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I use nutmeg in cooking and I found this information so I thought I’d share it here..ET


Names of Nutmeg, past and present

Chinese: rou dou kou / ron dau kou
Japanese: hikaya
Malay: pala / buah pala
Pinyin: Rou Dou Kou
Indian: jaiphal / jatipari / jatikosha
Hindi: Jaayphala / Jayphala / Japhal / Jaephal / Jaiphal
Spanish: nuez moscada / nuez moscada y macis
German: die mustanuß / muskatbuam
French: muscade / noix muscade / fleur de muscade / macis / muscade et macis
English: nutmeg / muscade (adapted) / mace / nutmeg and mace (complete nomenclature)
Latin (esoteric): muscada (pronounced: moose-kah-duh) / nox muscada / macis (pronounced: mah-sees; alternately: mah-cheese)
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Myristica fragrans / Myristica malabarica / Myristica officinalis

Nutmeg – General Info

Nutmeg is a popular (and formerly notorious) spice that is derived from the fruit (specifically the seeds) of the nutmeg tree – Myristica fragrans; a large evergreen tree native to the Banda Islands in Indonesia. The plant now thrives in a large area that encompasses Europe and Asia, although its point of origin is oftentimes attributed to India, where the spice had been used prior to its commonplace employment in mediaeval European cuisine and medicine.

Uses Of Nutmeg
Uses Of Nutmeg – infographic to repin / share
Background image source – Brocken InaGlory (via Wikiepdia) – lic. under CC 3.0

The nutmeg plant is a relatively tall tree which grows upwards of twenty to twenty-five feet in length. It is characterized by its smooth, sap-laden grey to grayish-brown bark. It is also notable for its tendency to have uneven stem growths, and for its highly aromatic, broad, glossy leaves which possess a matte underside. The nutmeg tree also sports small white to lavender-hued star-burst shaped flowers that begin as tiny bead-like growths that later blossom into many-petaled inflorescences.

The fruit of the nutmeg tree is around the size of an apricot, with the seed being of corresponding size. The fruit is drupe-shaped, featuring smooth to slightly pitted pale-green to yellowish matte skin which encases succulent edible flesh and a singular seed with a red to dark-red hued aril. The flesh of the nutmeg may be consumed as a type of foodstuff, although it is most commonly cultivated and harvested for its seeds (which are made into whole or ground nutmeg), and its arils (the hairy, delicate coating of the nutmeg seeds) which are dried and ground to make the spice known as mace.

Just like the majority of spices, nutmeg and mace are primarily dried prior to use. The seeds are oftentimes cured to help preserve the spice and prevent its being consumed by pests. This was traditionally done by sun-drying the seeds for a week, and is then followed by slow roasting in a charcoal fire. Mace on the other hand is simply separated from the seed of the nutmeg plant and immediately sundried and powdered. Nowadays, both mace and nutmeg are processed through modern means, often undergoing flash dehydration for faster yields, although some variants available in the markets, especially the artisanal types, are still cured and processed traditionally.

Of all the known spices in the world, the nutmeg fruit is among the few plants that provide two distinct types of spices from a singular source. [1] Nutmeg is rumored to be one of the “secret ingredients” in the Coca Cola recipe.

All three parts of the fruit are known for their narcotic – and toxic – effects if taken in large enough quantities, and even the aroma of the flowers is said to be intoxicating. [2]

There are many other species of Myristica tree and over 300 are listed. [3] These grow for example in grow in India and New Guinea – but nuts from these trees are considered to be adulterants of Myristica fragrans. [3]

Nutmeg – History

Nutmeg has been used as a spice for many centuries, typically being grated fresh or purchased in ready powdered form. [3] It was well known throughout the Old World, and later on, the New World. The history of nutmeg’s use dates back to the time of the Ancient Egyptians, where it was used in religious rites, medicine, cosmetics, and in the preservation of foodstuffs. The Ancient Egyptians were (perhaps) also the first culture to employ nutmeg for the purposes of consciousness alteration, although the spread of its employment for such purposes seems to have come about after its introduction into Early Roman society.

