The herb Jatamasi is revered both in the east and west for its medicinal and aromatic properties. It’s used in Ayurveda medicine, mentioned in the bible, and used by Arabic and Persian physicians. It is native to the Himalayas where it grows at heights of between 3,000 and 5,000 feet. The part used is the hairy root, which is how it gets its name, as jatamansi means hirsute.
The flowers are red or pink and red or blue, and the hairy root or rhizome is aromatic, giving rise to its name ‘musk root’. Unfortunately, the plant is endangered because of the huge demand.
Jatamansi in Ayurveda
In India, the herb has a long tradition of being used both in perfumery and medicine. It is mentioned by the great physician-Susruta as a prescription for epilepsy. It’s also prescribed as a nervine tonic and added as an aromatic adjunct in the preparation of medicinal oils and ghee.
Jatamansi is one of the more revered herbs in Ayurveda. The herb is considered as a very good remedy for problems caused by Vata, which causes deterioration of tissue, depletes energy, and creates dryness, fatigue and persistent dissatisfaction.
By balancing ‘vata’, jatamansi greatly assists in calming the overly active mind and assists in attaining tranquility and peacefulness. Jatamansi oil is cooling in nature and also works well to alleviate some Pitta (fire) related problems, especially those of the mind (such as anger and rage).
Jatamansi in Arabic and Persian traditions
In the first century AD, Dioscorides praised spikenard and called it Nardin. It was known to the Arab and Persian physicians as Sumbul-i-Hindi translating to ‘Indian Spike’. This was to distinguish it from their Sumbul-i-Rumi or Ikliti (Valeriana celtica), the root of which is used in Turkey and Egypt as a perfume.
Jatamansi in biblical tradition
This is the Spikenard of the Bible which Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha used to anoint the feet of Jesus. It is one of the oils mentioned in various places of the Bible along with oils of myrrh, frankincense and sandalwood.
Jatamansi in Egyptian tradition
Jatamansi is one of the 16 aromatics which was a mixture used by the ancient Egyptians, called kyphi. This contained frankincense, spikenard, saffron and cassia among other aromatics and was used in religious rites in temples, burned in homes and used to perfume the body and clothes. Plutarch, writing of kyphi said that its “aromatic substances lull to sleep, allay anxieties and brighten dreams. It is made of things that delight most in the night.
When Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened in 1922, archaeologists found an unguent which still had an aroma after more than 3,300 years, and analysis showed that it contained both frankincense and Indian spikenard.
Jatamansi Traditional Medicinal Uses
Jatamansi or Indian spikenard or musk root has been used in medicine for thousands of years. It’s an excellent tonic as it helps to subside all the three humors.
In ayurvedic medicine
-Used as a tonic
-As a digestive aid
-Has antispasmodic and diuretic properties
-As a stimulant
-To treat hysteria, epilepsy and insomnia
-To help improve blood circulation.
-Good for the heart and liver
-Increases brain power and keeps mental problems away
-Acts as a nervous system rejuvenator
In Unani medicine
Jatamansi is used as a diuretic in the Unani system of medicine which was introduced to the subcontinent from Greece (Unan) by the Arabs.
1. Jatamansi lowers cholesterol and increases feeling of well-being
Medical trials have shown that the rhizome contains a sedative sesquiterpene which has the same properties as valeranone which is found in valerian. New substances have been found in the rhizome such as the coumarin, jatamansinisa. It has been found that the rhizome extract is good for lowering cholesterol and stimulating the production of serotonin, which promotes feeling of well-being.
2. Jatamansi can combat oxidative stress
It is good for the normal functioning of both the liver and the heart because of its strong antioxidant powers. It can combat oxidative stress and help stave off the onset of Parkinson’s disease. It can also remedy arrhythmia or palpitations of the heart.
3. Jatamansi can treat skin disorders and alleviate pain
In traditional medicine, it is believed that a paste of the rhizome and water can help skin problems such as acne and make for a fair glowing complexion. It’s decoction is also used to treat skin problems. This paste is also given to alleviate pain and swelling.
4. Jatamansi perfume
The powdered root is used as a deodorant.
Jatamansi decoction internal uses
-Cleans the uterus, and helps with menstrual problems and infertility.
-Calms down hyperactive children and agitated mental patients.
Cautionary note: However it should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation period.
Jatamansi Herb Files
Family Name: Valerianaceae
Botanical Name: Nardostachys Jatamansi
Sanskrit Name: Jatamansi
Common Name: Indian Spikenard
Other Names: Nardostachys Jatamansi, Muskroot, Indian Spikenard.
By Rachelle Chandraan