Spikenard smells like... Feet?

gecko214

Well-known member
May 7, 2010
As mentioned in my post on Costus root, I recently received a shipment from Liberty natural in which I ordered a small sample of Spikenard. I had some idea of what it should smell like because I have tinctured the raw root. That has a fairly pleasant, slightly vegetal musk with a bit of root beer effevessence in it. I wanted to compare it with what is produced by distillation and thus ordered the sample. I figured the oil would be a bit darker, smoother and sweeter. What I got from Liberty, a dark, thick viscous oil, smells quite strongly of stinky feet to me (and others in my family). Hard to find much pleasant about it. Does not match the raving descriptions I have read on the internets. I know it is written it was used in annointing the feet of Jesus, but I did not think that was intended as an enfleurage :shocked: Any one have an idea what is going on here?
 

SculptureOfSoul

Well-known member
Jul 2, 2005
lol @ enfleurage. :p

Spikenard is a stinky note but my sample does not smell overtly of feet. It has a bit of the camphoraceous element of patchouli but is less sweet and instead more musty, dank, and leathery. It is useful in very small quantities to add a leathery presence in the dry down.

What you're describing almost sounds more like valerian root oil to me. I know Spikenard and Valerian are related.. but my varieties (both from Liberty Natural, as well, although a few years old now) smell decidedly different.

Hopefully someone else can chime in. It may just be that some batches of Spikenard have a bit more 'toe jam' than others, or perhaps something is wrong with yours. Wish I could be of more help.
 

Chris Bartlett

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Jul 17, 2011
There are two different forms of spikenard on the market - there is the raw, steam distilled oil and there is a refined oil that has had the top-notes removed.

I think you’ve got the steam distilled version - which means it does indeed smell like valerian - it’s main use as a fixative is rather spoiled by the fact it smells so nasty, hence the refined version. The latter smells a bit earthy and woody but not of feet (divine or otherwise).

Take a look at the Good Scents Company page on spikenard oil and you’ll see a description of the refined version.
 

gecko214

Well-known member
May 7, 2010
Thanks to both of you. Hmm. What I have is in fact a co2, which would I guess be similar to the fresh oil you mention Chris. What is strange is that this oil was apparently highly valued thousands of years ago. By kings and such. I know tastes change, but would kings really have paid in gold for a stinky foot smell? My own tincture is quite pleasant, so I wonder if the old oil was made by some other process? Would they have been able to refine it? Or maybe simply another subspecies was used? Now I am really interested in finding what is behind this.
 

hednic

Well-known member
Oct 25, 2007
As mentioned in my post on Costus root, I recently received a shipment from Liberty natural in which I ordered a small sample of Spikenard. I had some idea of what it should smell like because I have tinctured the raw root. That has a fairly pleasant, slightly vegetal musk with a bit of root beer effevessence in it. I wanted to compare it with what is produced by distillation and thus ordered the sample. I figured the oil would be a bit darker, smoother and sweeter. What I got from Liberty, a dark, thick viscous oil, smells quite strongly of stinky feet to me (and others in my family). Hard to find much pleasant about it. Does not match the raving descriptions I have read on the internets. I know it is written it was used in annointing the feet of Jesus, but I did not think that was intended as an enfleurage :shocked: Any one have an idea what is going on here?
Love the foot smell analogy!
 

superfluousPastry

Well-known member
Oct 14, 2014
Mine's from Eden Botanicals.

Spikenard CO2 Select Extract
Our Spikenard CO2 surpasses most other distilled Spikenard with its exceptional depth and character. This rare and precious oil grows high in the Himalayas and is one of the ancient Eastern oils. Also known as Jatamansi, it is said to be the oil that Mary Magdalen used to anoint Jesus’ feet.

Spikenard is very calming and balancing to the nervous system, and has a Valerian-like aroma, yet is sweeter and less pungent. It can be used in natural perfumery to lend an exotic note, therapeutically to help calm anxiety and induce relaxation, and for ritual purposes in an anointing oil.

