Spikenard – an Essential Oil with a Rich History and a Heady Scent

Nardostachys grandiflora or Nardostachys jatamansi pic via www.medievalcookery.com

Nardostachys grandiflora or Nardostachys jatamansi pic via http://www.medievalcookery.com

In a recent article I included spikenard in one of my recipes – see The Hierophant – A Tarot Card Reading with Essential Oils. It is commonly called spikenard, nard and the Indian name jatamansi (which is what I call it in my mind).

When I posted the link on my Facebook page one of my friends read the article (thanks Jason), and wanted to know more about this oil. My brief comments went something like this:

It’s an oil of the bible and the story is that Mary used this to bathe Jesus feet, and it was said to cost as much as a year’s wages. It has history in other religions and appears connected to the first and second Temples of Jerusalem. Used in Ayurveda it’s great for healing and a deep connection to spirit.

So that is a quick look at the oil and I thought I’d elaborate because it’s so amazing. This is a strong oil and belongs to the same family as Valerian, Valerianaceae. I must say I’ve never used Valerian oil in my practice, as even the scent of Valerian tea is super strong and if you’ve ever taken an herbal sleep formula with Valerian, you can smell it as soon as you open the bottle!

So spikenard has the same deep, base, intensity that valerian has, and also the vetiver root (even though vetiver is more like a grass). As with vetiver oil, the rhizomes of the spikenard plant hold the essential oil. It’s sweet, heavy and almost syrupy as it flares out of the bottle. One or two drops is enough in any formula to invoke the meta-physical properties of the oil, and to bring an oil blend together and give it substance.

spikenard flower - pic via www.rkessentialoil.com

spikenard flower – pic via http://www.rkessentialoil.com

As with many essential oils, the plants have been used for centuries for both healing and  religious and spiritual ceremonies. We are relying on ancient texts to illuminate us on the uses of these plants and also the scholars who translate them. It is always fascinating to me that thousands of years ago great healers knew what the plants were good for even though they had no scientific means of measuring their components. So is this intuition, trial and error, or a combo of both? However we look at it, it is a gift from the universe and our modern medicine would be nowhere today without this ancient knowledge.

There is so much to write about here I’ll just touch on the most interesting references to this oil. Said to have been used in the Temple of Solomon, the First Temple of Jerusalem (circa 800 BC)  and the Second temple (circa 530 BC onward to about 70 BC), in the incense called Ketoret mentioned n the Hebrew Bible and other texts. Ketoret is also very similar to the Egyptian incense called kyphi too which was recorded in the Pyramid texts dating back to 2300BC. Also talked about in the Bible, as mentioned above, this plant was used in Greek and Roman healing and ceremonies, and even used in medieval cookery. And as jatamansi, it’s been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years too, especially for grounding Vata, helping digestion and and as a heart tonic.

spikenard - pic via www.aroma-pure.com

spikenard – pic via http://www.aroma-pure.com

Ok so what is spikenard used for in modern Aromatherapy?

* as a calming tonic for someone freaking out (as is valerian and vetiver)

* to induce sleep

* to act as a calming digestive tonic

* as a wound healing oil by acting as a anti-bacterial agent and also an anti-inflammatory

* as an oil for meditation to induce a soothing, calming energy to connect to higher consciousness

* as a base oil to bring an oil blend together

* to stimulate hormone production

* for mature and dry skins

When you use this oil, use it sparingly like you would do with Vetiver. The secrets of the universe are encoded in every drop of oil!

copyright suzannerbanks 2013

6 thoughts on “Spikenard – an Essential Oil with a Rich History and a Heady Scent

    • I disagree. If you dilute the essential oil to about 10%, its usefulness becomes much more apparent. Used judiciously it can be a complex woodsy base note with a musty/musky undertone. Love it! Especially ‘green spikenard’, blends awesomely with vetiver and patchouli if you like deep, earthy fragrances.

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