SPIKENARD (נֵרְדְּ, H5948; Gr. νάρδος, G3726). Sometimes called “nard.” A fragrant ointment obtained from an E Indian plant, Nardostachys jatamansi. This member of the Valerian family has fragrant fibrous roots. The Royal Horticultural Society’s Dictionary (1951) calls it “the spikenard of the ancients.”
It is mentioned three times in Song of Solomon (1:12; 4:13, 14) and in the NT i.e. Mark 14:3 and John 12:3, where the writer uses the words “pure nard.”
The ointment used on our Lord by Mary in John 12:3 undoubtedly came from India. Nardostachys grows in the Himalayan mountains.
The Bible refers to Mary’s gift in John 12:3 as being very costly. This was because it had to be imported from India in special, carefully-sealed alabaster jars, to conserve the perfume. It was only when some wealthy house owner received special guests that he would break the seal of the jar, so as to be able to do the anointing.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(nerd; nardos (So 1:12; 4:14); neradhim; nardoi (So 4:13), "spikenard plants"; nardos pistike (Mr 14:3; Joh 12:3), "pure nard," margin "liquid nard"; the English word is for "spiked nard," which comes from the Nardus spicatus of the Vulgate): Spikenard is the plant Nardostachys jatamansi (Natural Order, Valerianaceae); in Arabic the name Sunbul hind, "Indian spike," refers, like the English and Latin name, to the "snike"-like shape of the plant from which the perfume comes. The dried plant as sold consists of the "withered stalks and ribs of leaves cohering in a bundle of yellowish-brown capillary fibres and consisting of a spike about the size of a small finger" (Sir W. Jones, As. Res., II, 409); in appearance the whole plant is said to look like the tail of an ermine. It grows in the Himalayas. The extracted perfume is an oil, which was used by the Romans for anointing the head. Its great costliness is mentioned by Pliny.
With regard to the exact meaning of the pistike, in the New Testament, there is much difference of opinion: "pure" and "liquid" are both given in margin, but it has also been suggested among other things that this was a local name, that it comes from the Latin spicita or from pisita, the Sanskrit name of the spikenard plant. The question is an open one: either "genuine" or "pure" is favored by most commentators.