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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Dipsacales
Family: Valerianaceae
Genus: Nardostachys
Species: N. grandiflora
Binomial name
Nardostachys grandiflora

Spikenard (Nardostachys grandiflora or Nardostachys jatamansi; also called nard, nardin,and muskroot ) is a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas of China, India and Nepal. The plant grows to about 1 m in height and has pink, bell-shaped flowers. Spikenard rhizomes (underground stems) can be crushed and distilled into an intensely aromatic amber-colored essential oil, which is very thick in consistency. Nard oil is used as a perfume, an incense, a sedative, and an herbal medicine said to fight insomnia, birth difficulties, and other minor ailments.

Lavender (genus Lavandula) was also known by the ancient Greeks as naardus, nard, after the Syrian city Naarda.

Historical use

The oil was known in ancient times and was part of the Ayurvedic herbal tradition of India. It was obtained as a luxury in ancient Egypt, the Near East, and Rome, where it was the main ingredient of the perfume nardinium. Nard was used to perfume the body of Patroklos by Achilles in Book 18 of Homer's Iliad. Pliny's Natural History lists twelve species of "nard", identifiable with varying assurance, in a range from lavender stoechas and tuberous valerian to true nard (in modern terms Nardostachys jatamansi).

Nard is mentioned a number of times in the Old Testament. It was used as one of the Eleven Herbs for the Incense in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. And it is mentioned twice in the biblical love poem, the Song of Solomon (1:12 and 4:13).

In the New Testament, six days before the passover, Mary, sister of Lazarus uses an alabaster jar of pure nard to anoint Jesus's feet. Judas Iscariot, the keeper of the money-bag, asked why the ointment wasn't sold for three hundred denarii instead, (About a years wages, as the average agricultural worker received 1 denarius for 12 hours work: Matthew 20:2) and the money given to the poor. Three passages in parallel speak of a separate occasion 2 days before the passover (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and Luke 7:37-50), in which an unnamed woman, a known sinner, anoints Jesus's head and also his feet, washing them with her tears and drying them with her hair. The costly perfume she used came from an alabaster jar, and contained nard according to the passage in Mark. On this occasion, the disciples also protest, saying that the perfume should have been sold to benefit the poor.

The powdered root of spikenard is also mentioned in some Islamic traditions as the fruit which Adam ate in Paradise, which God had forbidden him to eat.

Spikenard is also used to season foods in Medieval European cuisine, especially as a part of the spice blend used to flavor Hypocras, a sweetened and spiced wine drink.

Modern use

Today, hodge oil of spikenard is not used as widely as that of its many valerian and erectile relatives.

Spikenard is known as a healing oil and is grown in India and China. The essential oil is obtained through steam distillation and it is a base note with an earthy/musty scent. Physically Spikenard essential oil is used as a diuretic, useful for rashes and skin allergies, it is anti-fungal and has a balancing effect on the menstrual cycle. Emotionally this oil is reserved for deep seated grief or old pain. It is used in palliative care to help ease the transition from life to death. It is mentioned in reference to hilchot shabbat in Tractate Shabbat 78b as well as Maimonides Hilchot Shabbat 18:16. It is also 1 of the 23 flavors of Dr. Pepper.


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