Agarwood in Traditional Chinese Medicine

For thousands of years, agarwood, known as chen xiang (沉香) and Oud Oil have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM); a physical and mental curative ingredient rated extremely highly for its holistic effects on the body and mind.  The sheer number of ailments that are increasingly treated with the use of agarwood resin and oud oil is impressive and the wood is highly revered within Chinese medicine.

So deeply ingrained is agarwood as a potent, almost magical ingredient into the psyche of traditional Chinese culture that it is believed that Samurais would use the perfume on their armor to bring good luck before going to battle.

As well as TCM, agarwood is valued by many alternative medicinal practitioners in ayurvedic, Tibetan and Arabic medicine.

From Damage Comes Healing
Interestingly, the healing properties of agarwood derive from a fungus or mold infection of the aquilaria tree. Without this attack, the trees are virtually worthless but once invaded they produce a rich resin as a defense in the heartwood of the tree. This dense resinous wood which is dark brown is transformed into an incredibly valued and valuable commodity.  

In nature only a small percentage of trees are infected and only a percentage of those produce the resin. However, demand can be met with the growth of plantations such as Treedom’s trees in Thailand, with a ready market within China and beyond.

The Qi Connection
In traditional Chinese culture, Qi (pronounced ‘Chi’) is the life flow of energy through the body and in TCM is regarded as the vital energy that relates to the function of the organs and the meridians. The meridian system denotes the path through which Qi flows and it is believed that agarwood enhances Qi by penetrating and stimulating the senses and has a spiritual quality. In Feng Shui, the art of controlling and directing the flow of energy and the fragrance of agarwood is believed to energize stagnant Qi within buildings and rooms too.

By promoting the circulation of QI, TCM uses agarwood to treat a number of different symptoms which particularly relate to the meridians that are connected to the stomach, spleen and kidneys.

Medicinal Properties
Oud oil is used in traditional medicine in China as a tonic, stimulant and even an aphrodisiac as well as a treatment for impotence. Many abdominal conditions are treated using agarwood including indigestion problems and even stomach tumors.

 Agarwood is used as an anti-asthma medicine and pleurisy antidote as well as being valued as a pain and stress reliever along with an aid in treating neuro-muscular conditions. As a tonic, agarwood is used to address blood impurities and has been used to tackle hepatitis and anemia too.

Skin complaints, common colds and urine problems such as bed wedding and urine infections can also be helped with the use of agarwood according to TCM. Agarwood remedies are prescribed for issues as diverse as fatigue, hypertension and cirrhosis of the liver and for various ailments the agarwood is combined with herbs to target specific illnesses and diseases.

Much research has looked into the antibacterial properties of agarwood and how it could help target mycobacterium tuberculosis, for example. Whilst on a psychological level, the oil extracted from agarwood is believed to be a rescue remedy that can influence brainwaves with a soothing, harmonizing effect.

Chinese Market
Within China, Oud Oil as a fragrance is attracting huge attention and agarwood, which is some 35 times more expensive than gold per gram, is fast-becoming an investment for the luxury Chinese market.  Wood shavings and particularly wood powder as well as the oil are used in TCM and this is extending into more modern Chinese pharmacopeia.

As a luxury item, high-profile attention has promoted the fragrance and agarwood too. Well-known Chinese TV host Wang Yinan who is the director of the national Chen Xiang Research Association has pushed agarwood into the limelight and under the noses of China’s elite and they are certainly following the heady scent.

Wealthy Gen Y buyers who value experiences rather than merely accruing assets and within Chinese culture there is an ingrained understanding and appreciation of less traditional medicines and of natural ingredients. The scent from fragrances and the resin burnt as incense along with the special properties of agarwood have captivated the Chinese market. Add to this a progressive acceptance into mainstream medicine of TCM and China is set to become an agarwood capital, not only within Southeast Asia but globally.