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Spikenard, Or Nard

root ointment indian spikes

SPIKENARD, or NARD (Hebrew nerd ; Gr. vdp8os, from Sanskrit naladwtha, the change from " r " to " I " seeming to indicate that the word came through Persia),2 a celebrated perfume which seems to have formed one of the most durable aromatic ingredients in the costly unguents used by the Romans and Eastern nations. The ointinent prepared from it (" ointment of pistic nard "3) is mentioned in the New Testament (Mark xiv. 3-5 ; John 3-5) as being "very costly," a pound of it being valued at more than 300 denarii (over £10). This 'appears to represent the prices then current for the best quality of nard, since Pliny (ILK., xii. 26) mentions that nard spikes reached as much as 100 denarii per Ib, and, although he does not mention the price of nard ointment, he states (xiii. 2) that the "unguentum cinnamominum," a similar preparation, ranged from 25 to 300 denarii according to its quality. Nard ointment also varied considerably in price from its liability to sophistication (Id., xii. 26, 27 ; 2). The ingredients of the genuine ointment (unguentum nardinum sive foliatum), Pliny tells us (xiii. 2), were Indian nard, juncus (the leaves of Andropogon Seltwnmaims, L.), costus (the root of Aplotaxis aurieulata, DC.), amomum (the fruits of Amornum Cardamonzum, L.), myrrh (the gum-resin of Balsamodendron 111yrrlia, Nees), balm (the oleo-resin of Balsanzodendron Opobalsamum), ompliacium or olcum omphacinum (the oil expressed from unripe olives), and balaninurn (derived from Balanites wyyptiaca?). Dioscorides (i. 75) also remarks that malabathrum (the leaf of Cinnamomum Tamala, Nees) was sometimes added. Of these ingredients costus and amomum were most relied upon for increasing the fragrance and the nard for the stimulating and other virtues of the unguent.4 The exact botanical source of the true or Indian nard was long a matter of uncertainty, the descriptions given by ancient authors being somewhat vague. Theophrastus (De Odor., 28) classes nard amongst roots, and states that it came from India (Hist. Plant., ix. 7, 2), had a biting and hot taste, and resembled iris root in perfuming the air near it (De Odor., 12, 56). He also remarks (l.c., 42) that the ointment was one of the most durable of perfumes. Pliny xii. 26, 27) gives a somewhat confused account, from which it appears that both "spike" and leaf were in use, although it is not clear whether the spike (spices) consisted of the flower-head or the fibrous lower portion of the stem. The only definite statement he makes concerning it is that the "sincere" nard is known by its red colour, sweet smell, and especially taste, "for it drieth the tongue and leaveth a pleasant relish behind it." Dioscorides (i. 6) states that the true nard came from India and was collected on mountains beside which the river Ganges flowed. He describes it as blackish with short spikes, smelling something like cyperus. Linnaeus, Blanc, Hatchett, and other writers have supposed that spikenard was an Indian grass of the genus Andropogon (A. Xardus, L.) ; but Sir W. Jones (As. Res., ii. 416, iv. 97) has given convincing reasons for identifying it with Nardostachys Jatamansi,1 a plant of the Valerian order, the fibrous rootstocks or "spikes" of which are still collected in the mountains of Bhotan and Nepal. Further evidence is afforded by Lambert (Illustr. of the Genus Cinchona, App., p. 177), who found the root under the name of "spikenard" in one of the oldest chemist's shops in London, also by Dymock (Hat. Ned. IF. India, 2d ed., p. 347), who states that the principal use of the drug at the present time is for making hair washes and ointments, the popular opinion being that it promotes the growth and blackness of the hair. The name of "spike" applied to the Indian nard appears to be derived from its resemblance in shape to a spike or ear of bearded corn. The root is crowned by the bases of several stems, each about 2 inches or more in length and as thick as the finger. To these the fibrous tissue of former leaves adheres and gives them a peculiar bristly appearance. It is this portion that is chiefly collected.

Other and inferior varieties of nard are mentioned by Dioscorides and subsequent writers. Celtic nard, obtained from the Ligurian Alps and Istria, consisted of the roots of plants also belonging to the Valerian order (Valeriana celtica and V. salicina). This was exported to the East and thence to Egypt, and was used in the preparation of baths. Mountain nard was collected in Cilicia and Syria, and is supposed to have consisted of the root of Valeriana tuberoses. The false nard of Dauphine, used in later times, and still employed as a charm in Switzerland, is the root-stock of Anima Victorialis. It presents a singular resemblance to the spikes of Indian nard, but is devoid of fragrance. It is remarkable that all the nards belong to the natural order Valerianacem, the odour of valerian being considered disagreeable at the present day ; that of Nardostachys Jatamansi is intermediate between valerian and patchouli, although more agreeable than either.

The name "spikenard " has also been applied in later times to several plants. The spikenard of the United States is Aralia race»zosa, and another species of the same genus, A. nialicattlis, is known as "false spikenard." In the West Indies Hyptis sztaveolens is called "spikenard," and in Great Britain the name "ploughman's spikenard" is given to Thula Conyza. (E. M. H.)

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