[spahyk-nerd, -nahrd]
spikenard, name for several plants. The biblical spikenard, or nard, was a costly aromatic ointment, preserved in alabaster boxes, whose chief ingredient is believed to have been derived from Nardostachys grandiflora (or N. jatamansi), a plant of the family Valerianaceae (valerian family). Such was the precious box of ointment that Mary Magdalen broke over Jesus' feet. The American spikenard, or Indian root, is Aralia racemosa, of the family Araliaceae (ginseng family). The fragrant rhizome of both of these plants is still sometimes used medicinally. The false Solomon's seal, of the family Liliaceae (lily family), is sometimes called wild spikenard. Spikenards are all classified in the division Magnoliophyta but differ in the classes, orders, and families to which they belong.

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.

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. 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).

It was used as one of the Eleven Herbs for the Incense in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Nard is mentioned twice in the biblical love poem, the Song of Solomon (1:12 and 4:13). In Mark 14:3 a woman anoints Jesus' head with expensive nard and John 12:3, Mary, sister of Lazarus uses an alabaster jar of pure nard to anoint Jesus's feet, offending Judas Iscariot, the dishonest keeper of the apostle's money-bag , causing Judas to ask her why she didn't sell the ointment for three hundred denarii (About a years wages, as the average agricultural worker received 1 denarius for 12 hours work: Matthew 20:2) and give the money to the poor. Earlier in Jesus' ministry (Luke 7:37-50), an unnamed sinful woman also anoints his feet, washing them with her tears and drying them with her hair. The costly perfume she used came from an alabaster jar, indicating that it was most likely nard. A jar of spikenard in their society was very expensive.

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

Essential Oil Use

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.

External links


  • (US ISBN 0-520-22789-1) pp. 83-88
  • Dalby, Andrew, "Spikenard" in Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, 2nd ed. by Tom Jaine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-19-280681-5).

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