Nutmeg – The Unsavory History of a Tasty Spice


nutmegToday, we take spices for granted. Every kitchen has a spice rack or a well-stocked pantry because every grocery store has a wide variety of spices to choose from at very reasonable prices. But spice prices weren’t so reasonable in the 17th century.

Well, in those days nutmeg didn’t grow just anywhere.  Nutmeg was so highly valued that there was even counterfeiting. Less-than-virtuous traders would whittle down ordinary wood and polish it until it resembled a nutmeg seed.  Have you ever hear of the Nutmeg State?

Nutmeg is one of those fragrant flavor enhancers, that was once a rare, costly spice, so much so that wars broke out over it, leading to a tragic and bloody history. Tens of thousands of people have died in the pursuit of this little brown seed, nutmeg, reducing the population from 15,000 to 600.

Before we get into the benefits of this highly prized spice, let’s learn about its volatile history.

Nutmeg has been one of the saddest stories of history.


THE NUTMEG WARS

Nutmeg is indigenous to the volcanic soils of the Banda Islands, a group of islands in Indonesia.

By the Middle Ages, wealthy people in Europe knew about nutmeg and coveted it for its medicinal properties. Europeans believed that nutmeg had the power to ward off viruses like the common cold; they even thought that it could prevent the bubonic plague. As a result, the spice was worth more than its weight in gold.

Today, the Island of Run has a population of about 1,000 people. And much like TV’s “Gilligan’s Island,” there are no phones, no motorcars. And lights? They’re only on for a few hours every evening. After that, the power grid is shut down island-wide.

Many traders wanted to find the mysterious “Spice Islands” of Indonesia where nutmeg was grown. In 1512, the Spanish finally discovered the location in the Banda Islands where all the world’s nutmeg grew.  At that time, nutmeg was worth a lot of money, and whoever had the Banda Islands, the only place where it grew, had a monopoly on the spice.  In 1621 the Dutch swept in and took over. In order to monopolize on the spice, all exported nutmeg seeds were drenched with lime to make sure there was no chance a fertile nut would find its way off the islands.   In 1667, the Dutch traded Manhattan to the British for a small Pacific island named Run/Rhun (Roon).  Run is barely seen on the map and was one of the Banda Islands in the Spice Islands archipelago and was where the nutmeg trees grew.   

Initially, the Dutch wanted to get around America to Asia — and all its spices. Of all the high-demand, low-supply, overpriced spices, nutmeg was king. It was the most precious spice on earth from kingdom to kitchen.  The Dutch wanted total control of the lucrative nutmeg trade and they were willing to give up New Amsterdam (Manhattan), their backwater town in the New World, for it. Local Bandanese call this trade the “Manhattan Transfer.” The Dutch got what they wanted. The Treaty of Breda, in 1667, the English intended on securing their hold over every nutmeg island. The Dutch offered a trade, by giving the island of Manhattan, which is how New Amsterdam became New York.  James II the Duke of York, personally led the English attack on New Amsterdam.  So, New York is New York and not New Amsterdam because of the wars won and lost due to this spice.

In 1770, A Frenchman Pierre Poivre (Peter Pepper), smuggled nutmeg trees out of the Banda Islands and successfully transplanted them in the French colony of Mauritius off the coast of East Africa, creating competition for the nutmeg trade.

THEN, disaster struck In 1778, a volcanic eruption caused a tsunami that wiped out many of the nutmeg groves in the Banda Islands. In 1809, the English reclaimed the Banda Islands but in 1817 returned them to the Dutch AFTER transplanting hundreds of nutmeg seedlings to their own colonies.

Banda nutmeg is still considered the finest nutmeg in the world, although it is grown in other places.


Nutmeg comes from a tall evergreen.  Nutmeg is a seed not a nut and is used as a spice in various cuisines in the world. It brings sweetness to the foods. The seed can also enhance the taste of food and make the food more aromatic with just a small amount of it.  Nutmeg is made from the seed of the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans. The spice trade began in the Middle East more than 4,000 years ago, when Chinese, Persian, Malay, and Arab traders brought spices to Europe.

