Nutmeg is best known for adding fragrant, spicy notes to pies and eggnog, but the benefits of nutmeg extend well past the kitchen. The spice has been a popular natural remedy for centuries.
Nutmeg comes from the Myristica fragrans tree which is found in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Caribbean. The tree's fruit produces two common spices: nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is made from the seed of the fruit and mace from the lacy outer covering of the seed. Nutmeg is sold pre-ground into a fine powder or, for the most intense flavor, you can purchase whole nutmeg and grind the seed yourself as needed.
Many of the benefits of nutmeg are anecdotal and considered tried and true natural remedies. While research on the nutmeg is limited, some studies support its health benefits:
- Antibacterial: Nutmeg is often used as a natural remedy for bad breath and mouth sores. According to a PubMed abstract, when researchers isolated the various constituents of nutmeg seeds, they were all found to have good antibacterial properties.
- Source of Antioxidants: A study published in the Journal of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology concluded that nutmeg has important antioxidant activity which may help prevent or slow the progression of oxidative stress diseases (diseases caused by cell damage).
- Anti-Inflammatory: Organic Facts indicates that nutmeg oil has anti-inflammatory properties and may provide benefits as a massage oil and relieve rheumatism and arthritis. Nut-Med, a nutmeg based spray, was trialed by U.S. chiropractors and shown to have significant pain relieving benefits for muscles and joints.
- Relieves Stomach Troubles: In traditional Ayruvedic medicine, nutmeg is used to relieve stomach disorders including gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. In fact, some over-the-counter remedies include nutmeg. A 2002 study determined nutmeg has good anti-diarrheal abilities, with no effect on blood pressure but a significant sedative effect.
- May Aid Insomnia: Some people grate a dash of fresh nutmeg into a warm glass of milk to help promote sleep. As the above study mentions, nutmeg can have a sedative effect. An additional study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed a ligroin extract of nutmeg significantly increased light and deep sleep duration in the young chicken. However, more study is needed on humans to determine if nutmeg truly relieves insomnia.
- May Help Treat Leukemia: A study on the effect of nutmeg extract on Jurkat leukemia T cell line had exciting results. The extract inhibited Jurkat cell proliferation and caused cell death in concentrations of 50 and 100 ig/ml.
Nutmeg adds fragrant, spicy flavor to many recipes but a little goes a long way. Most recipes only need a dash of nutmeg to add flavor. Following are some ways to use harness the benefits of nutmeg when cooking.
- Sprinkle on vegetables, especially popular fall vegetables such as squash, pumpkin or sweet potatoes
- Sprinkle on fruit or over a fruit salad
- Add a dash of nutmeg to scrambled eggs, an omelet, French toast or oatmeal
- Add nutmeg to pancake or waffle batter
- Top apple, pear or cherry crisp with nutmeg
- Use in your favorite pie or muffin recipe
- Top eggnog, warm milk or hot or cold apple cider
Enjoy With Caution
Although the benefits of nutmeg are impressive, the spice also has a dark side -- it can be extremely toxic. Even a slight overdose of nutmeg may cause serious symptoms. Drugs.com reports that "consumption of nutmeg at 1 to 2mg of body weight was reported to induce CNS [central nervous system] effects."
The NutritionFacts.org states on its website that nutmeg is believed to be safe when used in food amounts but larger doses may be extremely dangerous. As little as two tablespoons of nutmeg may cause narcotic-like effects. Some side effects include nausea, vomiting, bitter taste, dizziness, disorientation, hallucinations or even death. Nutmeg can cause miscarriage or birth defects so pregnant women should probably avoid the spice altogether.
As a result of the risk of serious side effects, it's imperative you consult a doctor who can advise you on the appropriate dose for your specific situation before using nutmeg as a natural remedy.