Sandarac resin-Delicate Citrine/ Golden tears for Incense, perfume and traditional medicine. Tetraclinis articulata. Tunisia.
Sandrac, or Sandarach, is referred to in many ancient formularies. it is still used in Islamic, Persian and Unani traditional medicine and goes by the name of Sandaroosh-سندروس-in Arabic
Sandarac has been used for centuries as an incense ingredient and is the base material for traditional varnishes used in fine woodworking and finishing handcrafted musical instruments. In antiquity, it was used in the production of finishes for oil paintings and is still used today in the preparation of Laquers for Lutes.
Until the development of petroleum products and distillates, plant resins were the main material used to preserve and finish wood products and oil paintings. This ancient art is being revived and one can find formulas for lacquers and varnishes, both ancient and modern online for finishing handcrafted wood instruments and as a coating for metalwork and other handcrafted items.
Scribes have used Sandarac resin since antiquity to seal and “Size” parchment and prepare it to accept the ink uniformly. Often it was ground fine with pumice stone or cuttlefish bone for this purpose
Similar looking to Cypress, Eastern Cedar and Juniper trees, Tetraclinis articulata also goes by the name of “Arar”, Thyine and Citronwood.
Yielding a beautiful wood with fine grain and a delicate Citrus aroma, the Sandarac tree, (Citron), is one of the few conifers mentioned in the Bible; Revelation 18:12 refers to “cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet, and every kind of citron wood and every article of ivory and every article made from very costly wood and bronze and iron and marble”.
In Morocco, a whole craft industry is built around the wood of the Sandarac tree. The trees are “Coppiced” regularly which stimulates new growth, assuring ongoing sustainability of the industry. Coppicing, ( cutting back the tree to its main trunk), allows the roots of the trees to continue undisturbed for many decades, (even hundreds of years). The roots develop unique burls full of “Eyes” underground and are much sought after for carving.
The name, “Citronwood” echoes the beautiful Citrine colour of its resin tears and the sweet aroma of the burned tears has tangy notes of citrus zest reminiscent of Frankincense and Mastic of Chios for which it has sometimes been substituted.
It is thought by some, that Sandarac is the “Gold” mentioned along with Frankincense and Myrrh which were brought as gifts to the baby Jesus.
There is also a theory that the Gold was Benzoin resin, but I believe Sandarac is much more likely since it was traded through the Mediterranean at that time and Benzoin was only traded in the area after Islam took root in Asia and brought Luban Jawi, or Java Frankincense back to the Arabian world in the 6th Century AD.
A pure oleoresin with no water-soluble gum content, Sandarac is impervious to water and dissolves in alcohol and warm oils. It emits little fragrance at room temperature, but once heated on the coal, it reveals beautiful character and depth of aroma.
I hear a fixative and aromatic perfume tincture can be made by macerating the raw oleoresin in alcohol.
Essential oil can be distilled from the resin, albeit with a relatively low yield compared to other aromatic oleoresins. I am itching to distil it!! So keep your eye open if this rare essential oil piques your curiosity.
Sandarac is truly a classic resin and one we have been trading and using for thousands of years.