
product in the above process is ecologically unfortunate. Assessments of
ecological impact for non-timber commodity production from forestry areas have
to take energy efficiency into account (Burfield 2004), and the perfume designer
Andrew Kobus (2003), argues that processes which involve the transport of fuel
over long distances, for example, are not ideologically “organic” i.e. an
essential oil produced in this manner should not be permitted to be classified
as organic by the relevant certifying bodies. In any case, the necessity for
vastly extended distillation times are often the result of poorly engineered
process equipment. Further, at first glance it seems madness to use expensive
carbon-based fuels or even wood/plant waste to produce process heat - as these
contribute to atmospheric carbon dioxide loading - when a clean technology like
solar power could so easily be harnessed instead. We are told that the reason
that this solution is not enacted immediately is, of course, one of lack of
capital, but this must be balanced against the costs involved in the continual
buying of fuel and the unaccounted and unseen costs of environmental damage.
Blending and other Sandalwood species. The aroma industry is
presently so desperate for half-decent Sandalwood oil qualities, that it
frequently and unknowingly accepts blends of other Sandalwood oils in with the
East Indian oil. Fractions of S. spicatum (West Australian Sandalwood
oil) or S. austrocaledonicum (New Caledonian Sandalwood oil) can
frequently be employed for this task. The latter is often preferred by traders
because the GC-MS trace of S. austrocaledonicum is quite similar to the
trace for Santalum album.
The Pacific island group of Vanuatu has long been known as a source of
Sandalwood, after the Irish explorer Peter Dillon discovered the island of
Erromango was covered in sandalwood trees, but few mature trees now remain (see
http://www.vanuatutourism.com/history2.htm). Vanuatu presently provides smaller
quantities (believed to be 0.5 ton/annum) of S. austrocaledonicum crude
oil for redistillation in Europe, and paper on the development of a strategy for
the conservation of Sandalwood on Vanuatu has been made available by Chanel S.
& Thompson L. (undated) at http://www.fao.org/forestry/FOR/FORM/FOGENRES/genresbu/web27-en/sand-e.stm.
Additionally, Papua New Guinea is believed to also possess large resources of
Sandalwood trees (S. macgregorii); S. insulare trees in French
Polynesia have also been investigated as a source of Sandalwood oil supply.
Cropwatch understands from insider sources, that immature trees of S. album
in Australia, however, may not now be harvested for a further fifty years.
Meanwhile in the past few years Indonesian Sandalwood oil from Santalum album
has become increasingly rare, and a telling paragraph on the powerful forces
controlling production in East Timor can be found at http://www.itk.ntnu.no/ansatte/Andresen_Trond/kk-f/fra110699/0300.html
The present issue of Parfumes, Cosmétiques, Actualitès
(Dec 2003) contains an article describing that a new patent (US Patent #
6,607,712) granted to the US Sabinsa Corporation, covering the supercritical CO2
extraction of essential oil of Coleus forskohlii. The patent is entitled
“Composition and methods containing an anti-microbial essential oil from Coleus
forskohlii” and describes methods to optimally produce anti-microbial oil
compositions from indigenous species of Coleus forskohlii, which might be
used against cutaneous infections (the oil is said to be active against Propionobacterium
acnes) and in combating the growth of Streptococcus mutans, important
in tooth decay.
You will note the use of the word “indigenous” above. Our information
here is that Coleus forskohlii Briq. (syn. C. barbatus Benth.), a
plant with edible roots, is in fact indigenous to India & Africa. In India
at least, the plant is threatened, and Misra et al. (1994), refer to some
precautions that authors took on their own initiative to attempt to preserve the
species– a commendable act. We have written to Sabinsa to clarify the precise
geographic source of their plants – although we acknowledge that it is, of
course, perfectly possible to grow the species in greenhouses in the US.
We are hoping that this story does not prove to bear similarities to the Neem
tree story (Azadirachta indica) (BBC 2000), a useful tree native to
India. Here, you might remember, the European Court overturned a patent
involving an anti-fungal product from the seeds of the Neem tree granted to the
W.R. Grace company in 1994. This episode was seen by the Greens as a setback for
those Corporates trying to exploit products from plants, more rightfully
belonging to endemic and disadvantaged peoples of the world.