In medieval times, nutmeg was very expensive and highly prized as a spice – and it played a curious, astonishingly significant role in the destiny of empires of those days.

Nutmeg was known to have reached Constantinople by the 9th century: St Theodore of Studium (759 – 826 A.D.), a Byzantine monk of Constantinople, was said to have allowed the use of Nutmeg in his monastery, though whether it was previously forbidden due to alleged aphrodisiac effects, or whether due to the fact that monks were supposed to live a plain life without excessive sensory stimulation, is not stated. [3]

Myristica fragrans
Myristica fragrans (nutmeg)
Illustration from old medicinal plant book (Kohler)

Nutmeg is mentioned in the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer (c. 1343 – 25 October 1400). Chaucer’s Sir Thopas describes “licorice and ginger and many a clove and nutmeg to put in ale”. Nutmeg was called Notemuge at that time, the name meaning a nut with musky fragrance.

In those days, the world’s only source of Nutmeg was Run Island, one of the smallest islands in the Indonesian Banda Islands. Due to the value of Nutmeg, and of mace, derived from the fruit of the same tree, Run was considered of economic importance despite its small size. Arab traders kept the Banda’s location secret; controlling the market and selling Nutmeg for a high price to Venetian traders. [4] The Venetians in turn held the monopoly of European trade with the Middle East, and grew wealthy – as herbs and spices were among the most expensive and in-demand products of the Middle ages. [5]

This scenario lasted until 1511, when the Portuguese learned the location of the islands. Then followed the English and the Dutch, who fought ferocious battles for supremacy in the spice trade.[3]

The price of nutmeg was driven sky-high by faith in the belief that a recipe of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves; eaten, powdered and mixed into drinks, or even worn, was the only remedy for the plague. Traders of old were known to “hype” the mysteries of nutmeg, telling tales that the spices came from Eden itself, or of great and terrifying dangers undergone in its harvesting. It’s been said that at this time, a sackful of nutmeg could have set a person up financially for life. [6] The practice of carrying a nutmeg in the pocket as a charm against ill health continued until recent times in England.

From 1620 the Dutch reigned supreme in the spice trade until eventually, in the early 19th century, Nutmeg trees were transplanted to British colonies such as Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Grenada. [4]

Nutmeg – General Herbal Uses:

Nutmeg plays a major role in both modern and ancient cuisine, where it’s edible fruit, and its two derivative spices are often incorporated into a wide array of different dishes. The fruit of the nutmeg tree is usually made into a sweet preserve after the extraction of the seeds and arils, although very ripe specimens can be eaten as is without any preliminary preparations. In a number of Asiatic cultures, the succulent flesh of the nutmeg fruit is typically made into candies, or otherwise incorporated into a number of different desserts.

Nutmeg seeds and powdered mace derived from its arils are the two most commonly employed constituent parts of the nutmeg plant, with its uses being by far more popular than even the employment of the whole fruit itself. In terms of culinary uses, there is a long-standing debate over the better of the two spices, although it is a general given that nutmeg imparts a slightly more robust flavour in contrast to mace’s more delicate notes. Due to the fact that mace and nutmeg both share a slightly similar flavour and aroma profile, they tend to be used interchangeably, especially by amateur culinary enthusiasts. There is also a long-standing misconception that states that powdered nutmeg is equivalent to mace, however, they are in fact two wholly different spices.

