Nardostachys jatamansi is the botanical name of nard mentioned in the Bible. In biblical times, nard (also known as spikenard) was considered a valuable and fragrant oil, often used in perfumes and ointments. It was also used in religious ceremonies as a symbol of honor and distinction.
It is a flowering herb found in the Himalayan region at altitudes of 3000–5000 meters. The plant grows to a height of one meter and has bell-shaped pink flowers. The collection and harvesting of N. jatamansi are done before the first snow, usually from May to July. Harvesting too early can cause a year’s growth loss because the plant’s growing period starts after the spring snowmelt and continues until November. The rhizomes are physically uprooted, which decreases their numbers and availability. Thus, N. jatamansi was added to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora list in 1997 at the request of India, followed by further restrictions in 2007.
The rhizomes are crushed and distilled to yield a long-lasting amber-colored aromatic oil used in incense, perfume, and herbal medicine. The essential oil has a green, moderately powerful, medicinal, and herbaceous top note that is spicy and sweet. The middle notes are of clove and ginger, with rich earth, wet wood, and dried leaf undertones.
Spikenard essential oil blends well with pine, lavender, patchouli, and vetiver oil. The oil is non-toxic and non-irritating on the skin. It is often used in combination with other short-lived scents like a rose. Roots and rhizomes contain a variety of sesquiterpenes and coumarins.
In ancient Greece and Rome, spikenard was used to make a popular unguent called nardinium, which helped to meditate and calm the nerves. When mixed with olive oil, it was used for consecration, dedication, and worship, a continued practice. It was also an ingredient in the Jewish Ketoret incense. As previously mentioned, incense was burned in Jewish temples to mask the smell of animal sacrifices. Traditionally, spikenard and other incense were also used to anoint visitors’ foreheads and feet, often covered in dirt from traveling.
The Bible and the Old Testament mention Spikenard, or nard, at least seven times. Song of Solomon 1:10–13 alludes to the romance associated with this incense. It is said that the cost of a pound of spikenard was 300 to 400 denari. The daily wage of labor at that time was one denar.
In the book of Isaiah, nard is also mentioned in a list of luxurious goods that would be brought to the King of Tyre: “The ships of Tarshish will bring your sons from far away, their silver and gold with them, for the honor of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, who has richly blessed you.” (Isaiah 60:9)
In the Old Testament, the nard is seen as a symbol of luxury, richness, and divine honor.
The New Testament mentions the story of Mary of Bethany, who anoints Jesus’ feet with nard before his crucifixion. In this context, the nard symbolizes love and devotion, and the anointing demonstrates Mary’s devotion to Jesus.
To know more about herbs from the Bible, you can check here.