The Distillation Of Perfumes > Page2
Spikenard : Spikenard was a costly aromatic ointment extracted since ancient times from an Indian plant known in Sanskrit as Nardostachys Jatamansi which perhaps means 'the braid of hair (Jataa) of (Narada). The English word Spikenard is derived from the Greek term Nardostakhus and the Latin term Spica Nardi; both the terms are derived from the Sanskrit term Nardostachys Jatamansi. This plant has purplish-yellow flower heads and is very rarely found. Its smell is quite pleasing and hence it had been in great demand since ancient times.
In Sanskrit, other terms used to refer to this plant are, Jatila which means 'difficult', Tapasvini which literally means 'concentration and devotion'. These words used to describe Spikenard indicate that it was very difficult to obtain and cultivate this plant. In India this herb was available only in the Himalayas. Spikenard, which is aromatic and bitter, yields on distillation a pleasant smelling oil.
In India, it had been used since ancient times as an aromatic adjunct in the preparation of medicinal oils and was popularly believed to increase th growth and blackness of hair. The Roman historian Pliny observes the Spikenard was considered very precious i Rome and it was stored in alabaster boxes by persons of eminence.
Another aromatic herb exported from ar cient India was the Nard. It is a root of th ginger-grass found in western Punjab an Baluchistan. The Nard is found in semi-aril areas and it seems to have been found by Alexander in Gedrosia (Baluchistan) when hi army unknowingly trampled the plant whil on march and this resulted in a sweet pel fume which we are told "was diffused fa and wide over the land by the trampling". The Nard is known in Latin as Cymbopogon Jwarancusa the word Cusa is perhaps de rived from the Sanskrit word Kusha fo grass. The use of the word grass to refer tz Nard is perhaps because of its being confused by the Romans with other aromatic grasses like lemon grass, gingergrass, citronella, etc., which also yield aromatic oils.
Costus: Costus is the root of the plans Saussurea Lappa, a tall perennial plant growing on the open slopes of the vale or Kashmir and other high valleys of that region. The plant is found at elevations ol 8000 to 13000 feet. It was used by the Romans as a culinary spice as also as a perfume.
This root was dug up and cut into small pieces and shipped to Rome and China. The root is generally of the size of a finger wit' a yellowish woody part and a whitish barl It is said that Seleucus Callinicus had ot tained Costus from India and sent it as gift to the Milesians.6 The Romans also re ferred to costus as radix, the root as distirguished from Nard which was called folio the leaf. The price of Costus in Rome is stated by Pliny to have been 5 denarii per pound.
India still exports Costus and today the collection of Costus is a state monopoly. In Kashmir the product is used by shawl merchants to protect their fabrics from moths. The Indian origin of Costus is evident from the fact that the word is derived from the Sanskrit term Kustha which means 'that which stands in the earth'. This word was perhaps used as Costus was a root.
Macir is mentioned by Dioscorides as an aromatic bark. Pliny says that it was brought from India. He describes it as a red bark growing upon a large root, which bears the name Macir from the tree that produced it. He prescribed a mixture of this bark with honey as a cure for dysentery. The word Macir is today neither found in the English nor the Sanskrit Dictionaries but it has been mentioned in the Periplus on pages 80 and 81.
-The word Macir has been said to have been derived from the Sanskrit word Makara which in India was said to have been used in ancient times as a traditional Ayurvedic remedy for dysentery. Macir seems to have been the root-bark of the tree Holarrhena Antidysentrica which according to the notes appended to the Periplus was found throughout India and Burma in the lower Himalayas upto 3500 feet.
Both the bark and seed of this tree were among the most important medicines in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. According to the notes to the Periplus. "This tree found by the Portuguese was called 'Herba malabarica owing to its great merit in the treatment of dysentery they having found it on the Malabar coast. The preparation, generally in the form of a solid or liquid extract, or of a decoction, is astringent, anti-dysenteric an anthelmintic. The seeds yield a fixed oil, and the wood ash is used in dyeing.'' Thus this commodity which was exported from India in early times had multiple uses.