Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi) also called nard or muskroot belongs to the valerian family and grows wild in Nepal, China, and India. The oil has been used over centuries as a perfume, a traditional medicine, and in Hindu and Christian religious ceremonies Pope Francis included the spikenard as a symbol of Saint Joseph in his coat of arms.
The Bible references the use of spikenard in several places:
In the Song of Solomon 1:12: “While the king is at his table, my spikenard sends forth its fragrance.” And again in the Song of Solomon 4:13: “Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with pleasant fruits, fragrant henna with spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices— a fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.”
In the Gospels of Mark and John it is mentioned in the anointing in Bethany. “And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on his head” (Mark 14:3). “Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (John 12:3)
Spikenard oil was used in ancient India, Egypt, and other parts of the Near East. In Ancient Rome, it was one of the main ingredients of the perfume oil that derived from the Hebrew ketoret when referring to the consecrated incense described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud to be poured on the altar in the temple in Jerusalem. It was a common flavoring used in Ancient Roman foods and occurs frequently in the ancient recipes of Apicius. It was used to season foods in European cuisine throughout the Middle Ages, especially in a blend of spices used to sweeten wine and beer.
Today spikenard oil is used as an herbal medicine to treat insomnia, stress, digestive problems, weak immune system and infections. Applied to wounds it reduces inflammation, kills bacteria and speeds healing. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is inhaled to uplift the mood and treat depression, stress, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome and nervous problems. Taken internally it helps with infertility and menstrual disorders.