Spikenard, Nardostachys jatamansi, is a tender aromatic herb belonging to the Valerianaceae family. It grows to a height of about one meter and has large, lanceolate leaves, small greenish flowers and fragrant rhizome-roots. The rhizome is covered by a tuft of soft, slender light-brown rootlets. It is native to the Himalayan Mountains and grows wild in Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim at elevations of between 3,000 and 5,000 metres. It is also found in China and Japan.
Spikenard’s botanical name has its roots in the Hindu word Jatamansi which means “lock of hair.” The use of this aromatic has been recorded in a number of cultures over the years. Medically the herb is used in Ayurvedic Medicine where it is traditionally considered to calm the nerves and promote awareness and strengthen the mind. It is in the same family as Valeriana jatamansi (Indian valerian) and was sometimes used treatment of hysteria. It is mentioned several times in the Bible, twice in the Song of Solomon 1:12, 4:13, 14 and in the accounting of the washing and anointing of Jesus’ feet in the New Testament. (Mark 14:3; John 12:3). In 1652 Nicholas Culpeper noted that it ‘comforted the brain’ and helped passions and ‘swoonings of the heart’.
An amber essential oil is steam distilled from the dried rhizomes with a yield of 1 – 3%. Its major chemical components are sesquiterpenes (around 55%) alcohols (10%) and ketones (around 8%). Spikenard has a warm, sweet, woody, earthy aroma that blends well with citrus, lavender, vetiver, pine, patchouli, petitgrain, rose and spices.
Psychologically, spikenard has calming, sedative properties and is useful for insomnia, nervous indigestion, migraine, stress and tension. It can help to calm restlessness.
On the physiological level spikenard has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, cell-rejuvenating properties and is useful for allergies, rashes, psoriasis, inflammation, wound healing and mature skin.
Spikenard embodies wholeness and promotes a sense of hope. It comforts and balances the heart, especially for people who take on the cares of the world. It may aid communication between humans and animals. It increases love and devotion for God, higher self and the Divine. Spikenard teaches one to be compassionate without depleting one’s self. It can be used when one feels overwhelmed by the suffering around one. Helpful at times when we need to develop compassion. It can also be used to help one understand how to help others. Spikenard strengthens and calms the Heart and Soul. It helps to bring calm feelings of being overwhelmed by life and also gives strength for the tasks ahead.
Contraindications: Generally considered non-toxic, non-irritating, non-sensitizing and non-phototoxic.
Beverley Hawkins, Aromatherapy 201 Course 2000, revised 2001,2002, 2003, 2004,2006Return to Article Archives