I’ve written about spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi) before, because it’s one of my staple natural materials. I usually use it in combination with many other elements as part of the base, in such small quantities that I would not expect it to stand out, but recently I decided to make a perfume in which spikenard was the dominant note in a very earthy base meant to represent certain types of orchids that are saprophytic, living on dead vegetation like the coral-root on the right, or the imaginary scent of orchids that have flowers that do not open fully like Zootrophion, shown in the illustration below left.
I was surprised to find that I was foiled at every turn by the tendency of spikenard to run off and disappear amongst everything else, almost as if it were wearing olfactory camouflage. I tried red spikenard, green spikenard, and even the new spikenard CO2 extract that I recently got. I mixed them all, I used whopping amounts of spikenard, but no matter what I did, the spikenard disappeared into the woodwork.
One of my paranoid thoughts was that I’d been huffing so much spikenard that I’d completely adapted and couldn’t smell it any more. However, if I put straight spikenard oil on my skin I can smell it just fine, exactly as it’s supposed to smell, like the earthiest patchouli ever. I can only conclude that the spikenard merges completely with whatever it encounters and takes on a new olfactory form. I suppose one has to deal with this property and use it as a modifier, not a prominent note, or else stick to materials that the poor, impressionable spikenard can resist, whatever they are.
In one variation I combined spikenard with vanilla, cacao, cabreuva, henna absolute, and some musk and woody notes. The spikenard disappeared. In another variation, I combined it with vetiver, synthetic oud, vanilla, and some musk and woody notes. The spikenard disappeared. Maybe it’s a good thing that spikenard has this property, because it can function as an earth-toned palette on which to paint with other, brighter fragrances. The learning never stops!
[Coralroot and Zootrophion orchid images from Wikimedia]