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Incense Ingredient

Japanese: Kansho

Nardostachys jatamansi DC.


Spikenard is a aromatic rhizome. The botanical name has its roots in the Hindu word Jatamansi which means "lock of hair." It's use goes back in several cultures and religions. Medically it's part of the Ayurveda, and is traditionally considered to calm the nerves and promote awareness and strengthen the mind. It is in the same family as Valeriana jatamansi (Indian valerian) and was sometimes used treatment of hysteria.


A rare Chinese medical text about incense, titled Xian pu, (Jap. Koh fu) which was written around 1100 c.e. is today preserved in Baieido's library of incense literature. The Xiang pu mentions the calming effects of Spikenard when used in incense. It also mentions it's use and importance in formulas containing Sandalwood & Aloeswood. Today it is used mainly for making incense sticks (senko), but in Chinese medicine it was also used as a raw material for loss of appetite, stomach problems, and vomiting.

Spikenard is one of the most common ingredients in ancient Japanese incense recipes. One of the most famous is the Plum Blossom formula:


Aloeswood 4 ryo (60 grams)
Cloves 2 ryo (30 grams)
Seashell (Kaiko) 2 bu (0.8 grams)
Spikenard 2 shu (0.14 grams)
Musk 3 shu (0.21 grams)


Variations of this formula are still used by Buddhist temples in Japan to this day. Baika is not a specific formula but consists of a number of variations of Awaseko traditionally used in the Spring! Other variations are:


Jinko 3.1 oz.
Clove 1 oz.
Kaiko 1 oz.
Sandalwood 0.5 oz.
Spikenard 0.20 oz.
Ajowan seed 0.1875 oz.
Ambergris 0.25 oz.
Musk 0.4 oz.
Borneol 0.375 oz.




Aloeswood 4 ryo (60 grams)
Cloves 2 ryo (30 grams)
Seashell 3 ryo (45 grams)
Musk 2 ryo (30 grams)
Sandalwood 1 ryo (15 grams)
Frankincense 1 ryo (15 grams)


There are many other Baika recipes, and most of the traditional ones contained Aloeswood.


One of the most famous references to Spikenard comes in the Christian New Testament, book of John, chapter 12:


           Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, who he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray him, "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, "Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always."


© Copyright 2001 David Oller & Kyozaburo Nakata



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