Hard to imagine that at one point in time this rarely used spice should have been one of the most prized treasures of the East. Fierce trade wars raged over the control of the Spice Islands, the natural home of the mysterious Nutmeg. After years of fighting and bloody wars the Dutch took reign over these Islands and monopolised the lucrative Nutmeg trade, until one brave man risked his life to 'liberate' the Nutmeg trade from the Dutch tyranny. Committing an act of biopiracy, he secreted some Nutmegs away and took them far outside the domain of Dutch control. From his seeds a plantation was established in Mauritius, a small island off the coast of Africa, and later in Granada, in the West Indies, where Nutmeg trade became so well established that it became emblematic of Granada and even decorates the national flag. Nutmegs are the seeds of a tropical fruit which superficially looks a bit like a peach. When the fruit ripens the cortex splits open and two seeds are released, each surrounded by a lacy, bright red aril that covers their outer shell. This aril is known as Mace and is similarly used as the Nutmeg itself. The seed (nutmeg) is very hard and requires a special Nutmeg grater to grate off a pinch just before use. Although Nutmeg is available already ground, it always best to buy it whole, since once grated it quickly loses its aroma. In their home land Nutmegs are used for culinary and magical purposes. In India it is mostly used to flavour sweet dishes such as milk puddings and sweet rice dishes, while in the West it has become popular as a spice for eggnog. It is also used in Christmas baking as well as for potato and cauliflower dishes. Nutmegs contain a psychoactive constituent called myristicin, which is toxic to the liver. However, in the absence of more pleasant diversions and recreational drugs, Nutmegs have at times provided entertainment as a legal drug, especially among inmates, who could not get their hands on anything else. Unfortunately such experiments are usually accompanied by very unpleasant side effects including severe vomiting and convulsions. Nutmeg intoxication also powerfully affects the heart rate and can be dangerous to anybody with cardiac problems. In short - large doses of Nutmeg are not recommended.
In small doses Nutmeg is warming to the stomach. It can soothe cramps and indigestion and has a calming, relaxing effect. It can be used to treat insomnia and has even been given to children as a sedative. Small doses sharpen the mind and enhance concentration. It may be useful in cases of attention deficit syndrome. The essential oil is used for rheumatism and headaches.
Nutmegs have been used to spice aphrodisiac dishes and are employed in various love charms. They can also be used for dream work and visualisation. Traditionally they are used to ward off evil spirits and disease. Nutmegs can be included in incense blends and amulets.