(נֵרד, nerd; νάρδος), a far-famed perfume of the East that has often engaged the attention of critics, but the plant which yields it has only been ascertained in very recent times. That the nard of Scripture was a perfume is evident from the passages in which it occurs. Song 1:12, "While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard (nard) sendeth forth the smell thereof." So in 4:14, "Spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices." Here we find it mentioned along with many of the most valued aromatics which were known to the ancients, and all of which, with the exception perhaps of saffron, must have been obtained by foreign commerce from distant countries, as Persia, the east coast of Africa, Ceylon, the northwest and the southeast of India, and in the present instance even from the remote Himalayan Mountains. Such substances must necessarily have been costly when the means of communication were defective and the gains of the successful merchant proportionally great. That the nard, or nardus, was of great value we learn from the New Test. (Mr 14:3). When our Savior sat at meat in Bethany, "there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard (νάρδου), very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head." So in Joh 12:3, "Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard (μύρον νάρδου), very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment." On this Judas, who afterwards betrayed our Savior, said (ver. 5), "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" Before proceeding to identify the plant yielding nard, we may refer to the knowledge which the ancients had of this ointment. Horace, at a period nearly contemporary, "promises to Virgil a whole cadus (about thirty-six quarts) of wine for a small onyx box full of spikenard" (Rosenmüller, p. 168),
"Nardo vina merebere. Nardi parvus onyx eliciet cadum."
The composition of this ointment is given by Dioscorides in 1, 77, Περὶ ναρδίνου μύρου, where it is described as being made with nut oil, and having as ingredients malabathrum, schoenus, costus, amomum, nardus, myrrha, and balsamum — that is, almost all the most valued perfumes of antiquity. It was also a valuable article in ancient pharmacy (see Strabo, 15, 695; Pliny, 12, 25; 14, 19, 5; 16, 59; Arrian, Exped. Alex. 6, 22, 8; Hirtius, Bell. Hisp. 33, 5; Athen. 15, 689; Evangel. Infant. Arab. ch. 5; Theoph. Plant. 9, 7; Galen, Simpl. Med 8, 13; Celsii Hierobot. 2, 1 sq.).
The nard (νάρδος) was known in very early times, and is noticed by Theophrastus and by Hippocrates. Dioscorides, indeed, describes three kinds of nard. Of the first, called νάρδος (nardos) simply, there were two varieties — the one Syrian, the other Indian. The former is so called, not because it is produced in Syria, but because the mountains in which it is produced extend on one side towards Syria and on the other towards India. This may refer to the Hindu Khush and to the extensive signification of the name Syria in ancient times, or to so many Indian products finding their way in, those ages into Europe across Syria. These were brought there either by the caravan route from northwest India or up the Persian Gulf and Euphrates. It is evident, from the passages quoted, that nard could not have been a produce of Syria, or its value would not have been so great either among the Romans or the Jews. The other variety is called gangitis,
from the Ganges, being found on a mountain round which it flows. It is described as having many spikes from one root. Hence it, no doubt, came to be called ναρδόσταχυς, and, from the word stachys being rendered by the word spike, it has been translated spikenard. The second kind is by Dioscorides called Celtic nard (νάρδος κελτική), and the third kind mountain nard (νάρδος ὀρεινή). If we consult the authors subsequent to Dioscorides, as Galen, Pliny, Oribasius, Aetius, and Paulus Egineta, we shall easily be able to trace these different kinds to the time of the Arabs. On consulting Avicenna, we are referred from narden to sunbul (pronounced sumbul), and in the Latin translation from nardum to spica, under which the Roman, the mountain, the Indian, and Syrian kinds are mentioned. So in Persian works on materia medica, chiefly translations from the Arabic, we have the different kinds of sunbul mentioned, as (1) Sunbul hindi; (2) Sunbul rumi, called also Sunbul ukleti and Narden ukleti, evidently the above Celtic nard, said also to be called Sunbul italion, that is, the nard which grows in Italy; (3) Sunbul jibulli, or mountain nard. The first, however, is the only one with which we are at present concerned. The synonyms given to it in these Persian works are Arabic, Sunbul al-tib, or fragrant nard; Greek, narden; Latin, nardam; and Hindee, balchur and jatamansi.
Sir William Jones (Asiat. Res. 2, 416, 8vo) was the first to ascertain that the above Hindee and Sanskrit synonyms referred to the true spikenard, and that the Arabs described it as being like the tail of an ermine. The next step was, of course, to attempt to get the plant which produced the drug. This he was not successful in doing, because he had not access to the Himalayan Mountains, and a wrong plant was sent him, which is that figured and described by Dr. Roxburgh (Asiat. Res. 4, 97, 438). Dr. Royle, when in charge of the East India Company's botanic garden at Seharunpore, in 30° N. lat., about thirty miles from the foot of the Himalayan Mountains, being favorably situated for the purpose, made inquiries on the subject. He there learned that jatamansi, better known in India by the name balchur, was yearly brought down in considerable quantities as an article of commerce to the plains of India from such mountains as Shalma, Kedar Kanta, and others, at the foot of which flow the Ganges and Jumna rivers. Having obtained some of the fresh brought down roots, he planted them both in the botanic garden at Seharunpore and in a nursery at Mussfri, in the Himalayas, attached to the garden. The plant produced is figured in, his Illust. Himal. Botany, t. 54, and was found to belong to the natural family of Valerianeoe, which has been named Nardostachys jatamansi by De Candolle, and formerly Patrinia jatamansi by Mr. Dow, from plants sent home by Dr. Wallich from Gossamtham, a mountain of Nepal (Penny Cyclop. art. "Spikenard;" Royle, Illust. Himal. Botany, p. 242). Hence there can be no doubt that the jatamansi of the Hindus is the Sunbul hindi of the Arabs, which they compare to the tail of an ermine. This would almost be sufficient to identify the drug the appearance to which it refers may be seen even in the accompanying wood cut. This is produced in consequence of the woody fibers of the leaf and its footstalk not being decomposed in the cold and comparatively dry climate where they are produced, but remain and form a protection to the plant from the severity of the cold. There can be as little doubt that the Arabs refer to the descriptions of Dioscorides, and both they and the Christian physicians who assisted them in making translations had ample opportunities, from their profession and their local situation, of becoming well acquainted with things as well as words. There is as little reason to doubt that the νάρδος of Dioscorides is that of the other Greek authors, and this will carry us into ancient times. As many Indian products found their way into Egypt and Palestine, and are mentioned in Scripture indeed, in the very passage with nard we have calamus, cinnamon, and aloes (ahalim) — there is no reason why spikenard from the Himalayas could not as easily have been procured. The only difficulty appears to arise from the term νάρδος having occasionally been used in a general sense, and therefore there is sometimes confusion between the nard and the sweet cane, another Indian product. Some difference of opinion exists respecting the fragrance of the jatamansi. It may be sufficient to state that it continues to be highly esteemed in Eastern countries in the present day, where fragrant essences are still procured from it, as the Unguentum nardinum was of old. Dioscorides refers especially to its having many shaggy (πολυκόμους) spikes growing from one root. It is very interesting to note that Dioscorides gives the same locality for the plant as is mentioned by Royleἀπό τινος ποταμοῦ παραῤέοντος τοῦ ὄρους, Γάγγου καλουμένον παῤ ῳ φύεται. Though he is here speaking of lowland specimens, he also mentions plants obtained from the mountains (see the monographs De Nardo Pistica by Otto [Lips. 1673], Eckhard [Viteb. 1681], Hermansson [Upsal. 1734], and Sommel [Lund. 1776]). SEE OINTMENT.