So, after bath, the slave-girls brought
The precious raiment for her wear,
The misty izar from Mosul,
The pearls and opals for her hair,
The slippers for her little feet,
(Two radiant crescent moons they were,)
And lavender, and spikenard sweet,
And attars, nedd, and heavy musk.
When they had finished dressing her,
(The Eye of Morn, the Heart's Desire!)
Like one pale star against the dusk, A single diamond on her brow
Trembled with its imprisoned fire!
Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907: The Course of True Love NEVER Did Run Smooth [from The Course of True Love never Did Run Smooth (1858)]
The Spikenard of India, Nardostachys jatamansi, produces a beautiful green or chocolate colored oil, which eloquently speaks of the high mountain environs from which it comes. The rich, mysterious, earthy constituents mingle with a soft warm spicyness which is balm to the heart and soul. It captures in itself something of the spirit of those places which have been sacred places of devotion for countless centuries. The Himalayan ranges of Nepal, India and Burma provide the natural habitat for this botancial gem which has been revered both in east and west for many centuries. My personal contact with the plant has been limited to holding the aromatic roots in hand while standing in the Kullu Valley of the Himalayas. Mr. Nandlal, a true botanical lover of the Himalayas presented us with roots used for distillation gathered from the surrounding towering peaks and one could only marvel at how this modest root could be gathered from the higher reaches of the mountains by the folk living in their simple homes located on the sheer slopes. And what a sweet treasure it was to crush the roots and smell the elixir gathered in the roots from the soil of the ancient Himalayas. Following is information extracted from various web sites which may give a fuller appreciation of the plant and its special virtues. You can link to the various web sites to investigate the subject in greater depth.
Spikenard - Etymology
ETYMOLOGY: Middle English, from Anglo-Norman, from Medieval Latin spca nard, Latin spca, spike, ear, + Latin nard genitive of nardus, nard.
ETYMOLOGY: Middle English narde, from Old French, from Latin nardus, from Greek nardos, probably ultimately from Sanskrit naladam, Indian spikenard.
Spikenard - History (Information is provided for cultural and historical interest, not as a recommendation for treatment of disease.)
It has from a very remote period been in use among the Indians as a perfume and medicine. It is mentioned by Susruta in a prescription for epilepsy and is prescribed by Indian physicians as a nervine tonic and carminative and aromatic adjunct in the preparation of medicinal oils and ghees. N.jatamansi is the Nardin of Dioscorides, which the writer tells us, was also called Gangitis because the Ganges flowed from the foot of the mountains where the plant grew. Arabic and Persian physicians call this plant Sumbul-i-Hindi, "Indian Spike", to distinguish it from their Sumbul-i-Rumi or Ikliti (Valeriana celtica), the root of which is used in Turkey and Egypt as a perfume. http://www.thehimalayadrugco.com/h-nardos.htm
Spikenard - Distribution
Distribution It is commonly distributed in an elevation range of 3500m to 4500m in the northern aspect of the sub-alpine and alpine pastureland of the Himalayas in Nepal. Though found in eastern to western region of the country, Jatamansi is more abundant in the western regions. The plant is mostly found growing in steep areas with a 25 o- 45o slope. It grows well on open, stony and grassy slopes, and on the turf of glacial flats. It is also found growing under the Silver Birch forest, where its growth is good with large leaves and long rootstock. This may be due to the abundance of rotten leaves (humus) and shade under the Birch forest.
Spikenard - Description
Description N.jatamansi is an erect perennial herb, with a long, stout and woody rootstock. Its radical leaves are elongate and spathulate, its cauline leaves are sessile and oblong or sub-ovate; the flowers are rosy, pale pink or blue, in dense cymes. The drug consists of short, thick, dark grey rhizomes crowned with reddish brown tufted fibrous remains of the petioles of the radical leaves. http://www.thehimalayadrugco.com/h-nardos.htm The flowering takes place during June to July and fruiting in August-October. In the beginning of October, all leaves turn yellow and become ready for pereniation. During the winter, the herb sheds all leaves, gets buried under the snow and remains dormant. With the melting of the snow in the beginning of summer, Jatamansi starts growing.
