Monday, May 14, 2012

The Many Uses of Nutmeg

Nutmeg with its warm, spicy and sharp aroma has been used for centuries the world over. Its botanical name is myristica fragrans.
Nutmeg is considered a twin spice, since the fruit produces nutmeg and mace (which is the outer layer of red fiber around the seed which is milder in flavor).  Nutmeg finds its application in flavorings, healing and aromatherapy. 

It has quite a history because in earlier centuries it had a high trade value.  Today, we are familiar with its use during the holiday season with pumpkin pie, spice cookies and eggnog.  I use it all throughout the year in my mashed potatoes and cheese dishes.

It also makes a wonderful air freshener as a scented candle.  The greatest benefit can be found in the medicinal use.  Nutmeg has analgesic, anti-septic, digestive, stimulant, tonic and anti-oxidant properties.

In “Nathaniel’s Nutmeg,” British author Giles Milton writes about Nathaniel Courthope who was a trusted captain of the East India Company, who fought a fierce battle in the 17th century against the Dutch by defending Run, the tiny island in the volcanic group of the Banda Islands in today’s Indonesia.  At that time Run was the only place in the world where the priced nutmeg trees were growing.  (I will write the next blog about the events which took place on Run and the Dutch-Anglo war which resulted in the trade of Run for the island of Manhattan (which was controlled by the Dutch and was called New Amsterdam).

Nutmeg’s Use in the Kitchen

There are many culinary uses for nutmeg, mainly in sweet and spicy dishes like pumpkin pie, puddings, custards, spice cakes and cookies.  It works well in soups like split pea, chicken or black beans or as an addition to cheese sauces.  In Middle Eastern cooking it is added to meat dishes like lamb as well. Italians are adding it to their sausages.  During the holiday season it is added to eggnog and mulled wines and punches.  One whole nutmeg grates into 2-3 teaspoons of ground nutmeg.

Nutmeg in the Medicine Cabinet

There many more medicinal uses of nutmeg.  The oil can become a rub for muscle and joint pains in arthritis.  In ancient Greece and Rome small amounts of nutmeg oil which contains myristicin were used as brain stimulants to induce dreams and to relieve stress.

Small doses of ground nutmeg can be added to liquids to reduce flatulence, indigestion and nausea.  In holistic medicine it is considered an excellent liver tonic which can remove toxins.  Nutmeg oil can be used to dissolve kidney stones and relieve infections.

Nutmeg can help with respiratory problems and can be used in the common cold against coughing.

NOTE: Large doses (2-3 nutmegs per day) can cause hallucinations, vomiting and other serious side effects, even death.

Nutmeg in Aromatherapy

In aromatherapy nutmeg oil finds various applications: it stimulates circulation, eases muscular aches and joint pains in arthritis and helps with nausea and indigestion.  It can also be added in small amounts to a glass of milk to induce sleep.

The home uses for nutmeg mainly focus on its fragrance.  With its musky smell it is often combined with other aromas to make candles and other aromatherapy products.

Nutmeg’s Magic

In the old days people used to carry nutmeg seeds as protection from danger and evil.  It was acceptable to put a nut in your armpit before attending a social event, believing that you could attract more admirers.

At some point it was popular to carry a seed and a little grinder with you to social events in a beautiful box made of wood, silver or ivory.

Commercial uses of Nutmeg

Nutmeg and mace are used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.  They are often added as flavorings in medicine or as fragrances in colognes for men.  They are also added to soaps, perfumes, detergents and lotions.  Some cough medicines contain nutmeg.  Many popular drinks and foods contain nutmeg.  Did you know that Coca-Cola contains nutmeg?

WARNINGS:  Nutmeg in large quantities can be toxic and even fetal.  Never use more than 30 grams (6 tablespoons) in a day.  Even 3 tablespoons are considered excessive.

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