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Essential Oils

Nagarmotha Essential Oil - India’s Secret Elixir

Dubbed “the world’s worst weed” because it holds the dubious honor of being the globe’s most invasive perennial, you would think science and the medical community would have washed its hands of the stuff. Luckily, however, early physicians and naturalists recognized that there was something special about nagarmotha, a plant indigenous to India, where it has spread through a mid-sized section of the country’s diverse terrain.

Despite its harsh label - earned because it has negatively impacted cash crops in 92 countries as it has spread across the globe - nagarmotha nonetheless offers myriad health benefits, making it a prolific gift from Mother Nature, albeit one that comes with a twist of somewhat cruel humor.

While the plant’s protein-packed tubers are edible and can help feed those who are malnourished, a benefit that ideally should help improve the plant’s horticultural standing, it is the essential oil that is the most prized. Pressed from the purple-skinned white rhizomes of the Cyperus scariosus plant, nagarmotha essential oil has been considered a medicinal for thousands of years. It thrives in the tropical riverbeds of India’s Madhya Pradesh state where it originated, although it has spread to other regions of India including West Bengal and Jharkhand Orissa, as well as other tropical regions of the world.

Known as cypriol or nutgrass in the United States and mustak, varid or kacharuha in Sanskrit, nagarmotha, the essential oil’s Hindi name, has a warm, earthy aroma that sometimes acts as a stand-in for the equally seductive patchouli, although it also has hints of cinnamon and leather, making it spicy, rich and deeply fragrant.

And while the heady aroma of nagarmotha alone makes it special, it is the health benefits which the oil offers that makes it nature’s motherlode.

The Versatility of Nagarmotha

Not only is Nagarmotha an element of the ancient art of Vashikarna, a ritual rooted in magic that is meant to bring long-lasting love to the person whose forehead is anointed by the oil, it is also used to help strengthen hair by improving the health of the scalp and as an antidote for the bite of venomous snakes. It has also been used to repel pesky insects.

And while it is somewhat unfamiliar in the Western world, nagarmotha should be considered an essential oil necessity - especially in the stash of oils collected by those still in search of true love who know a practitioner of Vashikama willing to share his or her secret, old-world ceremony for romance. 1

In aromatherapy, it is used for meditation, as its nature-infused aroma is both soothing and grounding, ideal for finding peace, serenity, and relaxation during a meditation session or a sense of calm after a frenetic day at work.

Nagarmotha is used in the production of perfume, incense, homemade soaps and other bath treatments, and when used as a base can be blended with a wide variety of different scents to give it a more feminine, masculine or unisex appeal.

It is used alone in sachets that are tucked into saris and other traditional Indian clothing to scent them, and it also has been used as a tobacco flavoring.

And we have yet to delve into the health benefits of this luscious essential oil.

The strength of nagarmotha varies depending on the health of the soil in which it is grown, but because it is a wild plant, not cultivated, the scent may have subtle variations, but the health benefits tend to be uniform because the plants - which feature delicate white flowers and slender green leaves that grow from tubers that produce a warm amber oil - aren’t subjected to soil that is depleted of nutrients because of agricultural crop rotation.

Nagarmotha's Indian Background

Nagarmotha made its first appearance in a Chinese medical book in 500 A.D., and it plays a major role in holistic Eastern medicine, which recognizes not only the connection between the mind and body, but also the philosophy of Greek physician Hippocrates, considered the Father of Modern Medicine, who said, “Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food,” which recognizes the important role nutrients play in our overall health and well-being.

Nagarmotha was also included in the revered Charaka Saṃhitā, a Sanskrit encyclopedia of Ayurvedic medicine that is one of only two surviving texts on Ayurveda that makes up the foundation of one of the oldest systems of medicine in the world. Because most treatments were passed down by elders, the appearance of nagarmotha in the priceless texts makes it a standout among even the most prized essential oils. 2

In Vedas literature, the most ancient scriptures of Hinduism, nagarmotha is mentioned as having hypnotic properties, which is similar to the meditative qualities that still make it a standout among even the most prized essential oils.

Known as nut grass in the United States, where it was believed to have been unintentionally introduced in the 1880s, nagarmotha is considered a noxious weed because it is difficult to eradicate, but it could be a cash crop in the right holistic hands.

A 2014 study from researchers in India that appeared in the International Journal of Nutrition, Pharmacology and Neurological Diseases looked at the numerous beneficial nutrients found in nagarmotha, and there were several that were worth a second look, including 3 :


Flavonoids are phytonutrients that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors, such as the deep purple of nagarmotha rhizome skins. They are also power-packed antioxidants that fight free radicals that can damage skin cells while promoting a healthy immune system and inflammatory response. Inflammation has been linked to a wide range of illnesses including type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and some cancers. 1


Terpenoids are phytochemicals - there are more than 40,000 different plant-based terpenoids that help boost our health in numerous ways including cell growth and repair.


These compounds in many essential oils have molecules that are small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier, so nutrients that promote healthy inflammation can be delivered to the brain.

Because the nutrient-dense nagarmotha can be used topically and taken internally, it belongs in virtually everyone’s arsenal of essential oils, especially so given its ancient recognition in both Eastern and Ayurvedic medicines.

