Spikenard, also called nard, nardin, and muskroot, is a class of aromatic amber-colored essential oil derived from Nardostachys jatamansi, a flowering plant of the Valerian family which grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. The oil has, since ancient times, been used as a perfume, as a medicine and in religious contexts, across a wide territory from India to Europe.
The Bible contains several references to the spikenard, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and it is used in Catholic iconography to represent Saint Joseph. With this meaning, Pope Francis has included the spikenard in his coat of arms.
Nardostachys jatamansi is a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. The plant grows to about 1 meter (3 ft) in height and has pink, bell-shaped flowers. It is found in the altitude of about 3,000 to 5,000 m (9,800 to 16,400 ft). 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.
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 נֵרד (shebolet nerd, head of nard bunch), 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, including Lavandula stoechas and tuberous valerian as well as true nard (in modern terms Nardostachys jatamansi).
It was a common flavouring in Ancient Roman foods and occurs frequently in the recipes of Apicius, though it tends to be used sparingly.
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.
The ancient Greeks called the lavender herb nardus, after the Syrian city of Naarda (possibly the modern town of Dohuk, Iraq). It was also commonly called nard. The species originally grown was L. stoechas.
What is Spikenard Essential Oil?
Aromatherapy based infusions and blends including spikenard essential oil encourage serenity and mildly tranquilize. The rich woody essence is known for bringing comfort to heart and soul.
In ancient times, the spikenard essential oil was associated with spiritual healing, sacredness, and wellness. The bible gives reference to it by calling it “nard”. A pound of the fragrant oil, kept in an alabaster jar, was used by Mary of Bethany to anoint Jesus’ feet during the last supper. It was a costly gift worth 300 denarii, or a year’s wage.
The plant from which the essential oil is distilled grows straight and tall with reddish purple or white flowers. The entire plant is fragrant. This continual smell is its defense against invading bacteria and insects. It is a perennial herb, with long gray roots with brown clumping threads. This plant dies back in the winter and then sprouts again in the summer. Only the gray roots are used to make the mash that makes the oil. They are collected, dried, and then crushed and then steam distilled until a dark yellow liquid is released.
Benefits of Spikenard Essential Oil
The health benefits of Spikenard Essential Oil can be attributed to its properties as an antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, deodorant, laxative, sedative and uterine substance.
The traditional use of this plant was for the skin and female reproductive organs such as the uterus and ovaries. Due to its earthy and somewhat wet, soil-like smell, which resembles the smell of moss, it is also used in aromatherapy as a sedative and calming agent.
The uses of Spikenard essential oil discussed above are not its only uses. Its essential oil has a number of other medicinal uses which are explained in greater detail below.
This property, along with its antibacterial property, makes the spikenard essential oil an efficient skin care agent. It helps to cure ailments caused by fungal infections on the skin and inside the body, including food poisoning by fungus, dermatitis, patches on skin, itching, deformation in the skin, and psoriasis.
This is one of the properties which makes this oil (and of course, Spikenard), a potent remedy for many skin ailments that result from bacterial infections. It not only works on the skin, but also helps terminate bacterial growth inside the body as well. It can be applied on wounds to protect them from bacterial infections and is found to be effective in curing bacterial infections in the urethra, urinary bladder, and kidneys, as well as in the treatment of Athlete’s Foot, cholera, food poisoning, septic, and tetanus.
The earthy and mossy fragrance of the spikenard essential oil is pleasant to the nostrils and the mind. It is very soothing on nerves and mind and gives a comfortable feeling. It is no wonder that such a fragrance would be used as a deodorant. Furthermore, it is not harsh and does not give you headaches or allergies like many synthetic deodorants do.
This property of Spikenard, which is inherited by its essential oil, makes it fight nearly all sorts of inflammation, whether they effect the nervous, digestive or respiratory systems.
Constipation or improper excretion is the root of almost seventy percent of ailments that we suffer from. It is mentally and psychologically disturbing as well. Laxatives are there to help, but many of them (particularly the synthetic ones) are very harsh on the entire digestive and excretory system and dry out the inner walls of the digestive tract, the intestines and the excretory tracts by washing out the mucus membrane.