Both mace and nutmeg are highly aromatic and flavourful, often releasing the utmost of its aromatic notes when warm or hot. Both of these spices are commonly ground into powder and mixed with other types of seasonings, and due to its highly flavourful (and originally extremely costly) nature, are usually integrated only in very small amounts. Its limited use should also be credited to the fact that in very large amounts, both nutmeg and mace is highly toxic. Both nutmeg and mace feature in some regional garam masala (Indian spice mixture) recipes, and may be integrated into spice rubs, or employed as a general seasoning for sundry foods and beverages. In older times, nutmeg and mace was extensively used by the more affluent for the curing of meats, or for the emboldening of stews, especially those which contain gamey meats. In European culture, it is usually associated with flavouring a wide assortment of warming alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and was an almost indispensable ingredient in mulled beverages. The subtler flavour of mace usually allotted it a place in most sweetmeats and desserts, although even the bolder nutmeg was also incorporated into snacks, typically in very small amounts. Both spices were also known to be added into different preserves to add subtle nuances in its flavour, and to further improve and extend its shelf-life. [1]

The medicinal use of nutmeg stretches back to the time of the Ancient Egyptian and Early Roman periods, where it’s very integration into foodstuffs (and the subsequent consumption of foodstuffs containing nutmeg or mace) was in itself of medicinal value. The earliest common medium of medicinal employment for nutmeg and mace seemed to be in its integration into mulled spirits, which yielded a semi-narcotic draught which was known to be an excellent stomachic, digestive aid, relaxant, antipyretic, expectorant, and emmenagouge. It was almost never used by itself and was commonly combined with an assortment of other herbs and spices, typically cloves, cinnamon, and ginger root. The most common use of nutmeg and mace is as a mild tea to seasoning to help settle the stomach and alleviate the symptoms of nausea. When taken during a dizzy spell, it is traditionally noted to help prevent vomiting. [7]

Powdered nutmeg and mace was also taken as a form of snuff, by itself or mixed with shredded tobacco (and in some variants, cloves). It was notorious for its hallucinogenic after-effects, although it was partaken of more for the relief of flu symptoms such as stuffy nose, headaches, and migraine. Imbibed as a smokable mixture, it was also reputedly employed to help alleviate the symptoms of cough and cure asthma, although general oral consumption of either spices were just as equally effective (sans the possible hallucinogenic side-effects).

Very potent decoctions of whole nutmeg seeds have been employed during the Middle Ages as an early type of anti-microbial wash or rinse, and can be employed for medicating bandages or sterilizing injuries such as wounds to help avoid infection. Mixed with cloves, rosemary, and nettle leaves, nutmeg can be employed as an after-shampoo hair rinse. It may even be allowed to macerate in apple cider or cane vinegar to achieve similar purposes, as regulated use has traditionally been said to improve hair-growth and stave off premature graying. Ground into a very fine powder and mixed with bath salts, yogurt, powdered senna (Cassia obovata), powdered henna (Lawsonia enermis) or any other medium base, it can be employed cosmetically to help improve skin tone and complexion, or (if applied to the hair and scalp via a henna or senna paste base, it can effectively improve hair texture and fight dandruff, along with a number of common scalp problems. [8]

Because of its prolific use in the fields of cuisine and medicine, a culture developed from the employment of nutmeg, so much so that by the latter part of the 17th century affluent individuals would oftentimes carry portable nutmeg graters made from (or plated with) precious metals. [9] These highly ornamental fashion accessories often encased a moderately sized nutmeg seed, which could be grated, and the powder derived from the action caught by the compartment that initially housed the seed. This made it possible for people to lace nearly everything they partook of with nutmeg in the belief that its medicinal properties (being above-par) were akin to a panacea. Realistically, the vogue for nutmeg and mace began to take hold of the European populace due to the undeniable mood-altering effects that were experienced from the copious consumption of nutmeg. To this effect, a tea with a few grates of fresh nutmeg integrated into it can help to alleviate stress and improve one’s mood, while an extremely mild spiced tea made from a nutmeg seed (with or without the inclusion of other spices) is said to help warm the body, improve circulation, and (quite contradictorily) even promote sleep.

