Been going through a lot of medical tests lately, but I am feeling really positive about all of it, and still a little in the goulish Halloween spirit, so I think it is time to talk about nutmeg. Thanksgiving and Christmas is almost upon us now, so it makes it an even better time to talk about nutmeg. It features in so many holiday dishes you can’t seem to get away from it this time of year. Also, fun fact, nutmeg and mace are major ingredients in delicious, delicious haggis.
Yes, haggis is delicious.
No, I will not hear slander against it.
If you feel you must speak ill against one of the most delicious meal of squiddly animal bits, here is my response –
Now on to serious business.
Nutmeg is often mentioned with mace which grows with nutmeg, and we will possibly cover in later posts. Nutmeg is the small little nut part encased in mace’s scarlet tendrils, inside a peach, but not a peach, shaped fruit.
So on to the history! Of all the plants and information we have gone over, nutmeg has probably the most fascinating, dark, sordid history of death and destruction, of all the previously discussed plants. A lot of its allure was due to its highly prized medicine and culinary uses, but mostly it’s rarity. The history of nutmeg starts in the fabled East Indies, you know the ones that everyone was trying to find a water route to? Columbus and all those guys. Up until the 1800’s there was a single group of islands called the Banda Islands that provided the world’s nutmeg as part of the fabled spice islands. Their location was closely guarded secret of the Arab traders, so they could continue to sell it at high prices to the Venetian traders. The Portuguese were the first Western culture that “discovered” the location of the islands, but were unable to monopolize the trade. It wasn’t until the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) rolled in, after chasing out the Portuguese, that nutmeg’s history became very dark. At first they were seen as liberators, but then, the islanders started to realize that these VOC chaps, might actually be big fat jerks.
Nutmeg was completely monopolized by the Dutch, and the VOC even went so far as to go on yearly raids to ensure that no trees made it outside of their control. A great example of this is the island of Run, a small island the British East India Company used for their trade in nutmeg. The commander of the VOC in Banda snuck onto Run, and burned all of their nutmeg trees. Frankly a pretty dick move, and very much the creepy “if I can’t have them, no one can” sort of thing.
As time passed there was the usual colonial oppression of the local people, an impossible not to violate contract between the VOC and the native Bandas, and the eventual near genocide of the Bandas native population. All while the VOC kept prices intentionally high by occasionally setting fire to nutmeg warehouses, just to create artificial scarcity and selling nutmeg at near a 6,000 time mark up. Which, do I even need to mention this does little to help their image of being big fat jerks? Yes, yes I do.
On to happier things, like the well known saffron, nutmeg was an expensive spice and was considered quite a luxury for many centuries. It was valued as medicine since the 7th century, and it was even worn around the neck to ward off the Black Plague. And, oddly, the use for warding off Plague might have actually worked since nutmeg helps to keep fleas, which carried the plague, away.
It has history of use as a hallucinogen, of which in certain doses it is actually a powerful one, and it scares the pants of William S. Burroughs, which really says quite a lot. Nutmeg is also supposedly aphrodisiac, which everyone says that about everything rare, so it is highly unlikely you will find that effect rearing its head. Pun intended.
In the 19th its was used as an abortifacient, and this unfortunately led to many cases of accidental nutmeg poisonings. Which brings up the point of it’s toxicity, yes nutmeg is toxic in high doses, but safe enough in small amounts. Never consume more than about a teaspoon of nutmeg in a day internally. Some sites, you may find, suggest more, which I disagree strongly with the large amounts for internal use, and it is always better safe than sorry. My suggestion is, if you really feel you must increase the dose, talk to your doctor first. But again, in small doses, nutmeg is a wonderful remedy for sleeplessness, nerve pain, indigestion (mostly flatulence and other discomforts from over indulgence) and muscle spasms.
Nutmeg can be used as a mild sleep aid, it isn’t as powerful as some of the others we have discussed, but a good one you can use frequently and without worry in small amounts. To make a simple sleepy time drink, and one that is extra good for winter, is nutmeg and warm milk.
Nutmeg and Milk for Sleep
- 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
- 1 cup Milk (or milk substitute)
- Honey to taste (optional)
Heat the milk in a pan or microwave, being careful not to scald, and add freshly grated nutmeg. Stir thoroughly, and drink still warm. Since we are close to the holiday season, eggnog could be your liquid to use here. Which you don’t have to heat if you don’t want to, and I won’t tell anyone if you put a little splash of rum in it. 😀 And that will definitely help you sleep.
Eggnog leads us into our next use for nutmeg too since it is a great way to help ease stomach discomfort and flatulence. During the holiday season we all tend to over indulge and the addition of nutmeg in these holiday foods helps to keep some of the repercussions for all that food at bay. Grate a little into your eggnog before diving into that Christmas dinner, or make sure you have a slice of pumpkin pie with some real nutmeg in it. Don’t buy ground, really for any spice, they can be adulterated with inferior products or other species, or so old they are of no use. Your tummy will thank you later. I have read a few other recipes that involve combining nutmeg with other things, even coffee, to ease the stomach or diarrhea but this sounds like it would taste horrible to me and I haven’t tried it, let me know if you do, brave soul. I just recommend adding it to your dishes and drinks, or even using the milk and nutmeg recipe listed above.
Nutmeg oil, (remember use therapeutic grade only!) is a warming oil that is great for spasms and nerve related pain. It helps to ease the spasms and numb the nerves to ease the pain. Massage oil is a great way to apply this and it is easy to make, though you can apply always apply nutmeg oil directly to the skin. Remember though, this is a warming oil, so test to see how sensitive your skin is to it before direct application.
Nutmeg Massage Oil
- 1 oz Carrier oil
- 20-30 drops Nutmeg oil
Mix together and massage directly into affected area. You can always blend this with other oils like mentioned in the fennel post.
I use this oil for days when I am not in a ton of pain, but I still need something to work the stiffness and minor aches out, and it works great for this sort of application, or for sore muscles after sports or exercise. I find it works well for my minor muscle spasms and helps to numb the area a bit, and this effect increases if you combine it with cloves or other oils. The smell is woody and spicy, and rather pleasant. You can also take a drop or two internally in a capsule to help with pain and nerve issues too, I don’t recommend adding the oil directly to your beverage, it can be quite overpowering in flavor.
If you would like to purchase the Nutmeg Oil I use go here, remember to use 1453322 as your sponsor number.
There are some other skin uses for nutmeg, like using grated nutmeg and milk to make a paste to treat acne, or as a chest plaster with honey for a cold, and many, many savory and sweet culinary uses. I love nutmeg in food, and enjoy recreating medieval food where it is often used, as well as other current culinary styles.
Remember nutmeg, like skullcap, is good in small doses! Do your own research, check for interactions on sites like WebMD, and educate yourself. Do your own trials with it to see what works best for you. As always if you are in doubt, even in the slightest, ask a professional!