Nutmeg is the evergreen tree named Myristica fragrans, the fruit of which is one of the expensive spices in the world. The powdered form is usually used for flavoring the food and it also has some medicinal properties as well. In India, there is another variety of the plant M. malabarica wherein the plant fruits thrice in an year with both the seeds and its mace. Nutmeg produces an essential oil that adds flavor and aroma to the food.
The Cultivation of Nutmeg | Nutmeg plantations
Nutmeg plant is a dioecious plant, which means it can be propagated in both sexual and asexual methods. Usually the natural sexual propagation yields majority of male plants which are on fruit bearing and since there is no way of sex determination of these plants until it is in flowering stage, just following this method is not economical in a commercial way. The more practical propagation methods are grafting, budding, air-layering etc.
Once the plant is planted and starts growing it will fruit in 10-20 yrs. The tree has an amazing life span. Once it starts fruiting it can do so for more than 30-40 yrs. With regular pruning and proper care, the life of these trees can be prolonged. The ideal soil to be used is the drained soil that does not allow water logging. The plant needs care during the younger stage. As the tree grows older care is given in lesser amount as the tree can grow on its own in good soil with regular watering. The canopy of the tree makes it easier to control the weeds.
When the fruit ripens, it will crack open on its own and the seeds are separated. The seed is hard shelled with orange or red colored mace covering. The seed and the mace are separated and dried. On thorough drying, the hard shell of the seed will separate and the inner nut is what has the market value. This seed is powdered or freshly grated for many uses. The mace is also dried and can be preserved for longer periods. They are used as spice and have a nice aroma.
Nutmeg contains many components that are beneficial for the health and has many curative properties. It contains essential oil and fixed oil, a chemical named myristin, esters, alcohols, strearic acids, starch, saponins, and antioxidants. It is the essential oils that provide the rich aroma of the seeds and mace.
The oil can be extracted and have its own use. The Nutmeg oil has the fixed oil trimyristin and essential oils like myristicin, elrnicin, eugenol, safrol etc. There are other oils like camphene, cineole, oinene, linalool, dipentene, sabinene, and terpeniol etc.
These active ingredients have many medicinal and therapeutic properties that have been utilized from many centuries across the world. It is also a source of minerals like potassium, copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron. It contains many vitamins and antioxidants also.
Health Benefits of Nutmeg
Other than using it as a flavoring agent, nutmeg has many health benefits in the daily life. These uses have been there from the ancient times and it has been used as a remedy for many ailments and health conditions.
- Brain tonic: The powdered nutmeg can be a brain stimulant. It contains many essential compounds that help eliminate the fatigue and stress making the body much energized. It can be a mild anti-depressant and can control anxiety. It improves concentration and more efficient and focused in the studies or work.
- Pain Reliever: Nutmeg has been used in Chinese medicine as a pain reliever. The sedative effects of it are utilized well. It can reduce the inflammations and abdominal pain. It can be a curative for menstrual pain in women, arthritis, muscle pain and relives sores.
- Bad breath: The chemicals in nutmeg can kill the bacteria that cause bad breath and thus make it a popular ingredient in toothpaste manufacturing. It can also cure gum problems and relive tooth aches.
- Detoxifying Agent: Nutmeg is a natural detoxifying agent and removes toxins from liver and kidney. The toxins that are accumulated in the body from diet, pollution, stress, and other substances are removed by the nutmeg. It acts as a tonic to both liver and kidneys. It can also dissolve the kidney stones. When the liver and kidneys are detoxified, the body can perform better. It can improve blood circulation also.
- Good for Skin: The anti-microbial effect of nutmeg helps relive acne. The nutmeg powder can be used as facial scrub to remove the cane causing blackheads and dead cells from the skin surface. The nutmeg powder and honey paste when applied on acne marks can reduce the scars.
- Better Sleep: Mix a pinch of nutmeg powder in a glass of milk and have it before going to bed will provide better sleep. The difficulty in falling asleep is relived with this natural method.
- Appetizer and Digestion: Nutmeg can also be an appetizer. It can relieve digestion problems, bloating, constipation, diarrhea etc.
- Minerals: The minerals in nutmeg are essential for many body functions. Potassium controls the heart rate and blood pressure, manganese and copper act as co factors for the antioxidant enzyme and iron is essential for blood cell production. These trace elements provides better immunity to the body.
- Indigestion: Nutmeg oil can help relive stomach pain and indigestion. It removes excess gas from the intestine and relives bloating. The freshly made decoction of nutmeg with honey can relieve nausea, indigestion, and gastritis.
Medicinally nutmeg has been used for centuries now. It has got importance in India, China, Middle East, Europe, and many other countries around the world. The medical properties are due to the presence of many chemical constituents in the powdered from as well as in the oils obtained. The essential oils of Nutmeg have more medicinal uses than nutmeg itself.
- The essential oils myristicin and elernicin has soothing effects and is the reason behind brain stimulating effects.
- Eugenol is responsible for reducing toothaches and the same oil when massaged can reduce the muscle and joint pain.
- Nutmeg oil stimulates the heart functioning and is an excellent heart tonic.
- Nutmeg oil relives the congestion due to cold and is an essential part of many types of syrup.
- Massaging regularly with nutmeg oil around the abdomen area can reduce the pain during childbirth. This must be done 3 weeks prior to the due date.
- A pinch of nutmeg oil with honey given to infants can make them stop crying unnecessarily and can induce sleep.
- Myristicin in nutmeg can inhibit the Alzheimer’s disease causing enzyme activity in the brain. It can also improve memory.
- It is a good aphrodisiac, combats asthma, cure impotence and an excellent muscle relaxant.
Safety alert, side effects, and drug interactions of Nutmeg
The most important thing about the nutmeg is that only a very small amount of it is required to have the medicinal or therapeutic effects. There are more chances of overdose of nutmeg oils or powder. The side effects are visible within 3 hrs of over dosage.
As much as they are beneficial, even a slight over dose can show adverse effects. It is a brain stimulant but over dose might result in nausea and other acute psychiatric conditions. Convulsions, heart palpitations, vomiting, hallucination etc. are all part of the side effects of overdose of nutmeg. It triggers frequent urination and dizziness also. Nutmeg can also cause skin allergy in some children. It can cause dry mouth and sporadic fever that lasts for a few days. The high fever can cause dehydration also.
It has positive effects during pregnancy but it is risky as well. The hallucination caused by the overdose can affect the fetus negatively. It is considered as a potent abortifacient can even cause miscarriage. It inhibits the production of prostaglandin that is involved in the child birth process.
Nutmeg and the mace have slight drug interactions to certain drugs. Drugs that are broken down by the liver are directly affected by nutmeg. These medications are broken down faster than normal. The effects can worsen the disease or show some unexpected side effects. When using nutmeg as treatment, it should first be consulted with the medical practitioner to be aware of any expected interactions with the current medications.
The useful part of nutmeg is the nut inside the hard shell and the mace. The selection is determined by the freshness. The mace should be completely dried and devoid of any fungus on it. The fresh and useful nuts will ooze out oil when pierced with a needle. It is better to use the freshly ground nutmeg powder so get a nutmeg grater ready in the kitchen. Add the ground nutmeg in any dish to enhance its flavor and medicinal value. Sprinkle it on top of smoothies or milk shakes.
The grounded nutmeg powder should be used faster otherwise the essential oil will be lost and the usefulness is also lost. Store the nutmegs in tightly closed jars. The whole nuts can be stored for a longer period-even for years – when stored in air tight containers. Keep it away from sun or heat for longer life. The heat will make it lose the essential oil.