Spikenard; also called nard, nardin, and muskroot, is a flowering plant used in the manufacture of an intensely aromatic amber-colored essential oil. The oil has, since ancient times, been used as a perfume, as a medicine and in religious contexts, particularly in connection with historical Judaism. The identity of the plant used in manufacturing spikenard is not certain; Nardostachys jatamansi from Asia, and lavender from the Middle East have been suggested as candidates.
The Bible contains several references to the spikenard, and it is used in Catholic iconography to represent Saint Joseph. With this meaning, Pope Francis has included the spikenard in his coat of arms.
Nardostachys jatamansi is a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. The plant grows to about 1 m in height and has pink, bell-shaped flowers. It is found in the altitude of about 3000–5000 meters. Rhizomes (underground stems) can be crushed and distilled into an intensely aromatic amber-colored essential oil, which is very thick in consistency. Nard oil is used as a perfume, an incense, a sedative, and an herbal medicine said to fight insomnia, birth difficulties, and other minor ailments.
Lavender (genus Lavandula) was also known by the ancient Greeks as nardos, nard, after the Sanskrit 'narada', or 'nalada'. The scent of spikenard attracts cats, a strange phenomenon in itself. 
The oil was known in ancient times and was part of the Ayurvedic herbal tradition of India. It was obtained as a luxury in ancient Egypt, the Near East. In Rome, it was the main ingredient of the perfume nardinum (O.L. náladam), derived from the Hebrew שבלת נֵרד (shebolet nerd, head of nard bunch), which was part of the Ketoret used when referring to the consecrated incense described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. It is also referred to as the HaKetoret (the incense).
It was offered on the specialized incense altar in the time when the Tabernacle was located in the First and Second Jerusalem Temples. The ketoret was an important component of the Temple service in Jerusalem. Nard is mentioned a number of times in the Tanakh, and as part of incense in reference to hilchot shabbat in Tractate Shabbat 78b as well as Maimonides Hilchot Shabbat 18:16. It is mentioned twice in the Song of Solomon (1:12 and 4:13).
Nard was used to perfume the body of Patroklos by Achilles in Book 18 of Homer's Iliad. Pliny's Natural History lists twelve species of "nard", identifiable with varying assurance, including Lavandula stoechas and tuberous valerian as well as true nard (in modern terms Nardostachys jatamansi).
Spikenard was used to season foods in Medieval European cuisine, especially as a part of the spice blend used to flavor Hypocras, a sweetened and spiced wine drink. From the 17th century it was one of the ingredients for a strong beer called Stingo.
The ancient Greeks called the lavender herb nardus, after the Syrian city of Naarda (possibly the modern town of Dohuk, Iraq). It was also commonly called nard. The species originally grown was L. stoechas.
In the New Testament John 12:1–10, six days before the passover Jesus arrives in Bethany. In Bethany, Mary, sister of Lazarus uses a pint of pure nard to anoint Jesus's feet. Judas Iscariot, the keeper of the money-bag, asked why the ointment was not sold for three hundred denarii instead (about a year's wages, as the average agricultural worker received one denarius for 12 hours work: Matthew 20:2) and the money given to the poor. Two passages in parallel (Matthew 26:6–13, and Mark 14:3–9) speak of an occasion two days before the passover, in which an unnamed woman anoints Jesus's head. The costly perfume she used came from an alabaster jar, and contained nard according to the passage in Mark.
nard and saffron,
calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,
with myrrh and aloes,
and all the finest spices.
In the hispanic iconographic tradition of the Catholic Church, the spikenard is used to represent Saint Joseph. The Vatican has said that the coat of arms of Pope Francis includes the spikenard in reference to Saint Joseph.
- He tastes, but tears of frankincense alone
- And odorous amomum: swaths of nard
- And myrrh his funeral shroud.
- Dalby, Andrew (2000), Dangerous Tastes: the story of spices, London: British Museum Press, ISBN 0-7141-2720-5 (US ISBN 0-520-22789-1) pp. 83–88
- "A Cat Tale of Two Scents: Valerian and Spikenard". Scent Signals. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
- Klein, Ernest, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, The University of Haifa, Carta, Jerusalem, p.427
- "Apicius; De Re Coquinaria". Nemeton. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
- The origin of most of these quotes comes from Dr. William Thomas Fernie, in his book "Herbal Simples" (Bristol Pub., 1895. ASIN: B0014W4WNE). A digital copy of the book can be read online via google books. 'By the Greeks the name Nardus is given to Lavender, from Naarda, a city of Syria near the Euphrates, and many persons call the plant "Nard." St. Mark mentions this as Spikenard, a thing of great value. In Pliny's time, blossoms of the Nardus sold for a hundred Roman denarii (or L.3 2s. 6d.) the pound. This Lavender or Nardus was called Asarum by the Romans, because it was not used in garlands or chaplets. It was formerly believed that the asp, a dangerous kind of viper, made Lavender its habitual place of abode, so that the plant had to be approached with great caution.'
- Upson T, Andrews S. The Genus Lavandula. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 2004. Books.google.ca. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
- The assumption of the history of Lavender, originating from Naarda, along with the facts about the price in Roman time, are quoted widely throughout the web (over 350 entries in a google search) calling the city Naarda, Nerdus or Nardus. The Bible has many mentions of a fragrant plant called "Nard" and an ancient Jewish Mishna recited daily in Jewish prayers, refers to "Shibolet Nard" (Hebrew for "Nard Spike") as one of the herbs used for making the holy essence at the biblical Temple. Dr. Fernie is the first known to link "Nard" with the city of Nerdus - Naarda, one of the major cities of Jewish study and origin of the Talmud, during the years 150-1100 a.d. Since Naarda or Nehar-D'Ah - river of Ah - was on a canal between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, it could never have been a Syrian city, but rather in present day Iraq, somewhere in the Baghdad area. Dr Fernie refers widely to Jewish studies, probably quoted from a former botanist Robert Turner.
- "Song of Solomon". Bible Gateway.
- "Lo Stemma di Papa Francesco". L'Osservatore Romano (Vatican website). Retrieved 18 March 2013. (In Italian: ...il fiore di nardo indica San Giuseppe...Nella tradizione iconografica ispanica, infatti, San Giuseppe è raffigurato con un ramo di nardo in mano, translates as "...the spikenard represents Saint Joseph...In the Hispanic iconographic tradition, in fact, St Joseph is depicted with a branch of spikenard in his hand").
- "Vatican releases Pope Francis' coat of arms, motto and ring". The Telegraph. 18 March 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
- "Pope stresses simplicity, ecumenism in inaugural Mass plans". National Catholic Reporter. 18 March 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
- Dalby, Andrew, "Spikenard" in Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, 2nd ed. by Tom Jaine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-19-280681-5).
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Spikenard.|
- Etymology of "nard" (at line 3)
- Caldecott, Todd (2006). Ayurveda: The Divine Science of Life. Elsevier/Mosby. ISBN 0-7234-3410-7. Contains a detailed monograph on Nardostachys grandiflora, N. jatamansi (Jatamamsi) as well as a discussion of health benefits and usage in clinical practice. Available online at http://www.toddcaldecott.com/index.php/herbs/learning-herbs/354-jatamamsi
- Celtnet Spice Guide information page for spikenard