Nutmeg comes from an evergreen tree (Myristica fragrans) native to Southeast Asia and is interesting because not only does this tree produce nutmeg, but it also produces the spice, mace. The tree itself can grow to 65 feet tall. It does not produce any fruit for the first 7 years. Thereafter it will produce more and more each years - sometimes until it is 90 years old.
Inside the fruit of the tree is a seed. It is a 20 to 30 mm long, brown nut that has a webby cover called an arillus from which mace is produced. The nutmeg is made by separating the nut from the outer coverings and arillus and drying it in the sun. Nutmeg can be grated into powder from the nut, or it can be pressed to expel the essential oils which are thought to have powerful medicinal properties.
Nutmeg has been used since ancient times and is even mentioned in the 1st century writings of the Roman philosopher, Pliny. It was a treasured spice in Medieval times. Originally it was brought to Europe by Arabs in caravans during the middle ages. Trade was taken over by the Dutch in the 1600s. They found an easier and cheaper way to transport it (by ship). After a war with the Dutch, the English took over their trade routes. The English are credited with cultivating nutmeg in other countries such as Grenada and Zanzibar.
Today, nutmeg is prized for its culinary uses. In the kitchen, nutmeg is a perfect complement to many dishes including sweet potatoes, custards, soups, sauces, and even meats. It will add a little zip to vegetable dishes and can give a distinctive flavor to desserts. It is a traditional spice for eggnog as well as mulled cider. In the absence of nutmeg, substitute mace, which has a lighter, more delicate flavor.
For centuries, nutmeg has also been used for healing and medicinal purposes. It is known to be a potent brain booster, increasing circulation and allowing better concentration. It can also help clear up congestion due to colds and, in fact, is used in many cough syrups.
Nutmeg is also a great detoxifier helping to remove toxins from the liver as well as relieving kidney stones and infections. Nutmeg oil can be applied topically and “rubbed in” to areas where there is muscle or joint stiffness. In addition, nutmeg may be of value in stimulating the cardio-vascular system. It has long been used to get rid of bad breath, flatulence and nausea. It may even help with inflammation.
While nutmeg is safe at normal doses, if abused (take in more than 30 grams which is about 6 tablespoons a day) it can have severe and serious side effects.
Next Page: The History of Nutmeg
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