Healthy Reasons to Love Nagarmotha

Nagarmotha is a versatile holistic health option because it provides both internal and external benefits.

While there have only been a handful of studies on the ancient essential oil, the results have been overwhelmingly supportive of the role the historic oil plays in folk medicine, which gives it a platform for contemporary research.

“Collectively our results suggest that CSRME (C. scariosus rhizomes methanolic extract) contains medicinally important anti-inflammatory compounds, and this justifies the use of this plant as a folklore medicine for preventing inflammation associated disorders,” wrote Indian researchers in a 2014 abstract appearing in the October 30 issue of the journal Bio information. 4

Better skin

The inflammation of some stubborn skin conditions such as dermatitis and psoriasis can be calmed with the application of nagarmotha, decreasing the redness associated with the conditions and easing irritation. Nagarmotha also adds moisture to reduce dryness and flaking. It also offers anti-bacterial benefits that may help put acne breakouts to a stop without the drying and flaking that often accompany harsh acid-based treatments that dominate the market. 5

Erase Free Radicals

Free radicals are cells that have been damaged by pollutants that ravage the body in search of a specific molecule that can repair it, wreaking havoc on cells - especially skin protein cells collagen and elastin - in the hunt. Antioxidants are able to give up that molecule, healing the free radical without damage to itself, making them the most important compounds we can take in, especially when it comes to erasing signs of aging. Despite its role as a noxious weed, nagarmotha is packed with antioxidants that can ease oxidative stress.

Less Stress for Better Health

Even though we may feel the most productive when we have a deadline breathing down our neck, our bodies love serenity more than stress. Stress sends cortisol levels soaring, which triggers elevated blood sugar that can cause type 2 diabetes, arteriosclerosis and increased signs of aging, among other things. Nagarmotha is an aromatic that touches on the stress and tension of everyday life. Use it in a desktop diffuser or a personal aromatherapy diffuser to bring serenity into your space.

Breathe Easy

A few drops of this spicy/smoky oil with a hint of camphor in a room diffuser can help ease respiratory congestion, break up stubborn mucus and phlegm and positively benefit the central nervous system through nutrients that feed the brain and the nerves that send signals to other parts of the body.

Soothing, Tranquil Moisture

If you’re looking for a massage oil, this soothing essential is an excellent option to blend with a base such as sweet almond, jojoba, coconut or avocado oil. Add a few drops and massage into sore joints to help ease inflammation.

Easing Epileptic Seizures

The flavonoids in nagarmotha have been shown in research to reduce the occurrences of seizures in mice, suggesting that nagarmotha could prove to be a natural, holistic treatment for epilepsy or other diseases associated with convulsions or spastic muscles. 6

Pain Relief

Nagarmotha acts as an analgesic, but not only can it help ease the pain, it can also help to speed the healing of wounds that cause discomfort because it acts as a natural antiseptic.

Type 2 Diabetes

A 2016 study by researchers from India isolated several different plant-based nutrients that played a role in controlling inflammation associated with both type 2 diabetes and free radical activity. “Collectively, our results suggested that aromatic compounds showed good anti-oxidant and anti-diabetic activities,” researchers wrote in the December 2016 issue of the journal Pharmacognosy Magazine. 7

Muscle Relaxation

Tense, painful, overworked muscles can be relaxed and eased naturally with the compounds found in nagarmotha, according to both contemporary and ancient studies.

Appetite Booster

In addition to having potential to help ease malnutrition, nagarmotha can act as a stimulant to boost hunger, protecting against eating disorders or preventing the loss of appetite associated with chemotherapy and other medical treatments.

Nagarmotha has also been shown to support lower blood glucose levels, which can reduce the risk factors of developing type 2 diabetes or ease existing symptoms, it has helped promote a healthy weight and has eased digestive woes including diarrhea and constipation.

Nagarmotha Infographic

A Scent That Can Be Customized

While nagarmotha is one of the lesser-known essential oils, it is one that is more familiar as a perfume because it is such a versatile scent.


In fact, it has a long history as a perfume, used in sachets to scent clothes and in oil form to add fragrance to hair.

It is also used in contemporary fragrances; Lancôme is among the companies that use the natural oil in its scents, and it sometimes serves as a substitute for patchouli. 8

Not only does nagarmotha blend well with a wide range of other oils, it is a bit of a chameleon, and can pair well with lighter fragrances to create scents with a feminine softness - think bergamot, lemon, mimosa, pink grapefruit, jasmine, neroli, sweet orange, vanilla, ylang-ylang or tangerine - or can complement more exotic scents like patchouli, cinnamon, sandalwood and vetiver for more sensual, layered scents. Nagarmotha can also mix well with Virginia cedarwood, frankincense, myrrh, and vetiver to emphasize the oil’s woody, masculine qualities. 9

Interestingly, the scent of nagarmotha oil, among the most hated of weeds, and agarwood oil, considered the world’s most expensive wood, have a synergy when brought together, and united, both are more aromatic, heady and memorable.

Nagarmotha should be diluted before use.

Final Thoughts

Nagarmotha is an exotic oil that has a rich history in romanticism as well as with internal and external health benefits.

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