1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Spikenard
SPIKENARD, or Nard (O. Fr. spiquenard, Lat. spica nardi, from spica, ear of corn, and Gr. νάρδος, Pers. nard, Skt. nalada, Indian spikenard, from Skt, nal, to smell), 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 ointment prepared from it (“ointment of pistic nard”) is mentioned in the New Testament (Mark xiv. 3-5; John xii. 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 (H.N. xii. 26) mentions that nard spikes reached as much as 100 denarii per lb, 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 (Ibid. xii. 26, 27; xiii. 2). The genuine ointment (unguentum nardinum sive foliatum) contained costus (the root of Saussurea lappa), amomum (the fruits of Amomum cardamomum), balm (the oleoresin of Balsamodendron opobalsamum) and myrrh, with Indian nard (Ibid. xiii. 2).
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, but it is now identified as Nardostachys jatamansi, a plant of the valerian order, the fibrous root-stocks or “spikes” of which are still collected in the mountains of Bhotan and Nepal. The name “spike” is applied apparently 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 in. 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.
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 racemosa, and another species of the same genus, A. nudicaulis, or wild sarsaparilla, is known as “wild spikenard.” In the West Indies Hyptis suaveolens is called “spikenard,” and in Great Britain thename “ploughman's spikenard ” is given to Inula conuza.
- The meaning of the word “pistic” is uncertain, some rendering it “genuine,” others “liquid,” and others taking it for a local name.
- The use of alabaster vessels for preserving these fragrant unguents was customary at a very early period. Theophrastus (c. 314 B.C.) states that vessels of lead and alabaster were best for the purpose, on account of their density and coolness, and their power of resisting the penetration of the ointment into their substance. Pliny also recommends alabaster for ointment vases. For small quantities onyx vessels seem to have been used (Horace, Carm. iv. 12, lines 10, 17).