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, also found growing in the northern region of India and Nepal. The plant grows to about 1 m in height and has pink, bell-shaped flowers. It is found in the altitude of about 3000–5000 meters. 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.[1]

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. In Rome, it was the main ingredient of the perfume nardinum (O.L. náladam) derived from the Hebrew שבלת נרד (shebolet nard, head of nard bunch)[2] which was part of the Ketoret used when referring to the consecrated incense described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. It is also referred to as the HaKetoret (the incense). It was offered on the specialized incense altar in the time when the Tabernacle was located in the First and Second Jerusalem Temples. The ketoret was an important component of the Temple service in Jerusalem. Nard is mentioned a number of times in the Tanakh, and as part of incense in reference to hilchot shabbat in Tractate Shabbat 78b as well as Maimonides Hilchot Shabbat 18:16. It is mentioned twice in the Song of Solomon (1:12 and 4:13).

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).

In the New Testament John 12:1–10, six days before the passover Jesus arrives in Bethany. In Bethany, Mary, sister of Lazarus uses a pound of pure nard to anoint Jesus's feet. Judas Iscariot, the keeper of the money-bag, asked why the ointment was not sold for three hundred denarii instead (about a year's wages, as the average agricultural worker received one denarius for 12 hours work: Matthew 20:2) and the money given to the poor. Two passages in parallel (Matthew 26:6–13, and Mark 14:3–9) speak of an occasion two days before the passover, in which an unnamed woman anoints Jesus's head. 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. Yet Judas Iscariot having betrayal in his heart did not intend to sell it unto the poor, he was frustrated and spoke out of place and could not bear to see some one treat Jesus well.

It was a common flavouring in Ancient Roman foods and occurs frequently in the recipes of Apicius, though it tends to be used sparingly.[3]

Spikenard was 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. From the 17th century it was one of the ingredients for a strong beer called Stingo.

Modern use

Today, oil of spikenard is not used as widely as that of its many valerian relatives. Spikenard is still used in many Tibetan healing incenses. It is used in the herbal medicine of India, Tibet and the rest of China as a nerve tonic and sedative for sleep disorders—a property it shares with the closely related valerian or Valeriana officinalis. 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; it is 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. Its oil is also used for preparing medicines for cholera, epilepsy, heart diseases,etc.


  1. ^ Dalby, Andrew (2000), Dangerous Tastes: the story of spices, London: British Museum Press, ISBN 0714127205  (US ISBN 0-520-22789-1) pp. 83–88
  2. ^ Klein, Ernest, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, The University of Haifa, Carta, Jerusalem, p.427
  3. ^ "Apicius; De Re Coquinaria". Nemeton. http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/apicius-coquinaria.php. Retrieved 5 November 2011. 

Further reading

  • 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).

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • SPIKENARD — (Nard; Heb. נֵרְד, nerd), spice mentioned three times in the Song of Songs. It grew in the imaginary spice garden to which the loved one is compared (Song 4:12–14) and she perfumed herself with it while waiting for her beloved (1:12). According… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Spikenard — Spike nard, n.[For spiked nard; cf. G. spieknarde, NL. spica nardi. See {Spike} an ear, and {Nard}.] 1. (Bot.) An aromatic plant. In the United States it is the {Aralia racemosa}, often called {spignet}, and used as a medicine. The spikenard of… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • spikenard — mid 14c., aromatic substance from an Indian plant, from M.L. spica nardi (see SPIKE (Cf. spike) (n.2)), rendering Gk. nardou stakhys; the second element probably ultimately from Skt. nalada , the name of the plant …   Etymology dictionary

  • spikenard — [spīk′närd΄, spīk′nərd] n. [ME < LL(Ec) spica nardi < L spica, an ear of grain (see SPIKE2) + nardus,NARD] 1. a fragrant ointment used in ancient times 2. an Asiatic plant (Nardostachys jatamansi) of the valerian family that yielded this… …   English World dictionary

  • spikenard — /spuyk neuhrd, nahrd/, n. 1. an aromatic, Indian plant, Nardostachys jatamansi, of the valerian family, believed to be the nard of the ancients. 2. an aromatic substance used by the ancients, supposed to be obtained from this plant. 3. any of… …   Universalium

  • spikenard — noun Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo French or Medieval Latin; Anglo French spicanarde, from Medieval Latin spica nardi, literally, spike of nard Date: 14th century 1. a. a fragrant ointment of the ancients b. a Himalayan aromatic plant… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • spikenard — spike·nard spīk .närd n 1 a) a fragrant ointment of the ancients b) a Himalayan aromatic plant (Nardostachys jatamansi) from which spikenard is believed to have been derived 2) an American herb of the genus Aralia (A. racemosa) whose dried… …   Medical dictionary

  • spikenard — širdinė aralija statusas T sritis vardynas apibrėžtis Aralijinių šeimos daržovinis augalas (Aralia cordata), paplitęs rytų Azijoje. atitikmenys: lot. Aralia cordata angl. Japanese asparagus; spikenard; udo vok. japanische Bergangelika pranc.… …   Lithuanian dictionary (lietuvių žodynas)

  • spikenard — stambiažiedis nardas statusas T sritis vardynas apibrėžtis Valerijoninių šeimos vaistinis augalas (Nardostachys grandiflora), paplitęs rytų ir pietų Azijoje. Iš jo gaunamas eterinis aliejus. atitikmenys: lot. Nardostachys grandiflora;… …   Lithuanian dictionary (lietuvių žodynas)

  • spikenard — aralija statusas T sritis vardynas apibrėžtis Aralijinių (Araliaceae) šeimos augalų gentis (Aralia). atitikmenys: lot. Aralia angl. aralia; spikenard vok. Aralie rus. аралия lenk. aralia …   Dekoratyvinių augalų vardynas

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