Gaharu aka Agarwood

Do you know that part of the ingredient used for perfume is gaharu? Yes? No? Yes? I bet majority would say ‘No!’. No worries, I said’ ‘No’ too when I was asked. 😉

You might be wondering “How can it be? How can a type of wood can be used as one of a perfume ingredient? I thought extracts from flowers are being used?”

Let me share with you a little bit of information based on what I discovered. Of course, if there’s anyone out there wish to add on to my discoveries, you are most welcome to do so. After all, sharing is loving, dont’ you think so? 😉

Agarwood or locally known as kayu gaharu produces a type of odour. The kayu gaharu will turned into a black or dark wood when they become infected by a type of mold/fungus. Before that, the wood looks pale (like normal wood color) and as the infection progresses, the kayu gaharu produces aromatic odour. How do they process the kayu gaharu into liquid form, that I have no answer. I wish I’m a botanist. ;p

Back then, the Penans, the Kenyahs and the Kayans at the Baram river usually would sell their ‘harvest’ of kayu gaharu to the Chinese traders based at Long Akah. I was told by my late grandfather that to ‘harvest’ kayu gaharu requires a long process-time consuming process. One had to chopped the tree down and leave it to ‘rotten’ for certain period of time. The longer it rotten, the stronger aromatic odour it produced. 🙂

At that time, I was only 11 years old and out of curiosity, I get to touched and smell kayu gaharu. It was like holding pieces of charcoal wood (the one that had ‘rotten’) and pieces of ‘Jenga’ block (the one that had not rotten yet). It has quite a pleasing smell.  And fast forward to present, I was lucky to see a gaharu tree instead at Ba’ Data Bila during my recent research field trip. 🙂

As per told by the Ba’ Data Bila’s Chief, Mr. Sedin Laeng, there are 2 types of gaharu tree. One usually grows along the river bank and one usually grows on high land. One can differentiating it by looking at the size of the leaf.


a close up on the wide leave species. this gaharu tree is only few months old.

this is the small narrow leave species and usually lives at low land area. back then, it is commonly found along the river bank.

However, do take note that the gaharu tree is a protected species and with the current issue going on in our land -timber logging, oil palm estates, mega hydro projects  for so-called development, it is indeed endangering the protected species. It is clearly a depletion of wild resource. Now, it come to my sense that it is one of the reason explained on the high cost of producing perfumes.

Do you know that Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) is using agarwood in its perfume products? 😉


  1. Noh

    3 March, 2011 at 6:58 am

    May Iknow, which pictures show gaharu grow salong riverbank and/or on high land? Do you recall the names?. Really need to know.


    1. ladybirdmollyz

      3 March, 2011 at 8:40 am

      hi Noh,

      i did indicate the type of gaharu that can grow on high land and low land (along riverbank) in the post. by moving your mouse and point at the pictures, a description will appear and you’ll get to know which one.

      good luck. 🙂

  2. Rambli

    4 May, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    I asked YSL promoters which perfume are made of gaharu…none of them knows…do you?

    1. LadyBird Eileen®

      7 May, 2012 at 11:28 am

      i dont think all of the YSL promoters are aware of its product content but here’s one of YSL perfume that uses agarwood –

      here’s another interesting site on agarwood fyi – 🙂
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