Spikenard (Narostachys jatamansi, Caprifoliaceae*), also known as jatamansi, is part of the honeysuckle family and native to India, Japan, and China. Reaching a height of two feet, spikenard is a perennial herb with a long, slim stem; elongated, spatulated leaves; and a cluster of pink-purple bell-shaped flowers The plant grows well at high elevations (10,000-16,000 feet in the Himalayas).1 Because it does not grow near human settlements, the inhabitants of the Manang District of Nepal held it in high esteem considering it uncontaminated. Spikenard roots, sometimes referred to as muskroot, are pungent and aromatic and have been used as incense. In the Sikkim Himalayas, smoking the roots was believed to drive away evil spirits.
In Ayurveda, spikenard is considered cooling in energy and is sweet, bitter, and astringent.2 It is sattvic, in that it balances all three doshas (Kapha, Pitta, Vata). While used as a sedative, it can also aid in awareness and strengthening the mind. Spikenard has been prescribed to treat skin diseases, burning sensations, mental disturbances, and insomnia.3 It was used as a fumigation to treat fear psychosis. Oils with spikenard were applied externally for edema, arthritis, fractures, and gout. It was also included in hair oils and for hair growth tonics. Considered calming for the nerves, spikenard benefits Vata in that it grounds the nervous system and balances the mind.4 In India, spikenard aids in promoting digestion after a meal. Therapeutic benefits include demulcent for internal organs, sedative, nutritive tonic, and expectorant. The sun-dried roots can be soaked in ghee (clarified butter) and then smoked to relieve asthma.1
In contrast to the Ayurvedic perspective, the Greek physician Dioscorides considered spikenard to be warming and drying. He referred to it as gangitis (a product of the Ganges) and recommended its use for epilepsy and hysteria. Spikenard was well known as an ingredient in ancient perfumes. The Romans included it in several formulations, including Foliatum, Natron, and Regalitum (Royal Unguent). One of the more famous mentions of spikenard occurs in the gospel of John where a description appears of Mary Magdalene anointing the feet of Jesus with an extravagant amount of spikenard ointment. Due to this reference, Mary Magdalene became the patron saint for French perfumers.
An essential oil distilled from the dried and crushed roots and rhizomes has been described as heavy, pungent, earthy, sweet-woody, spicy, and animalistic.5 Considered precious for millennia, spikenard’s spiritual applications include centering the mind and soul while promoting freedom, reconciliation with all the various experiences that have occurred in life, and courage to surrender to the unknown.6
Spikenard is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
HerbClip™ Managing Editor
1Rhind JP. Fragrance and Wellbeing – Plant Aromatics and Their Influence on the Psyche. London, UK: Singing Dragon; 2014.
2Frawley D, Lad V. The Yoga of Herbs – An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press; 1986.
3Khare CP. Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeial Plant Drugs – Expanded Therapeutics. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2016.
4Miller L, Miller B. Ayurveda & Aromatherapy. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press; 1995.
5Arctander S. Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. Carol Stream, IL: Allured Publishing; 1994.
6Battaglia S. Aromatree – A Holistic Guide to Understanding and Using Aromatherapy. Banyo, Australia: Black Pepper Creative; 2019.
*Spikenard is also referenced as part of the Valerianceae family and is often compared to valerian in both application and aroma.