However even if the patent remains unchallenged, for the essential oil to be
used in the EU as a biocide, it will have to conform to the EU Biocides
legislation, an introduction to which is given at http://europa.eu.int/comm/environment/biocides/index.htm.
As yet the status of Coleus forskohlii essential oil remains unidentified
and un-notified, as far as we can tell, unless an application process for a new
active substance is lodged, then it can’t be used in Europe…. unless of
course, its intended uses are deemed to come under the remit of other
Global warming & species reduction.
In spite of the best efforts of green-focussed politicians towards policies
ensuring carbon dioxide reduction (in moves such as the United Nations Framework
on Climate Change) the effects of global warming continue to be revealed. In
recent years, the trend towards more severe weather conditions (which
accompanies the global warming phenomena) has been the most important single
factor in the market availability for essential oils.
Chris Thomas et al. (professor of conservation biology at Leeds University)
paints a far more daunting picture, reporting on the results of a four
continent-centred study in Nature (08.01.04). This suggests that a
million species will disappear, and one third of all life forms will have their
fate sealed by 2050, but that action now could save some threatened species.
Those conservation measures taken to date, cannot realistically address the
scope of problem – the only recourse is to severely reduce the causes of
To see the status ratification of the Kyoto Protocol for the country that you
live in, check it out at http://unfccc.int/resource/kpstats.pdf,
but remember the Kyoto Protocol is merely a start in the right direction for
this problem. Even so, it is unfortunate that some major continents are not even
on the bottom rung of ladder for this process, and the inaction of certain
reticent politicians (the puppets of big business interests) are endangering the
quality of life of all of us here on this planet.
A major US essential oils trading company appears to be visiting European
aroma concerns this month offering peppermint oil products, which apparently
incorporate GM technology or products. Many of us wondered how long it would be,
before such products were openly traded in this manner, but we weren’t quite
prepared for the fact that the salesmen representing this prestigious concern
hadn’t quite done his homework, as to his surprise GM derived flavourings are
actively discriminated against by most EU aroma trade raw materials buyers. Pity
he had to fly here to find that out, when quite a useful summary to this
circumstance is provided on the Internet at http://www.rhmtech.co.uk/pages/services/gm_issue.htm
Finally thanks to Chrissie Wildwood for alerting me to the British Herbal
Medicine’s Association’s assertion that the problem of collection of herbs
from the wild as herbal remedies threatening the viability of some species, is
“exaggerated” (according to a BBC report). The story can be followed at http://chrissie-wildwood.com/-THE-FOOL-S-PARSLEY-PRIZE.
It is understandable that such a professional association has to put the
interests of its producing members foremost (some of whom might be trading the
species in question). But their opinions need at the very least, to be able
stand up in the public to rigorous examination in the light of known botanical
data. How much better seems to be the attitude of the Botanical Medicinal
Academy, who not only acknowledge the viability problem, but recommend
investigation of the use of viable substitute plants for endangered or
threatened species (Yarnell E. & Abascal K. 2001).
The information supplied above is believed to be accurate, but views,
comments, criticisms, corrections or additional material can be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org
for consideration in future communiqués in the Cropwatch series.
(2002) “Squads to check Sandalwood Smuggling” The
T. (2004) unpublished data.
S. & Thompson L. at http://www.fao.org/forestry/FOR/FORM/FOGENRES/genresbu/web27-en/sand-e.stm
Report (2002) http://www.tve.org/earthreport/archive/30Oct2000.html
A. (2003) Personal communication
L.N., Tyagi B.R., Ahmed A. & Bahl J.R. (1994) “Variability in the
composition of C.
of Essen Oil Res 6,
Parfumes, Cosmétiques, Actualites No. 174 Dec 2003 p47 “US Patent for Coleus oil granted to
Sheppherd-Hanger S. (1995) The
Aromatherapy Practitioners Reference Manual publ. Atlantic Institute of
Aromatherapy, Tampa, USA.
Yarnell E. & Abascal K. (2001) “Dilemmas of Traditional Botanical
Research” Herbalgram 55, 46-54.
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