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THE SPIKENARD OF THE ANCIENTS,
INTENDED AS A SUPPLEMENT TO THE LATE
SIR WILLIAM JONES'S PAPERS ON THAT PLANT.
BY WILLIAM ROXBURGH, M.D.
GENERIC Character. FLOWERS triandrous, leaves entire, fourfold, the inner radical pair petiold, and cordate ; the rest smaller, seffile, and sub-lanceolate ; seeds crowned with a pappus.
See Afatick Researches,
V. Jatamansi of Sir WILLIAM JONES. vol. 2, page 405, 417, and vol. 4, page 109.
November 6th, 1794.
I received from the Honourable C. A. BRUCE, Commissioner at Coos-Beyhar, two small baskets with plants of this valuable drug; he writes to me on the 27th September (so long had the plants been on the road), that he had, the day before, received
them from the Deb Rajah of Bootan, and further says, that the Booteahs know the plant by two names, viz. Jatamansi, and Pampe or Faumpé. .
I need scarce attempt to give any further history of this famous odoriferous plant than what is merely botanical, and that with a view to help to illustrate the learned differtations thereon, by the late Sir WILLIAM JONES, in the 2d and 4th volumes of these Researches, and chiefly by pointing out, the part of the plant known by the name, Indian Nard or Spikenard ; a question on which MATHEOLUS, the commentator of Diofcorides, bestows a good deal of argument; viz. Whether the roots, or stalks, were the parts esteemed for use, the testimony of the ancients themselves on this head being ambiguous. It is therefore necessary for those who wish for a more particular account of it, to be acquainted with what that gentleman has published on the subject.
The plants now received, are growing in two small baskets of earth, in each basket there appears above the earth between thirty and forty hairy, spike-like bodies, but more justly compared to the tails of Ermines, or small Weasels *; from the apex of each, or at least of the greatest part of them, there is a smooth lanceolate, or lanceolate-oblong, three or five-nerved, short-petiol’d, acute, or obtuse, slightly serrulate leaf or two shooting forth. Fig. 1. represents one of them in the above state, and on gently removing the fibres, or hairs which surround the short petiols of these leaves, I find it consists of numerous sheaths, of which one, two or three of the upper or interior ones are entire, and have their fibres connected by a light-brown coloured membranous substance as at b. but in the lower exterior Theaths, where this connecting membrane is decayed, the more durable hair-like fibres remain distinct, giving to the whole the appearance of an Ermine's tail : this part, as well as the root itself, are evidently perennial *. The root itself (beginning at the surface of the earth where the fibrous envelope ends) is from three to twelve inches long, covered with a pretty thick, light-brown coloured bark : from the main root, which is sometimes divided, there issues several smaller fibres. Fig. 2, is another plant with a long root, here the hair-like sheaths, beginning at a. are separated from this the perennial part of the stem, and turned to the right side ; at the
* The term spica, or spike, is not so ill applied to this substance, as may be imagined; several of the Indian grasses, well known to me, have spikes almost exactly resembling a single straight piece of nardus, and when those hairs (or flexible arista like bristles) are removed, Pliny's words, "frutexe " radice pingui et craffa,” are by no means inapplicable. See Fig. 2, from a to b.
is seen the young shoot, marked 6, which is not so far advanced as at Fig. 1. ccc show the remains of last year's annual stem. When the young shoot is a little further advanced than in Fig. 2, and not so far as in Fig. 1. they resemble the young convolute shoots of monocotyledonus plants. June 1795. The whole of the abovementioned plants have perished, without producing flowers, notwithstanding every care that could possibly be taken of them. The principal figure in the drawing marked Fig. 3, and the following description, as well as the above definition, are therefore chiefly extracted from the engraving and description in the second volume of these Researches, and from the in
* The above described perennial hairy portion of the plant, is clearly the Indian spike-nard of our shops ; but whether the nardus of the ancients, or not, I leave to better judges to determine; however, I believe few will doubt it after having read Sir WILLIAM Jones's Dissertations thereon, and compared what he says with the accompanying drawings of the perennial hairy part of the stem of this plant, which are taken from the living plants immediately under my own eyes: the drawing of the herbaceous, or upper part of the plant, is out of the question in determining this point, and only refers to the place the plant bears in our Botanical Books. While writing the above, I desired an Hindu fervant to go and buy me from their apothecaries shops a little Jatamans, without saying more or less: he immediately went and brought me several pieces of the very identical drug, I have been describing; a drawing of one of the pieces is represented at Fig. 4, and agrees not only with those I have taken from the living plants, but also exceedingly well with GARÇIAS AB Orta's figure of the nardus indica which is to be found at page 129, of the fourth edition of Clusius's Latin translations of his history of Indian drugs published in 1693.