Spikenard - Harvesting
Harvesting The appropriate time for harvesting Jatamansi is October through December. The early snowfall in some years disturbs the harvesting during the main harvesting season and makes the harvesting job difficult and sometimes impossible due to the thick layer of snow in the harvesting site. Because of this, it is sometimes harvested during May or June which is detrimental for its future growth. Jatamansi is generally collected by pulling out the rhizomes with or without the help of a Kuto (a small spade like handtool). The long rhizomes under shrubs and trees are handpicked. Rhizomes are gathered into a basket, or sac after removing leaves and roots. Collectors dry the raw Jatamansi partially at the collection point before transporting it to their home, processing unit, or to a selling point.
Projects in Nepal centered on Biodiversity Management with special reference to Spikenard/ The websites listed explain the different dimensions of the project. It is very inspirational. It is through this connection that I am able to procure a beautiful spikenard oil. I think if you can manage to find the time to read through the following reports it will be educational. There are many challanges which such ethically based projects face but it is wonderful to see how this type of work is evolving with the potential for being a model for projects in other parts of the world. I believe there are many many opportunities for each on of us to participate in such activities according to our own natures. As we become more educated and aware of such endeavors we may find ways in which we can help, however modest those efforts may be. Nepal Essential Oils Project http://www.enterpriseworks.org/programs_strategy_natural_products_nepal_essential.htm http://www.bcnet.org/learning/ar97/97_humla1.htm http://www.nepalnet.org.np/ansab/project_example.htm http://srdis.ciesin.org/cases/nepal-006.html http://www.mtnforum.org/resources/library/ojhax01a.htm
Spikenard - Constituents
Essential oil, resin, sugar, starch,gum, bitter matter K = rhizomes and roots contain volatile essential oil .5% oleum jatamansi, resin, sugar, starch, bitter matter, gum, ketone called jatamansone, sesquiterpee = seychelane, and beta-sitosterol. Roots have many compounds viz. valeranone, valeranal, nardol,calarenol, nardostechone, n-hexacosanyl arachidate, n-hexaconsanol,calarene, n-hexacosane, h-hexacosanyl isovalerate, acosanyl arachidate, n-hexaconsanol, calarene, norseychelanone, seychellen, patchouli alcohol, hydrocarbons, beta-eudesmol, elemol, beta-sitosterol,angelicin, jatamansinol
more useful information on specific photochemicals
Spikenard - General Uses
Its oil is also believed to promote growth and impart blackness to hair. The local people also use the rhizome for making incense by mixing it with the powder of Juniper and Sunpati. The rhizome of Jatamansi is used in perfumery. The dried rhizomes are steam-distilled to yield between 1 - 2% of essential oil, commercially known as Spikenard oil. Spikenard oil of good quality has a greenish color and an odor suggestive of patchouli and Indian valerian (Valeriana officinalis L.), which has a sweet, woody, and spicy animal odor.It can be used in perfumes with an oriental basis, heavy florals, animal amber types, etc. It blends well with Cedarwood and Lavender. The oil resinifies on exposure to air. Processing & Market. The volatile oil cells are generally located on the fine fibrous hairs of the rhizome.
Its use as an anointing oil and aromatic treasure in the Bible. Jatamansi is harvested for local use as well as for the trade of its valuable roots/rhizomes.
etymology of spikenard
agricultural considerations in Nepal
anointing oil with historical background
msds information and more
Thou box of alabaster, in whose walls
The souls of flowers lie pent, the precious balm
And spikenard of Arabian farms, the spirits
Of aromatic herbs, ethereal natures
Nursed by the sun and dew, not all unworthy
To bathe his consecrated feet, whose step
Makes every threshold holy that he crosses;
Let us go forth upon our pilgrimage,
Thou and I only! Let us search for him
Until we find him, and pour out our souls
Before his feet, till all that's left of us
Shall be the broken caskets that once held us!
Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Christus: A Mystery