Feature photo: www.essentialoilsinformer.com

Nardostachys jatamansi  (common name spikenard) 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 rhizomes are crushed and distilled to yield an amber, aromatic oil that is long-lasting and 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.

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, and further restrictions were placed in 2007.

Manufactured preparations, such as powders, pills, extracts, and teas, are still permitted to be traded, but bulk herb materials (whole and sliced roots) are restricted. Given the fragile ecology of the Himalayan region, any relaxation of these restrictions could lead to the rapid depletion of the species. Yet, Nepal exports substantial quantities of N. jatamansi rhizomes to India. Olsen (2005) estimates that 100–500 metric tons of air-dried rhizomes are exported annually from Nepal to India.

Tibet exports 50–100 metric tons of rhizomes to Nepal. Mulliken and Crofton (2008) evaluated Nepalese Customs and Exports data and estimated that in 2000–2001, 21 metric tons of essential oil were exported from Nepal. However, with the high-quality alternatives (e.g., Selinum vaginatum, Valeriana wallichi) available today, demand for spikenard essential oil in Jewish and Christian ceremonies has decreased, though it is still blended with other essential oils like frankincense and rose.

Read more on the herbs from the Bible in Holy Herbs: Modern Connections to Ancient Plants

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