  • Historically, grated nutmeg was used as a sachet, and the Romans used it as incense.
  • Nutmeg was prized by the European aristocracy who used it for seasoning, medicine, and to preserve meat.
  • Ladies wore nutmeg sachets around their necks and men put it into their snuff. Everyone used it to combat the plague.
  • Just in our very recent past, NUTMEG was named the Herb of the Month in November of this year, 2019, by the Herb Society of America’s.

nutmeg; maceInteresting Facts

The first fact is that the spice trade was the primary driver of the global economy.

Nutmeg was the favored spice in Europe. Aside from adding flavor to food and drinks, its aromatic qualities worked wonders to disguise the stench of decay in poorly preserved meats, always a problem in the days before refrigeration.

Nutmeg is an unusual spice.  It is a twin spice.  But, it is more than just a spice.  It has a red membrane, which enwraps the shiny dark nutmeg shell, is known as mace, nutmeg’s twin spice.  The outer lace-like covering of the nutmeg seed is dried and ground.  Mace is used both as a spice and as a weapon to ward of predators.

No part of the nutmeg is ever wasted including the shell, which is used as flower bed mulch and for covering garden plants.


Nutmeg vs Mace – What’s the difference?

Culinary Uses – Nutmeg is considerably more fragrant and sweeter, while mace has a lighter flavor.

Nutmeg is used more to flavor many kinds of baked goods, confections, puddings, potatoes, meats, sausages, sauces, vegetables, curries, and such beverages as eggnog.

Mace has fewer of the same compounds and is more delicate and milk base dishes. It is used more for pastries and old fashioned donuts, eggs, fish dishes.  It has more vitamin C, copper, and magnesium than its twin, nutmeg.

Mace as a weapon – In 1786, Mace is an ancient weapon, formerly much used by cavalry of all nations

  • A common name for some types of tear gas.
  • By extension, a common name for some types of pepper spray.
  • By generalization, a name for personal tear gas and pepper spray.

Why was nutmeg so valuable?

Four hundred years ago, nutmeg was the most valuable commodity in the world, owing to its potent medicinal properties. The sweet, fragrant aroma of nutmeg is the result of a combination of essential oils, notably myristicin, elemicin, eugenol, safrole, pinene, camphene, dipentene, cineol, linalool, and terpineol.

Medicinal Uses

  • Include treatment for diarrhea and gas and a topical treatment for pain. In the mid-1300’s it was thought to combat the Black Death.
  • In 16th century London, for example, its price skyrocketed after doctors recommended it as a cure for the bubonic plague. Ladies carried nutmeg sachets around their necks to breathe through and avoid the pestilence of the air.
  • China dates back to the 5th century and was considered beneficial to the digestive system.
  • Sri Lanka and Indonesia and are currently in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia for rheumatism, nausea, diarrhea, flatulent dyspepsia and dysentery.  An ointment of nutmeg butter has been used as a counterirritant and in the treatment of rheumatism.
  • The seed contains anti-fungal, anti-infectious and anti-bacterial agents as well as volatile and non-volatile oil.
  • Many arthritis sufferers use nutmeg oil and it has been used for years in the West Indies as a treatment for malaria, asthma, and pneumonia.

VITAMIN AND MINERAL COMPOSITION

Nutmeg is rich in dietary minerals including B group vitamins as well as essential oils with anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor as well as antioxidant properties.  The portion of nutrients in the nutmeg is considered one of the highest portions among all types of nuts.


PHYSIOLOGICAL BENEFITS

1.  Improves Sharpness of the Brain(B5, Me, VC)

It has neuroprotective properties. Myristicin in nutmeg aids in improving memory by stimulating and preserving the neural pathways in the brain. It improves concentration and the ability to focus. Furthermore, it inhibits an enzyme that contributes to Alzheimer’s disease. It reduces mental exhaustion by stimulating the nerves in the brain, therefore removing stress and mental exhaustion leaving you feeling energized throughout the day.

In fact, ancient Romans and Greek civilizations used the seed as a tonic for the brain and drank it to prepare for mental challenges.

