We are just back from a quiet retreat-greatly refreshed. Today's newsletter will be on Spikenard/Nardostachys jatamansi. I have been procuring the EcoCert Green Spikenard oil from Nepal as it is being ecologically harvested with systematic replanting of the roots. It is a superb oil with a rich history behind it.
Monograph on Spikenard/Nardostachys jatamansi
Meanwhile John Estaugh departed across the sea, and departing
Carried hid in his heart a secret sacred and precious,
Filling its chambers with fragrance, and seeming to him in its
Mary's ointment of spikenard, that filled all the house with its
O lost days of delight, that are wasted in doubting and waiting!
O lost hours and days in which we might have been happy!
But the light shone at last, and guided his wavering footsteps,
And at last came the voice, imperative, questionless, certain.
Poems of Henry Wordsworth Longfellow
Tales of a Wayside Inn
Spikenard was a costly aromatic ointment extracted since ancient times from an Indian plant known in Sanskrit as Nardostachys Jatamansi which perhaps means 'the braid of hair (Jataa) of (Narada). The English word Spikenard is derived from the Greek term Nardostakhus and the Latin term Spica Nardi; both the terms are derived from the Sanskrit term Nardostachys Jatamansi. This plant has purplish-yellow flower heads and is very rarely found. Its smell is quite pleasing and hence it had been in great demand since ancient times.
In Sanskrit, other terms used to refer to this plant are, Jatila which means 'difficult', Tapasvini which literally means 'concentration and devotion'. These words used to describe Spikenard indicate that it was very difficult to obtain and cultivate this plant. In India this herb was available only in the Himalayas. Spikenard, which is aromatic and bitter, yields on distillation a pleasant smelling oil.
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.
History:(all references to therapeutic and medicinal uses in this article are for cultural interest only and not meant as a guide to treatment for 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.
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.
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
Part Used for Distillation/Extraction: rhizome
Extraction Technique: steam-distilled
Yield: up to 1.9%
Color: pale yellow to amber colored liquid
Odor: heavy, sweet-woody, spicy-animal odor reminiscent of valerian, ginger, cardomom, atlas cedarwood oils; (Arctander, p. 592)
Flavor: flavor is warm-spicy, rootlike in sweetness, somewhat pinewood like and slightly bitter-burning, powerful (Arctander, p. 592)
Blends Well With: blends with cedarwood oil, labdamum products, lavender, oakmoss products, patchouli oil, pine needle oil, vetiver oil, etc. (Arctander, p. 592)
The famous aromatic root, nard, was known in ancient times as an ingredient in ointments, and is believed to be the same as the Indian nardostachys, N. jatamansi which has been renamed Nardostachys grandiflora. There is also a Valeriana jatamansi that is similar to nardostachys and used as a substitute. The species name jatamansi is adopted directly from the original Sanskrit name of the herb. The biblical nard was a costly aromatic ointment, preserved in alabaster boxes. Unlike valerian, which has an odor that is often described as unpleasant (sometimes likened to dirty socks), the nardostachys fragrance is considered attractive and similar to expensive musk. Its oil is used in perfumery (especially to fragrance women's hair); the herb is also used in bathwater and it is a major ingredient in incense.
Still reasonably rare and reasonably expensive, most find spikenard's name much more familiar than its fragrance. Its reputation is ancient. It is an ingredient in some formulas for Kyphi, the famed sacred Egyptian temple perfume. Spikenard was also a component of the sacred incense offered in the Jewish Temple of Jerusalem. It is mentioned no less than three times in the Song of Songs. The ancient Greeks had a beloved perfume fragrance based on spikenard. Spikenard's main claim to fame comes from its prominence in the New Testament. It was ointment of spikenard that Mary of Bethany (whether she is one and the same with Mary Magdalene, now matron saint of perfumers, is still the subject of intense debate, as it has been for centuries) used to anoint the feet of Jesus Christ, filling the entire room with its aroma. Rather than its wonderful fragrance, however, what is most famous about spikenard is its high cost. Two of the gospels comment on its price. Judas Iscariot was apparently offended at the anointing of Jesus, demanding to know why the jar of ointment wasn't sold and the proceeds given to the poor. In the light of its discovery in Tutankhamun's tomb, it can be appreciated that spikenard was truly a fragrance fit for a king.
A rare Chinese text about incense, titled Xian pu, (Jap. Koh fu) which was written around 1100 c.e. is today preserved in Baieido's library of incense literature. The Xiang pu mentions the calming effects of Spikenard when used in incense. It also mentions its use and importance in formulas containing Sandalwood & Aloeswood. Today it is used mainly for making incense sticks (senko). Spikenard is one of the most common ingredients in ancient Japanese incense recipes. One of the most famous is the Plum Blossom formula:
Aloeswood 4 ryo(60grams)
Cloves 2 ryo (30grams)
Seashell (Kaiko) 2 bu (0.8grams)
Spikenard 2 shu (0.14grams)
Musk 3 shu (0.21grams)
Variations of this formula are still used by Buddhist temples in Japan to this day. Baika is not a specific formula but consists of a number of variations of Awaseko traditionally used in the Spring! Other variations are:
Jinko 3.1 oz
Clove 1 oz.
Kaiko 1 oz.
Sandalwood 0.5 oz
Spikenard 0.20 oz.
Ajowan seed 0.1875 oz.
Ambergris 0.25 oz.
Musk 0.4 oz
Borneol 0.375 oz.
Folk and traditional medicines:(all references to therapeutic and medicinal uses in this article are for cultural interest only and not meant as a guide to treatment for disease)In India roots are a well known tranquilizer and may be used alone or along with Valeriana jatamansi (V. wallichi); in ayurveda used in "Mansyadi Kwath" and "Rakshoghna Ghrita" while in Unani, in "Jawarishood Tursh", "Ma'jun Musali Pak", Ma'jun Nisgan", "Muffareh Kabir", Naushadaroo-i-Lulu", etc. (MEOPI, p. 361)-Wealth of India
“Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself. The Assyrians call it the Phoenix. It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. When it has lived five hundred years, it builds itself a nest in the branches of an oak, or on the top of a palm tree. In this it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors. From the body of the parent bird a young Phoenix issues forth, destined to live a life as long as its predecessor. When this has grown up and gathered sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent’s sepulcher), and carries it to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun.”