Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) is the spice that makes its most popular appearance during the holidays. We sprinkle this festive, fragrant spice on hot beverages like eggnog, and use it as a flavorful seasoning when baking pies, cakes, cookies and other holiday sweets.
The nutmeg spice has an interesting origin and history, with lots of culinary applications worth trying, beyond sweet foods. It has noted medicinal uses as a home remedy, with plenty of nutritional and health benefits too.
Where does nutmeg come from?
In spite of its name, nutmeg isn’t a nut. It’s actually the dried seed of the Nutmeg tree, an evergreen tree native to Molucca Islands, Indonesia, known as the “Spice Islands.” Through the centuries, the Spice islands experienced great turmoil as Portuguese, other Indonesian islanders, Spanish, English, and lastly, the Dutch sought control of the islands, and monopoly of the valuable nutmeg spice trade at one time or another. The struggle for control was due in part to the belief that nutmeg was a miracle cure for the plague. This caused nutmeg prices to soar, creating the “Spice Wars” which lasted for two-hundred years.
The nutmeg tree thrives in hot, moist, tropical climates, reaching a height of up to 66 feet. Today, it is grown commercially in the Spice Islands, the Caribbean and Grenada, and cultivated for two culinary seasonings, nutmeg and mace. It takes 7 to 9 years after planting for the nutmeg tree to produce its first crop of spices. There's no guessing when the spices need picking! The tree fruit, referred to as the nutmeg apple splits in half when it is ripe, revealing the prized spices inside. (See the picture inset above this article.) Nutmeg comes from the seed of the tree, and mace is the red, waxy covering around the nutmeg seed. Two spices are derived from the fruit of one tree! The fruit itself has no commercial value. It is most often discarded, but is sometimes used by Indonesians to make jams and candies. After harvesting, the nutmeg seed is removed from its covering, dried, and sold whole, or ground. Nutmeg essential oil is produced for market from ground nutmeg by steam distillation.
Beyond Eggnog, More Culinary Uses for Nutmeg
Nutmeg’s distinctive flavor is described as sweet, warm, and highly spicy. It can be purchased whole or ground. Whole nutmeg can be freshly grated sparingly over hot beverages, puddings, stewed fruits, soups and sauces.
One whole nutmeg, grated, equals 2 to 3 teaspoons ground nutmeg. Whether, you’re seasoning foods or using nutmeg in home remedies, a little of this spice goes a long way.
Nutmeg is packed with an assortment of beneficial nutrients: manganese, potassium, saturated fat, calcium, dietary fiber, potassium, folate, iron, magnesium and copper, thiamin, B vitamins, and vitamins A and C. It also contains flavonoid antioxidants, beta-carotene and cryptoxanthin, and disease-fighting phytochemicals.
Home Remedies and Health Benefits of Nutmeg
Oral Health – Nutmeg has antibacterial properties that kills the bacteria causing Halitosis, bad breath. It is used in toothpaste and mouthwashes to kill bacteria, and promote healthy gums and teeth. Nutmeg (ground or essential oil) can also be used as a home remedy to relieve pain caused by mouth sores and toothaches.
Facial Care – Nutmeg reduces inflammation, acne scaring, and heals skin irritations. It is typically mixed with honey or water and made into a paste, then applied to the face, avoiding eye contact, for its healing properties and rejuvenating effects on the skin.
Arthritis Pain Reliever – Nutmeg contains pain-relieving properties similar to menthol, that can be used to reduce inflammation and pain associated with arthritis, strains, etc. Use the spice in your foods or beverages to reap the benefits. Topical analgesic pain relief products containing nutmeg oil are available.
Sleep Inducer – Have trouble falling asleep? The magnesium in nutmeg relaxes nerve tension, and triggers the release of serotonin, helping your body to relax, and fall asleep. When you need help sleeping, try drinking a cup of warm milk or hot tea with a pinch of ground or fresh grated nutmeg, with a little honey.
Liver and Kidney Cleanse – Nutmeg works as a detox, removing toxins that have accumulated in the liver and kidney from the foods, drinks and drugs you ingest; thus, cleansing and improving organ function, and general wellbeing.
The varied nutritional and healing components in nutmeg yield many other health benefits, such as, reducing blood pressure, aiding the digestion process, bolstering bone strength, enhancing brain function, and even reducing the spread of cancerous cells in Leukemia patients.
Use nutmeg sparingly. When taken in large amounts nutmeg can have a narcotic effect on the body, and cause hallucinations. Read WebMD warnings here.
Nutmeg and mace may interact with medications. To avoid possible side effects, if you are taking medications, talk to your healthcare provider before taking nutmeg or mace for medicinal purposes.
Do you cook with nutmeg or use it as a home remedy?
About the Author:
Deborah Tukua is a nonfiction author, and editor of Journey to Natural Living. She is author of seven books including, Naturally Sweet Blender Treats: 55 Fresh from the Blender Recipes, and Marketing Strategies for Chiropractic Success. Deborah has been a regular lifestyle feature writer for the Farmers' Almanac since 2004.
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