2.  Improves Brain Health(Me, B1,2,3,6,7,9, VC)

Neuroprotective properties myristicin, eugenol, and elemicin, all helped increase the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the hippocampus of the rats. The hippocampus is the organ located in the brain that is mainly associated with memory and spatial navigation, which is the part of memory responsible for recording and retrieving all the information in the brain.

Oils in nutmeg have a therapeutic effect on the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.  

3. Has a calming ability(Mg,K, Me, VC)

Nutmeg oil is known to have a calming effect and is commonly used to help relax muscles. The compounds myristicin and elemicin in nutmeg provide mild sedative and anti-anxiety benefits by activating the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain, in addition, chronic nervous problems.  Myristicin provides medicinal properties. In fact, when taken in large enough doses nutmeg is a hallucinogen, thanks to a psychoactive chemical called myristicin, which is related to mescaline and amphetamine.

It also works as an adaptogen that helps the body and mind to cope with stress. Thus, nutmeg provides the dual advantage of lowering your blood pressure in times of stress and lifting your spirits when you are feeling down.

Inhaling nutmeg oil serves as one of the most useful natural home remedies for stress, anxiety,
and depression
.

4.  Relieves Insomnia(Mg, VC)

Magnesium, in Nutmeg, is able to reduce nerve tension and stimulate the secretion of the hormone serotonin. This hormone helps us to feel relaxed and can also be converted into another hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that is responsible for making us feel tired and calm and can help make sure we get a good night’s sleep.

1/4 tsp. of freshly ground nutmeg to warm water or milk to help you sleep.

5. Relieve nausea(Mg)

In addition, it relieves nausea and prevents vomiting.

6. Improves blood circulation(K, Na, VC)

It has a relaxing aroma that comforts the body, and improves blood circulation and lowers blood pressure for people with heart problems. Powdered nutmeg might also help to relieve heart problems.

7. Eases muscle and joint pain(K, VC)

Nutmeg has anti-inflammatory properties, myristicin, elemicin and eugenol, helps relieve joint and muscle pains. The oil is applied on the affected part for immediate relief, removing stress and relaxing the body.  Itis an ingredient in cough syrups and cold drops and treating asthma. Nutmeg really does have chemical constituents that make you feel good and can help warm us up and even help us fight off head colds and stomachaches.

8.  Promotes Tooth Health(Ca, Mg, VC, Me)

Nutmeg has antibacterial properties, myristic acid and trimyristin found in nutmeg, exhibited good antibacterial activity and with the potential to inhibit the activity of bacteria such as Porphyromonas gingivalis that causes periodontitis and Streptococcus mutans that are associated with tooth decay. Eugenol has been used in dental offices as toothache relief.

The methanol extract found in nutmeg has anti-cariogenic properties and helps prevent tooth decay and dental caries. Macelignan, another antibacterial agent found in this spice, also helps inhibit the activity of bacteria that cause the cavity.

9.  Offers Liver and Kidney Protection(Mg, VC)

Nutmeg offers the much-needed support to reduce the toxic burden of the Liver and Kidney’s to ensure they optimally function well.  Through the rich compound called myrislignan, enzymes are activated to help remove toxins from the Liver and Kidney and dissolves stones naturally. Magnesium that is present in Nutmeg also helps to detoxify cells and metals from the body.

10. Aids in Digestion(Mg, VC)

Nutmeg has various beneficial properties for your digestive tract.  

  • Its fibers could help to promote the digestive process by inducing the peristaltic contraction of the intestinal smooth muscles, preventing the common digestive discomfort of constipation.
  • Secondly, it could also stimulate the secretion of digestive enzymes and numerous gastric, intestinal juices. As a result, it could improve the chronic digestive problems that you have been facing for a long time such as alleviating diarrhea, preventing flatulence, and stomach gas.
  • If you are suffering from nausea, indigestion, vomiting or even bloating, nutmeg is definitely a perfect natural home remedy for you to eliminate these annoying diseases.

Nutmeg added to desserts and milk is beneficial for indigestion and flatulence.  Also, it helps get rid of gas from the body and is used to treat several stomach diseases such as indigestion and stomach ulcers. It can also aid in managing symptoms of Crohn’s disease.

