Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi), also known as jatamansi,1 is an herb originating from the Himalayas.2 It’s commonly used as an essential oil, which is added to perfumes due to its sweet, balsamic and woody scent.3 But aside from its aroma, spikenard contains more healthful components that you can benefit from. To learn more about spikenard’s health benefits and uses, continue reading.
For centuries, spikenard has been used in medicine to treat numerous conditions, both physical and aesthetic. Its popularity as a therapeutic agent is widely known throughout the world, with the herb having been used in Indian, Greek, Egyptian, Arabic and Roman medicine. In fact, legend says that spikenard was the expensive ointment referenced in the Bible,4 when Mary Magdalene5 anointed Jesus’ feet.
The spikenard plant typically grows in mountainous regions, between 1,200 and 3,000 meters (almost 4,000 to 10,000 feet) above sea level.6
It is easily recognizable by its rosy or pale pink flowers and its rhizomes that are covered in tail-like brown fibers.7 These rhizomes, which are commonly hydrodistilled to make an essential oil, are the main parts of the spikenard plant that are used in Ayurvedic medicine.8 But because of difficulties in cultivating it at such high altitudes, its rarity and its environment, spikenard has been deemed as an endangered plant.9
While the name “spikenard” is often associated with Nardostachys jatamansi, it actually shares the same name with the Aralia racemosa, the American counterpart of this Indian herb. They do, however, offer different uses, with American spikenard being primarily used for easing coughs, asthma and arthritis.10
Spikenard is mainly utilized for its benefits for neurological and mental conditions, such as epilepsy, insomnia and mental weakness. In modern times it’s also been used to treat disorders of the cardiovascular system.11 Numerous studies have focused on the neuroprotective characteristics12 of this herb, with it being used as an alternative treatment for minimizing symptoms and slowing down the development of both Alzheimer’s13 and Parkinson’s disease.14
Its ability to help alleviate the symptoms of both these diseases is due to its high concentration of sesquiterpenes. These are natural chemicals that can penetrate the blood-brain barrier and help fight numerous neurological symptoms.15
But aside from this, spikenard can actually have an effect on a wide range of bodily functions. Some of these health benefits include:
- Hepatoprotective — In a 2000 study from the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, researchers found that spikenard extract may have hepatoprotective properties. Rats were pretreated with 800 milligrams per kilogram of the extract, which protected their liver from damage after they were exposed to thioacetamide, a hepatotoxic compound.16
- May improve learning and memory — In a 2006 animal study from the Journal of Medicinal Food, young mice were given doses of spikenard extract for eight successive days. The extracts improved their learning and memory and also reversed diazepam-induced amnesia.17
- Helps in stress management — A 2009 study from the Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics showed that the antioxidant properties of spikenard helped curb stress in rats by reversing the elevation in lipid peroxidation and nitric oxide levels in the stomach and the catalase activity in the brain.18
- May assist with depression — The effects of electron beam radiation has been linked to DNA damage and depression. In a 2013 animal study from the International Journal of Research in Ayurveda and Pharmacy, spikenard ethanolic root extract reduced the risk of depression caused by radiation.19 Additionally, a 1994 animal study showed that spikenard extracts caused significant increase in serotonin, GABA and taurine.20
- Aids in managing diabetes — A 2018 study from the Journal of Medicinal Food showed that spikenard extract helped increase insulin sensitivity and inhibit glucose production in the diabetic control group of mice.21
While spikenard’s aroma is extremely pleasurable, its uses are not limited to deodorizing. Because of the impressive components of spikenard, you can use the oil or extract in numerous ways, particularly for these conditions:
- Heart palpitations, convulsions and hysteria — Spikenard oil has both anticonvulsive and anti-arrhythmic activities, which help in reducing heart palpitations and hysteria symptoms.22
- Premature graying of hair — Spikenard essential oil is used as a hair tonic, promoting hair growth and blackening of hair. It has also been found to improve hair luster.23
- Painful menstruation and constipation — Spikenard extracts has antispasmodic and stimulant properties, which may help alleviate dysmenorrhea and regulate urination and digestion.24
If you want to grow your own spikenard, note that this plant may be extremely picky due to the climate and altitude it’s commonly found in. To start, make sure that you have soil rich in carbon and organic nitrogen. At lower altitudes, spikenard prefers a terrain that has a slight tilt. Locate an area that has moist soil and is partially exposed to sunlight. It’s best that you use a litter treatment with manure to boost the organic content of the soil.
To ensure that you’re getting the spikenard roots that have the highest levels of active compounds, harvest after they become mature, usually in September or October in higher altitudes.25
Spikenard essential oil, which has been used for a variety of applications for hundreds of years, has been used in religious rites. In funerals over 2,000 years ago, it was used to anoint the bodies of the departed, alongside myrrh oil and other oils.26 Today, some of spikenard essential oil’s uses include:
- Hair growth — The nardin, jatamansic acid and nardal terpenoids found in spikenard essential oil may have a positive effect on hair growth activity.27
- Skin care — Spikenard oil may be used to help alleviate eczema, skin inflammation, psoriasis and sores.28
- Wound healing — In a 2017 study from Biochimie Open, spikenard essential oil was found to contain cytotoxic and antiproliferative properties, which promoted anti-inflammatory and tissue remodeling effects on wounds.29
While there are no proven side effects caused by spikenard, it is suggested that you seek the opinion of a health care practitioner to see if this herb is recommended for you and whether it will interfere with any medications that you may be taking. For topical application, dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil and test on a small patch of skin to check if it causes an allergic reaction to avoid irritation and scarring.
Breastfeeding mothers should steer clear of this herb because of the possible repercussions it can cause. Spikenard oil use is also highly discouraged for pregnant women because of its supposed effect on menstruation. While it may improve menstrual cycles, spikenard may cause dangerous effects during pregnancy.30