Agarwood (Chen Xiang)

AloeswoodAgarwood (Chen Xiang), from TCM’s point of view, is the name of an herb derived from Thymelaeaceae plant. It cures a variety of diseases. Besides, Agarwood is of high economic value since it becomes rare these days. Commercial items made of Agarwood, such as bracelet, beads, tea, essential oil, incense, and powder, are very popular though they are usually as expensive as gold. Why Agarwood chips are so valuable? I am afraid that its value and scarcity are the main reasons.

What is Agarwood?

It refers to the highly resinous wood of Aquilaria sinensis (Lour.) Gilg. Aquilaria sinensis and Aquilaria agallocha Roxb. It is also known as agar wood, eaglewood, ales wood, oodh or agar, gaharu, aloeswood, Oud, Chen Xiang, kalamabak, jinkoh, and so on. This is simply because it grows in many countries and thus gets many different names. From the historical perspective, at least more than 10 countries and regions are still growing or ever grew some certain species of Aquilaria tree. These countries are India, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, and China. In China, it is mainly found in areas such as Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, Hainan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

Since ancient times, in China there is an old saying that goes like “Chen Tan Long She”, in which that “Chen” means exactly the Chen Xiang herb. The other three are Tan Xiang (Sandalwood), Long Yan Xiang (ambergris), and She Xiang (Navel Gland Secretions of Musk Deer). These four are the most popular, rare, and precious spices and incenses in the world. Unlike Sandalwood, Agarwood is not simply a timber but the solid-state condensation product that is formed by the combined action of mixed oil (gum) and the wood constituents from a special species of aromatics tree. To be specific, Agarwood is a special kind of biochemical substances. Its formation is a step-by-step complex process. Initially the Agarwood tree trunk is invaded by a parasitic mold called Menanotus flavolives. And then the biochemical changes occur. Finally, it needs years of deposition to make it. As you may know, Agarwood has such a high density that it is submergible. This fact also shows that it coagulates a great deal of gum or balsam. Of course, the higher density often means higher quality and more expensive price in the market.

What is Agarwood used for?

In terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Agarwood is viewed as acrid, bitter, and warm in nature. And it covers three meridians, including kidney, spleen, and stomach. Its basic functions are to promote the Qi circulation in order to relieve pain, warm the middle Jiao to arrest vomiting, and control respiring Qi to relieve asthma. Its chief indications and uses are distention and pain in abdominal region, vomiting, hiccups and belching resulted from cold stomach, and dyspnea and rebellious Qi due to kidney deficiency. Usual dosage is from 1 to 5 grams, decocted later.

Chemical composition

The Agarwood contains volatile oil, among which sesquiterpene ingredients include agarospirol, agarol, gmelo-furan,a-agarofuran and β-agarofuran, dihydroa-garofuran, nor-ketoagarofuran, 4-hydroxydihydroagarofuran, 3, 4-dihydroxydihydroagarofuran, a-guaiene, a-bulnesene, kusunol, karanone, dihydrokaranone, oxoagarospirol, guaia-1 (10), 11-dien-15-al, seline-3, 11-dien-9-one, seline-3, 11-dien-9-ol, jinkoheremol, and so on.

Pharmacological effects

  • The decoction of Chinese Agarwood has a complete inhibition on the human type Mycobacterium tuberculosis. What’s more, it has a strong antibacterial performance on Salmonella typhi and S. flexneri bacilli too;
  • The volatile oil contained has the functions of anesthesia, pain relief, and muscle relaxation;
  • Studies indicated that the Agarwood decoction has sedative and anti-asthmatic effects too.

Major Chinese herbal formulas including Chen Xiang

This herb is widely used in TCM practices. The most popular formulas are Chen Xiang San, Chen Xiang Tian Ma Tang, Chen Xiang Hua Zi Wan, and so on. Here are the details.

Chen Xiang Jiang Qi Wan

From Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary), this formula is used for distention and fullness in chest and diaphragm, abdominal distension and fullness, dyspnea and tachypnea, dysphoria due to unceasing hiccups, and beriberi. Other main herbs are Xiang Fu (Nut Grass Rhizome), Suo Sha Ren (Cardamom Seed, Elettaria cardamomum), and Gan Cao (Licorice Root).

Chen Xiang Wan

From Ji feng Pu ji fang (Jifeng’s Formularies for universal relief), it is mainly designed for chronic deficiency of spleen and kidney, lung invading by upward retentive fluid, cough and shortness of breath, fullness in abdomen and flanks, and difficult urination. Other primary herbs include Wu Yao (Lindera Root), Fu Ling (Poria, China Root), Chen Pi (Tangerine Peel), Ze Xie (Alisma), Xiang Fu (Cyperus), and She Xiang (Navel Gland Secretions of Musk Deer).

Si Mo Tang

Simo decoction comes from Ji sheng fang (Formulas to Aid the Living). As its name implied, it consists of four herbs and other three are Ren Shen (Ginseng Root), Bing Lang (Betel Nut, Areca Seeds), and Wu Yao (Lindera). And it is a famous prescription for internal injuries caused by seven emotions, wheezing due to abnormal rising of Qi, and appetite loss because of dysphoria.

Chen Xiang Hua Tan Wan

From Zhang Shi Yi Tong (Master Zhang’s Medical Communications), the indications of this formula include phlegm-heat in chest, phlegm-heat accumulated for many years, and anemia. Other basic herbal ingredients include Ban Xia Qu (Pinellia Massa Medica Fermentata), Huang Lian (Coptis Rhizome), and Mu Xiang (Costus Root).

Potential Aloeswood side effects and contraindications

Agarwood (Chen Xiang) is highly rated as the top grade herbs by TCM doctors. As a matter of fact, all Chinese herbs are classified into three classes according to their benefit degree. And thanks to its great benefits on replenishing human body, Agarwood is listed in the Top ten. Even so, please use this herb with care in syndrome of hyperactivity of fire due to deficiency of kidney Yin and in cases of collapse from Qi deficiency.

4 thoughts on “Agarwood (Chen Xiang)

  1. Pingback: Sandalwood (Santalum Album, Tan Xiang)

  2. charles benghauser

    Are there any Qi Regulating (or any other classification) herbs that are a good substitute?
    Charlie in Arizona

    1. admin Post author

      Depending on what purpose you are using them for, you can choose from quite a few Qi-regulating herbs, including Chai Hu (Thorowax Root, Bupleurum), Zhi Ke (Bitter Orange Peel), Chuan Lian Zi (Sichuan Pagoda Tree Fruit), Yuan Hu (Rhizoma Corydalis), Xiang Fu Zi (Cyperus rotundus rhizome), Yu Jin (Tumeric Tuber), and so on. It is important to know that they are suitable for different needs.

    2. Adam Tate

      Sandalwood is an accepted substitute and was used in the Western tradition when Aloeswood was unavailable. Ayurveda and Unani have also used Sandalwood as a substitute.

      In other systems, Aloeswood has been used as a medicine for the Heart. In such cases, Saffron has been used as a substitute.


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