Raw Materials Spikenard Magic

Spikenard Magic

03/10/16 04:23:49 (3 comments)

by: Fabienne Christenson

Out of curiosity I bought a small sample of Himalayan Spikenard. I had been reading about its reputation as a fabulous ingredient in ancient days and I was curious as to why anyone would pay a king's ransom for it. I received my vial of greenish goo straight away, wrung off the plastic cap and inhaled the fumes.

It smelled...herbal. Herbal and disappointing. It was: hay, the after-smell of rain in the summer, musty waterlogged fountains. It was romantic in the way of neglected ruins and vegetation, but where was the magic in that? There was none. I had given it all of one good sniff and I recapped it and put it back in my cabinet and promptly forgot about it for a year.

Spikenard is part of the Valerian family

The next Ash Wednesday, I thought I would give spikenard another try, after all it was the season. In the naturals cabinet the vial was lying on its side waiting for me. I took off the top, put a small amount on the back of my hand, recorked it and thought,”There HAS to be something alluring about this stuff. It was just too expensive to be simply herbal,” I sat at the keyboard waiting for some magic to happen.

"The Sacrament of Penance" by Poussin;
Mary is shown washing the feet of Jesus with spikenard oil.

I got busy answering my e-mails and other tasks. About a minute later, it cracked my consciousness that I was getting a whiff of something which was commanding my attention. It was that herbal smell but it rapidly turned into a horrid vinegar/feet note!. But no sooner than you realized the scent had turned foul then the unthinkable happened, it turned into the most beautiful smell you have ever encountered. It was a bit of osmanthus, a bit of boxwood, a bit of expensive men’s hair pomade. It was divine. Then as soon as I had gone through that cycle, I ended up at the herbal gateway. Not long afterward, I found myself on the path of vinegar again and to that heavenly fragrance which twisted back into herbs. The cycle repeated itself as long as I cared to follow along.

L'Eau de Jatamansi by L'Artisan;
jatamansi is the botanical name for spikenard

So this extreme mutability is probably the reason why spikenard was prized for centuries. I don’t know if you would want to interfere with this kind of unique magic trick, or if it would be disturbed by the inclusion of other ingredients. FYI spikenard is a member of the valerian family and is a base note.


Fabienne Christenson

Fabienne Christenson is an independent perfumer who owns Possets Perfume. She has been working in the field professionally for nine years but has been experimenting with making perfume for most of her life. She creates five large collections every year and experiments with just about every category of perfume. http://www.possets.com.


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Angela Agiannidou
Angela Agiannidou

How interesting! I never smelled Spikenard before but would love too.


I haven't smelled a real one, I smelled it in Jatamansi L'Artisan and I loved this weird earthy herbal scent, it is like feeling very special and different, bearing a secret among all kinds of lux scents around ;o)


Yes, spikenard/jatamansi is truely a wonderful raw material for perfumery.

A pity that no supplier on earth provides an official CITES certificate for this precious and endangered plant. All spikenard oils are being operated by the black market.

So much for "sustainability". :-(


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