Massoia (Cryptocarya massoy) bark
“Your body is more fragrant than opium,
more special than sandalwood,
sweeter than massoia bark.”
This mention of massoia bark is from the “Bujangga Manik “ a palm leaf, poetic manuscript written in West Java during the 15th century. The manuscript currently resides in the Bodleian Library of Oxford University in England. The lyric poem describes the travels of a Hindu ascetic, Bujangga Manik, who travels around Java and Bali before ascending to heaven. He begins the journey as a naive young prince of Pajajaran and during his journey acquires the knowledge and spiritual understanding to be considered a sage or holy man. The bark has a distinctive smell for a wood of coconut, caramel, milk and peach with components found in cane sugar molasses, cured tobacco and the Osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans). In ancient Indonesia, Massoia (Cryptocarya massoy) bark was highly valued and considered to be one of the traditional “Holy Woods” used in incense, perfumed oils and medicine. Taxes in the form of piles of fragrant materials such as massoia, sandalwood, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ambergris and musk were written into the court records of 14th century Indonesia. As incense, Massoia was also considered to be an aphrodisiac. Early Portuguese and Dutch traders noted that massoia was extremely popular among “the Javanese, who value it as a medicine. They grind it and rub their bodies with it, as an ointment, even when in good health; and they spend a lot of money on it each year”. The Javanese women still make a warming ointment know as “Bobary” from the bark that they use during the cool, rainy season.
The principal harvest of Massoia bark in the 21st century is for essential oil and CO2 that is used for flavoring and fragrance, with a small amount put aside for local consumption in making medicine and incense. It is extremely rare to find the whole bark outside Indonesia. Masoia oil ranks 8th in the production of essential oils in Indonesia. Like many forest trees, over harvesting became a problem starting in the late 20th century. Massoia trees grow in clusters but are spread unevenly in nature so there has been quite a bit of work on making sustainable plantations. The Government of Indonesia has been working with global fragrance corporations and local communities to plant Massoia trees as an understory crop, rather than harvesting in the wild. Young Massoia trees can grow quickly and reach a height of 20 feet within 3 years. Community coops coppice the trees when harvesting to get young shoots, in order to propagate new tree by cuttings which they then plant in the forest understory. Like sandalwood and agarwood, sustainable plantation cultivation is the future for massoia.