For a time, nutmeg was also notoriously employed by women as an abortifacient. Typically consumed whole, or otherwise imbibed in small doses repeatedly over a period of several weeks, it was believed to induce abortion primarily due to its cytotoxic properties. Its use as an extremely dangerous abortifacient reached its zenith sometime during the latter part of the Vicrtorian Era, where it proved to be a highly popular ‘drug’ for women who worked in houses of pleasure. Its use as an abortifacient soon extended to general usage, eventually eclipsing its other medicinal uses. Its employment for contraceptive purposes pervaded until well into the early 1900s, causing many cases of recorded and unrecorded fatalities brought about by nutmeg poisoning. [10] To this day, nutmeg is still considered a dangerous spice despite its common integration into a variety of foodstuffs, although its accidental liberal usage is nevertheless a slightly common happenstance, more so when it comes to inexpert cooks who are new to the idea of incorporating spices into their foods.

The essential oil of nutmeg (obtained via steam distillation of ground nutmeg seeds) is also a very popular therapeutic and culinary ingredient. It is typically integrated into dishes in lieu of whole or ground nutmeg, albeit in relatively lesser amounts. It is incorporated into cough syrups (a common addition in Traditional Chinese Medicinal tonics and syrups), or mixed with a base oil to create anti-arthritic or anti-rheumatic ointments or salves. It may be used in its pure state to help relieve toothaches or heal bleeding gums in much the same light as clove oil. It has also been employed for aromatherapeutic purposes, usually for diffusers, where it is employed as a stress-relieving and enervating aroma. [11]

Nutmeg – Esoteric Uses:

In the general body of western esoteric herbalism, nutmeg is employed most commonly as an incense is burnt for protection, to increase psychical abilities, for attracting luck. Mace is equally employed for the selfsame purposes, and it is said that the scent of incense boosts one’s intellectual acuity. Whole nutmeg plays a very potent and powerful role in voodoo and hoodoo, where it is commonly employed in the creation of juju bags that are carried as good luck or protection charms. In Creole superstition, it is said that nutmeg is an excellent spice to be employed when attempting to attract love or increase desire. A folkloric belief stated that sprinkling grated nutmeg on a woman’s left shoe at midnight for seven consecutive days would drive her mad with love and desire for whoever performed the act. [12]

Nutmeg is a somewhat popular (albeit extremely dangerous) natural hallucinogen. Whether imbibed in small portions for a short, consecutive span of time, or drunk in moderately large doses in a short amount of time, nutmeg – and subsequently, mace – possesses mild to potent hallucinogenic effects, although with very detrimental (and even lethal) after-effects. [13] The use of nutmeg as a hallucinogen may have stemmed from a traditional shamanic employment of the plant-matter to achieve altered states of perception, although no historical record of tribal usage solely within the context of its being an entheogen has been found to support such possibilities save for limited accounts that suggest the use of close species of the nutmeg family as a hallucinogenic drug in the Amazon basin. It was, and still remains a somewhat unsafe ‘filler’ – used unscrupulously to increase the potency of street drugs – a practice that became somewhat commonplace during the early 1960s at the height of the hippy culture. The essential oil of nutmeg has also been employed for hallucinogenic purposes. The essential oil contains elemincin, a hallucinogenic compound that is similar to mescaline.

Is Nutmeg an Aphrodisiac?

Nutmeg has had a reputation as an aphrodisiac since ancient times, and has been included in many an “aphrodisiac formula”. Hari Datt Sharma’s 2005 “Better Sex The Herbal Way” states that nutmeg is chewed with betel leaf to create euphoria, and that it “acts as an aphrodisiac by stimulating the higher centres of sex.” It’s said to have been made into a love potion in Israel, and, fried in gingili oil, rubbed into the genitals before intercourse to create a pleasant sensation. This practice was also described by the English “Professor of Physick” William Salmon (1644–1713), who stated that nutmeg oil applied in this way was an aphrodisiac. [14] This doesn’t seem particularly safe as it may be irritant and so is not advised.