Mixing powdered nutmeg with banana or apple juice can be used as a herbal therapy for diarrhea. Also, a mixture of nutmeg with amla juice can relieve morning sickness and hiccups. Amla is an Indian Gooseberry, also called Awla or Amla excellent source of Vitamin C and contains 20 times the vitamin C in an orange.

One drop of Nutmeg essential oil in 8 oz of water may help with digestive and stomach issues. 

 

11.  Improves Skin(B5, Cu, VC)

Nutmeg has long been used in herbal medicine as a treatment to sustain skin health and appearance.  It is useful in curing skin issues such as Eczema and Acne.  It not only helps prevent acne; but, if you have any scars left by acne on your face, a tablespoon of nutmeg oil could help you in this case.

Beauty Tips:

  Try leaving a paste mixture of 2 Tbsp of Nutmeg powder, 2 Tbsp. honey, 2 Tbsp. Cinnamon on the inflammatory area on your skin once a day for several days. After 30 minutes, you can wash it off with lukewarm water.

  1 Tbsp. Nutmeg powder, 1 Tbsp. Coconut Milk – Apply to skin.  Leave for 30 minutes.  Wash off with cold water

12.  Boosts Immunity(Zn, Me, VC, Fe, K, Ca)

Nutmeg is rich in potassium, calcium, iron, and manganese that play a key role in improving your body’s immunity.

WARNING: If you take it in excess, it would be toxic even and might cause irregular heart rhythms (palpitations), intense nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and dry mouth as side effects.  For this reason, it is advisable to take small doses in order to avert possible complications and stay within a half of teaspoon of nutmeg powder a day.  In addition, it can lead to psychoactive effects and cause some problems such as hallucinations, narcotic effects or even agitation. It does not stop there, a huge unnecessary amount of nutmeg consumed also could lead to 


RECIPES:  It is better to get the seed of nutmeg and freshly grate/grind it because the flavors are lost very quickly.

TEA:  1 cups hot water, 1/3 cup of your choice of milk, 1/4 tsp Nutmeg, 1 tea bag

EGGNOG:  1 1/2 cup Unsweetened Almond Milk, 2 Soaked Medjool Dates, 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract, 1/4 Cinnamon, 1/8 tsp. Nutmeg, Pinch of Cloves, Pinch of Pink Himalayan Salt, 2 medium frozen ripe bananas.  Blend all in blender


IN SUMMARY

Nutmeg contains an incredible array of nutritional benefits relieve pain, ease indigestion, improve brain function, detoxify the body, boost the quality of skin, improve mouth problems, improve sleep, strengthen immune system, prevent some problems of blood and also improve blood circulation. and provides antifungal, antidepressant, and gas-inhibitive functions.

Different constituents of essential oils contained in nutmeg may affect pregnant and lactating mothers differently, but some of these effects may really be dangerous for the baby and the mother. So, you should specifically ask your gynecologist and pediatrician about the safety of nutmeg during pregnancy and for sure moderation.

Although this small nut has numerous benefits for human health in all terms, you still have to control the amount of nutmeg you consume daily.  Always remember that spices and herbs are best consumed in limited amounts.  They are powerful medicine and must be respected.


Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by.  It shows your interest in health or at least your curiosity.  I must say I really enjoyed learning more about Nutmeg.   If you enjoyed this post and learning about Nutmeg, please press the follow button, like it, and share how it helped you.  If you know someone who could be helped by this information please pass it on. People are destroyed from a lack of knowledge. (Hosea 4:6)  I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread the word so that more people can live their best life now free and to the fullest.


 

 

  1. Thought Co. Szczepanski, Kallie. “Nutmeg: The Unsavory History of a Tasty Spice.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2018, thoughtco.com/nutmeg-the-unsavory-history-195274.
  2. Herb Society of America
  3. Neatorama
  4. Britannica
  5. Benefit Of
  6. Organic Facts
  7. GNCA Nutmeg
  8. NCBI.NLM.NIH.GOV
  9. Top10HomeRemedies

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