White it is extremely nuanced and complex, there still is that accord which affirms that if gladiators had ancient locker rooms, this is what the ever--neglected floor would smell of. I've worked with this note before bed, though it might be the power of suggestion, it does relax me, slow down my thoughts, a kind of inhalable muscle relaxer and anxiolytic drug. Also of note and what I haven't seen mentioned was cheese. Very strong 'stinky cheese' notes of asiago and just other vaguely gourmand moldy-funky cheese notes. I have only mixed it in one perfume of mostly base notes patchouli, vetiver, spikenard (only a few drops!) with some rose, chamomile and petitgrain. I love it though it's a very 'natural' and 'hippie' smelling. I'll dowse myself before bed with it or wear it when I know I'll be walking in the woods. Works with all the smells nature exudes.
 

Clare30

Well-known member
Sep 25, 2015
I still have some from aromatherapy days that was organic from materia aromatica ( fantastic company, if a little limited in what they sell nowadays) and so I have a couple of mls of high quality wildcrafted spikenard that is around 15 years old. It is Amaaaazing! Shame I couldn't get the consistency of product to include it in a blend, but well aged spikenard smells, rooty, peaty, a sweet animalic musk mixed with bark and leaves - like a luxurious leather coat flung across a dark and secret forest floor, no hint of funk or feet at all. The closest I'd say it is to is well aged patchouli, but it is less pervasive and even deeper and sweeter somehow. It is deeply relaxing and meditative.

So I guess the best thing is to buy the best and let it age - although that does not help when you want to include it in a blend now. I am sure that in ancient times they aged it, and additionally, body smells were considered highly erotic and attractive in those days, so any hint of musky body smell was probably seen as divine.
 

superfluousPastry

Well-known member
Oct 14, 2014
Hiya Claire.

As Chris Bartlett mentioned, "There are two different forms of spikenard on the market - there is the raw, steam distilled oil and there is a refined oil that has had the top-notes removed."

It makes sense that the top notes would fade after a time. I'm sure I would love the refined oil as well as it sounds infinitely more wearable these days! ..but I agree with what you say about past sensibilities concerning body scents. I could see this melding well with an already pungent body odor, ideal for people who didn't have showers. The stinky cheese notes go from funky to semi-gourmand at times and it does evoke a human musk kind of aroma. Smegma, perhaps? It does have a wonderful earthy patchouli-like vibe once the valerian and cheese notes burn off. It kind of reminds me of the smell of lichens once it mellows.
 
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Clare30

Well-known member
Sep 25, 2015
The other thing that occurred to me is maybe the Spikenard of ancient times had slightly different chemical make-up to the one we have now.I do wonder if plants change over millennia and according to climate and other environmental factors. We already know that different varieties of plants can have quite dramatically different types of odour profiles. It could be that the spikenard of ancient times was considerably less harsh or even smelled different altogether.
 

Accolon

Active member
May 1, 2014
The other thing that occurred to me is maybe the Spikenard of ancient times had slightly different chemical make-up to the one we have now.I do wonder if plants change over millennia and according to climate and other environmental factors. We already know that different varieties of plants can have quite dramatically different types of odour profiles. It could be that the spikenard of ancient times was considerably less harsh or even smelled different altogether.

One of reasons it was so revered was that it was so hard to get. It grew in high altitudes that most couldn't access. And since this was before the Internet, people who received spikenard as gifts from abroad must have seen it as something very mysterious and exotic.
Perfume found in the tomb of Tutankhamun was analyzed as a spikenard maceration in animal fat.

Also, while it is repulsive for modern noses we have no idea what people back then thought of it. I think Jesus and king Tut would have been quite baffled by the smell of Cool Water etc.
 

parker25mv

Well-known member
Oct 12, 2016
Spikenard incense from Nepal

spicy like frankincense, and Christmasy
green and just a bit sharp like basil, maybe something in there almost lavender-like
deep, like Douglas Fir.
similar olfactory effect to patchouli
earthy, and yes, kind of like stinky feet, but in an incense sort of way

I can see how this would be a perfume in ancient times. I wouldn't mind wearing it.
 

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