Nutmeg has also had a reputation as an aphrodisiac in the Unani medicinal system (India) [15] and in other cultures of the orient.

Spices were associated with luxury and the exotic; is it any wonder then that they have acquired a reputation as being aphrodisiac? However, some scientific research has actually been done into the aphrodisiac qualities of nutmeg. A study on mice at the Faculty of Unani Medicine, Aligarh Muslim University, India – in 2003 and 2005 – found that extracts of the nutmeg and clove were found to stimulate the mounting behaviour of male mice, and also to significantly increase their mating performance. [16]

This was followed up at the same faculty by a 2005 study on rats, which found, at the dose of 500 mg/kg “significant and sustained increase in the sexual activity of normal male rats without any conspicuous adverse effects, [indicating] that the 50% ethanolic extract of nutmeg possesses aphrodisiac activity, increasing both libido and potency, which might be attributed to its nervous stimulating property.” [17]

Nutmeg contains myristicin, a substance that has been used by drug chemists as a precursor to the restricted narcotic MDA, and it has been hypothesized that myristicin is transformed in the body to similar substances in the amphetamine family, which would explain the stimulant effects. Nutmeg also contains elemicin, another substance with structural similarity to amphetamines, safrole and many other compounds. [15]

Nutmeg – Safety Notes:

Although small amounts of nutmeg are said to produce no neurological or physiological response, nutmeg is dangerous when taken in large doses, and can even (rarely) be fatal. As little as one heaping tablespoon of nutmeg taken straight-up or otherwise integrated into beverages or foodstuffs and consumed immediately can result in discomforts associated with a flood of myristicin in the bloodstream. A dose of 7.5g or more is said to lead to convulsions, palpitations, nausea, intoxication, and possibly panic. The intoxication produced by high doses of nutmeg is generally held to be of a very unpleasant nature, and it is often reported not to be worth seeking out as a “high”. Don’t do it! It’s very dangerous and will not be a fun time.

Myristicin is also reported deadly to some animals in quantities harmless to humans – and for this reason Nutmeg should NEVER be given to dogs. [3]

Nutmeg may be illegal in some countries including Oman and Saudi Arabia.[18]

Nutmeg should not be given to pregnant women due to its abortifacient effects. While very minute doses seem to be relatively safe, the risk the possibility of induced abortion caused by nutmeg is a risk that mustn’t be taken.

There has at times been much adulteration and fraud in the Nutmeg trade. [19] One famous (and amusing) example from history actually involved carving fake “nutmegs” out of wood. Presumably these might have been mixed in with some real nutmegs in order to make the bag more profitable…

Nutmeg is listed in the AHPA’s “Herbs of Commerce”, p252. [20]

Nutmeg – References:

[1-2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutmeg

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutmeg

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Run_(island)

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spice_trade

[6] http://web.archive.org/web/20100406162701/http://www.seventypercent.com/2007/12/the-spice-of-life/

[7] http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/n/nutmeg07.html

[8] http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=3eb7OiuZIDMC&pg=PA206

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutmeg_grater

[10] http://www.scribd.com/doc/22321349/63/Nutmeg

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutmeg_oil

[12] http://herb-magic.com/nutmeg-whole.html

[13] http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1966-01-01_4_page003.html

[14] http://www.alternet.org/drugs/140480/do_you_know_about_the_narcotic_effects_of_nutmeg?page=3

[15] http://www.pharmj.com/editorial/20061223/christmas/p786spicytale.html

[16] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14567759

[17] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16033651

[18] http://www.erowid.org/plants/nutmeg/nutmeg_law.shtml

[19] http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/n/nutmeg07.html

[20] “Herbs of Commerce” (AHPA) (2000 edition) – Michael McGuffin, John T. Kartesz, Albert Y Leung, Arthur O. Tucker p.252

– See more at: http://www.herbs-info.com/nutmeg.html#sthash.i1cXeePi.dpuf

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