Spikenard essential oil is a well known sedative and helps maintain your physical, mental and psychological balance. It sedates inflammations in the digestive and nervous system, irritations, nervous afflictions, convulsions, depression, stress and feelings like anxiety, anger, and panic. It also sedates cardiac problems such as abnormal palpitations and restlessness. These sedating and relaxing effects also help patients of insomnia to get healthy sleep.
This oil is used as depurative for the uterus and the ovaries. It stimulates the uterus and ovaries and the secretion of hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which help to maintain the proper health and reproductive capabilities of these organs.
It can be used to treat allergies, fever, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and the pain of angina, as well as aiding in the regeneration of cells, the healing of wounds, the circulation of blood and lymph, and the secretion of hormones and enzymes. In aromatherapy, this oil is employed for inducing mental peace, harmony, and truthfulness.
Composition of Spikenard Essential Oil
The spikenard essential oil is extracted by steam distillation of the resin obtained from this plant and it contains aristolene, calarene, clalarenol, coumarin, dihydroazulenes, jatamanshinic acid, nardol, nardostachone, valerianol, valeranal and valeranone as its chief components, which are the sources of its medicinal properties.
Uses of Spikenard Essential Oil
Spikenard essential oil is used a sedative and an herbal medicine to fight insomnia, birth difficulties, and other minor ailments. Spikenard essential oil has also been used as a perfume and in incense. When combined with carrier oil as jojoba, sweet almond, or avocado, Spikenard Essential Oil can be applied to the skin or added to baths. For many uses you can sprinkle a few drops of Spikenard Essential Oil onto a cloth or cotton ball and breathe in the scent. Or add a few drops of Spikenard essential oil to an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporizer.
For skin enhancement and to aid in mild rashes or other skin conditions, just add a few drops of Spikenard Essential Oil on a cotton ball and apply to the affected area daily, until the rash in gone.
There are many forms to utilize Spikenard Essential Oil in Aromatherapy, here are a few examples:
- Inhalation –just add two to three drops of Spikenard Essential Oil into a bowel of steaming hot water. Take a towel and drape it over your head to capture the steam. Hold your head over the bowel with the towel for a few minutes. As long as the water is still steaming, you can repeat the process for the best results.
- Vaporization – the best form of vaporization is to use a nebulizing diffuser. Add pure Spikenard essential Oil to immediately improve your environment.
- Massage – this is probably the most relaxing therapeutic process to receive the aromatherapy benefits of Spikenard. Start with one ounce of massage oil and add fifteen to twenty drops of pure Spikenard Essential Oil. With this massage technique you will not only detoxify the body, but also stimulate the entire circulatory system.
- Bathing – for bathing you need to add a dispersant, which can be alcohol, milk, or golden jojoba. This helps break up the oil on the surface of the water. Add four to six drops of Spikenard Essential Oil to your bath for a relaxing and rejuvenation experience.
- Spray – take a spray bottle and seven ounces of distilled water with one ounce of vodka or 90% rubbing alcohol, then add one teaspoon of Spikenard Essential Oil. Spray wherever you to deodorized or disinfect. This spray works great on linens, towels, furniture, rugs and gives everything a clean smell.
Blending for Spikenard Essential Oil
Spikenard Essential Oil blends well with these other oils of Frankincense, Lavender, Myrrh, Orange, Petit Grain, Rose, and Sage. A major attribute of the Spikenard Oil is that it is considered to be non-toxic, non-irritant, and non-sensitizing.
Side effects and Precautions of Spikenard Essential Oil
Due to the lack of studies testing the health effects of spikenard essential oil, little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of this remedy. However, there’s some concern that use of spikenard essential oil may be harmful to pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as to people with epilepsy.
While essential oils may aid in the treatment of certain health problems, using spikenard essential oil as a substitute for standard care in the treatment of a chronic conditions may have serious consequences.
Essential oils can be toxic when taken internally so they should only be taken orally under the guidance of a qualified professional.
Some essential oils may cause irritation or allergic reactions in people with sensitive skin so it is wise to do a patch test before using regularly.
Alternatives to Spikenard Essential Oil
Valerian, a plant in the same family as spikenard, produces an essential oil that’s often used to help promote sleep and soothe stress. While evidence for the health effects of valerian essential oil is limited, several studies suggest that use of dietary supplements containing valerian extract may help ease insomnia and anxiety.
Another essential oil said to possess sedative properties, lavender essential oil may help you sleep more soundly. And for help in taming anxiety, consider using essential oils of rose and/or bergamot.