Ancient medicine for the winter: Myrtle, Onycha, Cistus and Spikenard

A Myrtle Tree from the slopes of Mount Carmel, Israel. To the ancient Hebrews, the myrtle was a symbol of peace and justice.

Winters can be cold in more than one way. The grey, wet and overcast days can dampen our spirits as well as our bodies. As I wrote what is the last post in this series on ancient medicine, I couldn’t help but notice some properties in these 4 oils that would help address the worst that winter can throw at us. At least 3 of these oils are great for coughs and respiratory ailments and 3 of them can help elevate your mood. And two of them are great for dry, cracked and chapped skin. So with these 4 oils, we have the ways and means of looking good and feeling good. And if you know anyone who is having a hard time of it this winter, be sure to pass this post on.

Myrtle (Myrtus communis ). To the ancient Jews, myrtle was a symbol of peace and justice. The Hebrew name for Queen Esther in the Old Testament was Hadassah which means Myrtle.
To the ancient Greeks it was considered the sacred plant of the goddess Aphrodite. Historically, myrtle has been used against diarrhea, dysentery, respiratory conditions (bronchitis, asthma and cough), as well as bladder and sinus infections and for skin care. Its properties include: anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic, antiseptic, expectorant, deodorizing and decongestant. It also known to be usefull for hypothyroidism.

Some uses:

  • Add 1-2 drops in a teaspoon of honey for coughs.
  • For really nasty coughs, diffuse it in the room and apply several drops topically to the throat and chest.
  • For sinus conditions, rub a couple of drops on each side of the nose.
  • For asthma, rub 4 drops on the soles of the feet 2-3 times a day. One can also take this oil in a 00 size vegetable or gelatin capsule twice a day.
  • Handy for hemorrhoid relief. Dilute 3-5 drops with a vegetable or carrier oil (50/50) and apply directly. It may sting initially.

Rose of Sharon/Cistus (Cistus ladanifer). Cistus is also known as Rock Rose, a small shrubby tree in which the rose has a honey-like scent. It is now thought that Cistus and the Rose of Sharon are one and the same thing. In the Old Testament, there is small passage that is now believed to refer to this plant/flower – “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valley” (Song of Solomon 2:1).  Its properties include: anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-hemorrhagic, anti-inflammatory, immune stimulant, astringent, diuretic, expectorant and as a tonic.

Some uses:

  • For arthritis or an area with inflammation apply 3-4 drops on the area of concern, either alone or mixed with a carrier oil.
  • If you have a stuffy nose, try rubbing a couple of drops in your hand, then cupping over your nose and inhaling deeply. You can also use a diffuser in a room.
  • For infections massage 4-5 drops along the spine.
  • For wrinkles, try mixing 3-4 drops with a carrier oil and applying to the face.
  • For bronchitis, dilute with a carrier oil or vegetable oil (50:50) and massage into the chest area as needed.
  • If you’re feeling nervous or uptight, this oil can help. Apply 1-2 drops to the wrist, temples, the soles of your feet or inside your elbow and inhale.
  • Cistus can help support the immune system. Try rubbing 3 drops on the soles of the feet each day.

Onycha (Styrax benzoin).  Onycha (pronounced oh-nigh-kah) is mentioned once in the Old Testament – “And the Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight”(Exodus 30:34).  For a long time there was debate as to what Onycha actually was.  The great Jewish scholar Rashi said that onycha was a kind of root, while the Talmud stated that it came from an annual plant.  It’s now believed that the Styrax benzoin may be the plant source for onycha. It’s also known as Benzoin, “Friar’s balm” and “Java frankincense. Like frankincense and myrrh, benzoin is a resin. The ancient people used it in religious rituals as an incense and anointing oil.

Onycha (or Benzoin tincture) was used in hospitals from the mid 1800s for about a 100 years. And unlike most hospital antiseptics used nowadays it doesn’t have a hospital smell about it. Onycha was prized for its ability to heal wounds quickly and prevent infection. It was also known for its comforting and soothing properties. Its properties include: anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antioxidant, deodorant, astringent, diuretic, expectorant and sedative. (See also Onycha in my post Using essential oils in your love life)

Some uses:

  • Put a drop on cuts and scrapes to help the healing process and prevent infection. Onycha will also slow bleeding on wounds.
  • Use as a deodorant – place a drop on each underarm.
  • Add a drop of onycha to a teaspoon of honey and take for sore throats or coughs.
  • Mix with a carrier or vegetable oil and rub on the chest to ease congestion and break up mucous.
  • Onycha is warming to the heart and can help one overcome sadness, depression and anxiety. Mix with lavender and diffuse in the living room or bedroom.
  • To elevate one’s mood, try blending it with rose essential oil and a vegetable/carrier oil and using as a massage oil.
  • Rub several drops on cracked skin to speed up healing.
  • Rub several drops as needed to ease stomach gripping pains.

Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi) Also known as “nard” and “false Indian Valerian root” oil. It was greatly prized in ancient Egypt where it was used in a mixture known as kyphi – a blend of spikenard, saffron, juniper, myrrh, cassia and cinnamon – as a form of incense, burned to appease the gods but also to ease fear, anxiety, sleeplessness and improve meditation and sleep. In India it was used as a perfume, medicinal herb and tonic for the skin.
It was also highly prized in ancient Palestine and there are a number of references to spikenard in the Bible. When a guest would come visiting, the host would show the person honour by anointing him/her with spikenard. For example:  “And Jesus being in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard, very precious, and she brake the box, and poured the ointment on his head” (Mark 14:3).  Spikenard was also used in the burial of the dead, hence why Jesus said of the woman who poured the spikenard oil on him, “She is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying” (Mark 14:8).  Its properties include: anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, deodorant, relaxant and as a skin tonic.

Some uses:

  • Apply a few drops as a perfume. It has an earthy smell and blends well with cistus, lavender, patchouli, pine and vetiver.
  • Rub a few drops on the stomach area if you are suffering from indigestion.
  • Use as a deodorant.
  • To balance the mind and provide some grounding, apply a few drops to the feet and crown of the head. Also helps to increase one’s sense of courage and power.
  • For rough and wrinkled skin mix a few drops of spikenard with a vegetable/carrier oil and apply directly.
  • Mix 50:50 with a vegetable/carrier oil and apply directly to hemorrhoids (Warning: May sting initially)

That completes our series on ancient medicines for now.  If you missed the earlier posts, have a read of Ancient Medicine: Sandalwood, Cassia, Cedarwood and Cypress and
Ancient Medicine: Frankincense, Galbanum, Hyssop and Myrrh.
If you’d like more information on these oils or you are interested in obtaining any of them, please contact us. And check out the links to further reading below.

Till next time


Disclaimer: Please remember that anything discussed here does not
constitute medical advice and cannot substitute for appropriate medical care. Where essential oils are mentioned, it’s recommended you use only pure, unadulterated therapeutic grade essential oils and follow the safety directions of the manufacturer.

Further reading:

12 oils of ancient scripture – Myrtle and Hyssop, Gary Young

12 oils of ancient scripture: Onycha, Spikenard and Rose of Sharon, Gary Young

About Anthony Zappia

Anthony Zappia writes a regular blog about health and social issues, areas that he's passionate about. Twelve years ago he became especially interested in essential oils and their ability to enhance health and wellbeing. Anthony continues to follow the latest research and is himself a distributor of essential oils. For more information on using essential oils or obtaining them, you can contact Anthony on email at azappia at or Facebook - Essential Oils For Living
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