Nutmeg, like many spices, used to be very precious: in the 14th century, one kilogram cost up to three sheep or a cow. Luckily, you don’t need to have three sheep handy today to get nutmeg: a simple trip to the supermarket and a few dollars will suffice. Nutmeg used to be about power: during the 16th century, the Dutch controlled the nutmeg trade, and even intentionally burned entire warehouses full of nutmeg in Amsterdam to maintain the price high. Today, nutmeg might not give you power, but that trip to the supermarket is no less worth it, because nutmeg will greatly contribute to making your body ever healthier.
Historical Medicinal Uses of Nutmeg
Plants and spices, in particular, have been used for thousands of years to help the body heal and support itself. This was long before scientific methods were developed, so everything was based on experience. The rise of modern medicine may have made us lose sight of some of that precious knowledge about the healing power of plants. Spices help the body support itself rather than offering a quick fix.
There are traces of nutmeg being used in the Middle East as early as in the first century AD, in order to help with digestive issues. Later on, during the 11th century, it was used to help with kidney disease and relieve pain. In India, nutmeg has also widely been used to help stimulate digestion, and help with colds and fevers. Once nutmeg was introduced to Europe, many of these medicinal uses were picked up by European people too.
Current studies on Nutmeg’s health benefits
Today, spices have not lost their relevance in helping our bodies sustain themselves. Many studies show that the ancient uses of nutmeg were not unfounded.
Nutmeg has powerful antibacterial activity. Similarly to cloves, it contains eugenol and is effective at killing a number of mouth bacteria that cause cavities. A study compared nutmeg and ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic used to treat a number of bacterial infections, such as bone and joint, abdominal and skin infections. The antibacterial properties of nutmeg are so powerful that the study found that it had similar effects to the antibiotic1.
Nutmeg is also a powerful antioxidant2. You’ve probably heard about antioxidants before, as they have all sorts of wonderful benefits for your body such as cancer prevention. Antioxidants prevent free radicals from creating chronic diseases in your body.
You should probably be warned that while small quantities of nutmeg will bring all sorts of incredible benefits to your body, a large quantity of nutmeg can have mind-altering effects3. Indeed, if you ingest high quantities, you might go through visual and auditory hallucinations. However, you really do need to take a lot of nutmegs to feel any of these effects. The quantities you would put in your food or drinks wouldn’t suffice. So if you are simply looking to enhance the flavor of your foods and enjoy the health benefits, there is nothing to worry about.
What foods is Nutmeg Good in?
Nutmeg has a strong and earthy flavor that is delicious in sweet and savory dishes alike. One of my personal favorites is creamed spinach with nutmeg. You can use a vegan substitute for the cream. Just add it to spinach with some olive oil, salt pepper and nutmeg and you will get a delicious and healthy side dish. The nutmeg has a unique way of enhancing the spinach’s taste, making your taste buds dance and your body happy and healthy!
Nutmeg is also absolutely delicious in deserts and breakfast foods alike. It is of course, in addition to cinnamon a perfect spice for your pumpkin pies and pumpkin bread. For a delicious and healthy start to your day, you can add it to your breakfast, in spiced oats for example.
Nutmeg is also increasingly popular in all sorts of drinks, from cocktails to tea and coffee. There are really all sorts of ways to integrate nutmeg in everyday dishes and drinks, so feel free to experiment with it in your cooking. It will most certainly be rewarding!
Lisa Darmet is a freelance writer, whose passions include, not only eating, but also food and cooking and their connections to health, culture and society. She is a graduate of Hampshire College, Amherst, MA, USA with a specialty in “Cultivating Resiliency and Food Justice Through Community”. She is truly a citizen of the world and continues to explore cultures through world travel.