The most valuable part of the sandalwood tree is the scented heartwood. If the tree establishes itself in a favorable location it will begin forming the heartwood after 10 years of growth. At that point the girth of the tree will be about 9 inches and its height 10 feet. After 20 years the heartwood begins to form rapidly and reaches its prime in the 50-60 year range at which point the tree will be about 2-3 feet in girth, and upto 60 feet high. The trees having reached this stage and considered ripe for harvest are uprooted not cut, as the roots are highest in oil content. The appropriate time for doing this is just after the rainy season so as to reduce labor.
In the sandalwood depot the remaining sapwood is carefully removed by people skilled in this type of work. Extreme care must be taken so that all the precious heartwood remains intact. After all the processes are completed the wood is separated into heartwood, branchwood, chips, and powder for auction. Even the sapwood containing a tiny bit of fragrance due to its proximity to the heartwood will be auctioned off. The wood is auctioned off from these sites twice yearly.
Due to its high value sandalwood is exploited by thieves and smugglers. They have developed many ingenious means for transporting the wood to people willing to illegally traffic in this commodity. Penalties for detection of illicit trading in it are severe and the government is making restrictions on the purchasing of sandalwood even more stringent. Once a company has purchased it through legal channels, careful records must be kept as to how it is being used so that when officials check the records, the amount purchased and the amount sold match.
Sandalwood is a small evergreen tree attaining a height of 40-50 feet and a girth of 3-8 feet. Mature specimens are covered with a dark brown to reddish bark. The smooth trunk of young trees turns rough with age and exhibits deep vertical cracks. The leathery leaves display a range of greenish colors. The purplish brown flowers are small and unscented. There is little externally that calls one to notice the sandalwood tree as a specimen containing the prized aromatic heartwood whose virtues have been sung for several thousand years. The tree can grow under a variety of environmental conditions but produces the finest heartwood amidst the dry rocky/hilly terrain of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka States, and Kerala States where the famed "sandalwood belt" is located. It is in this region that most of the remaining natural stands of sandalwood are to be found.
Sandalwood has a lot of medicinal values. Its use in treatment of skin problems is legendary. When applied to the forehead in the form of a paste it has a cooling effect and is used to bring down fevers.It is an excellent moisturizer .Traditionally sandalwood has been used for treating digestive complications arising from diarrhea, nausea, colic and gastritis.