Whole nutmegs and ground nutmeg spice in the wooden spoon closeup

Known as jaiphal in India, nutmeg (botanical name: Myristica fragrans) is a popular spice used around the world for its distinctive pungent flavour. Its culinary properties are well known but did you know that nutmeg also offers many powerful health benefits? In fact, it has been used for prevention and healing of many known conditions such inflammation and heart health. Moreoever, the essential oil obtained from nutmeg is used in toothpastes, cough syrups, perfumes, the cosmetic industry and many others.

Let’s look at the numerous health benefits of this amazing spice.

Health benefits of nutmeg

1. Antibacterial properties

Nutmeg has strong antibacterial properties. It is effective in killing a number of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth

2. Heart health

Like cloves, it contains eugenol, a compound that is known to benefit the heart and has antioxidant properties.

3. Useful in Alzheimer’s disease and stroke

Research suggests that a nutrient found in nutmeg may help slow cognitive decline in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and promote the recovery of brain tissue following a stroke.

4. Reduces flatulence

Used in small dosages, nutmeg helps reduce flatulence [excessive stomach or intestinal gas], aid digestion and improve appetite

5. Aphrodisiac

In Arab countries, it is valued as an aphrodisiac [substance believed to increase sexual desire]. It is also helpful to treat erectile dysfunction

6. Liver protection

Research has found that a specific compound in nutmeg, myrislignan, had a strong protective effect against liver damage

7. Relieves rheumatic pain and toothaches

Mixed with almond oil, nutmeg oil is used to relieve rheumatic pain. To treat toothaches, drops of essential oil are put on cotton swab and applied to the gums around an aching tooth; sometimes it is also used to control bad breath

8. Gastric health

Drops of nutmeg oil can mixed with honey is used to treat nausea, gastroenteritis, chronic diarrhoea and indigestion

9. Eases anxiety and depression

In homoeopathy, it is used to treat anxiety and depression

10. Induces sleep

Warm milk mixed with a pinch of nutmeg is known to induce sleep

Safety alert!

  • Always use nutmeg in moderation—a pinch or two is considered safe. Large doses can trigger an acute psychiatric disorder. It contains myristicin which, in large doses, can cause hallucinations. Users may feel a sensation of blood rush to the head or a strong euphoria and dissociation. It can also lead to convulsions, palpitations, generalised body pain, vomiting, nausea and eventual dehydration. Followed by long, deep almost coma-like sleep, it can even cause death in extreme cases.
  • Pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid nutmeg as it can cause miscarriage in pregnant women. It also inhibits prostaglandin production [involved in child birth process] and contains hallucinogens that may affect the foetus, if consumed in large quantities. It can also trigger dizziness, nausea and difficulty in urination.
  • Touching it can cause allergic skin reaction. It should be kept out of reach of children and pets.

How to buy, cook and store nutmeg

The best way to select it

Since the flavour degrades quickly, it is better to buy it for use in a month. The superior quality nutmegs are larger in size, round and weigh around 7 – 8g. The smaller grades weigh around 3g and the lowest quality are smaller nutmeg fragments. Testing for freshness and good quality is as easy as inserting a needle 1cm into the seed, if a tiny drop of oil seeps out, the nut is good. People often purchase ground nutmeg for ready sprinkling; the ground variety should be used quickly as the flavour deteriorates over time when it comes in contact with air and other aromas in the kitchen. Smell the nutmeg each time before using to make sure it’s still fresh and flavourful. Before purchasing ground variety, don’t forget to check for the airtight seal and an expiration date printed on the side.

The best way to cook it

Use it only if the recipe specifically states the use of it, as it is preferable not to experiment with its flavour. Once it is ground, it loses the oils which provide its flavour and taste. A grater can be used for this purpose—a grater with a finest blade is preferable. It is advisable to use only small amounts in any recipe; otherwise it can overpower a dish. Lastly, remember: adding nutmeg early in the cooking process can help distribute the spice more evenly into the dish.

The best way to store it

Whether ground and whole, keep it away from sunlight in airtight containers. Avoid storing over the stove, sink, near a window or near a source of heat or moisture as heat can cause the spice to stale quickly. Even though it is dry, it is heat sensitive and exposure to steam can increase the risk of bacterial or fungal contamination. If stored in a freezer and repeatedly removed for use, condensation will form, which will accelerate loss of flavour and aroma. Ground nutmeg stays best in the dark. If it comes in a clear bottle, consider transferring it to a brown glass jar or opaque container. Ground nutmeg should have a pungent, spicy scent and should be a light fluffy powder, not sticky, clumpy or odourless.

Culinary companion

The flavour of nutmeg works well in:

  • Sweet preparations like pies, puddings, custards, cookies, souffles, cakes, pastries. It can also accompany sweet sauces, stewed fruits and raisins, breakfast cereals, iced nutmeg juice, nutmeg flavoured ice-cream and to make jam. Try this sugar-free, vegan gajar halwa [carrot dessert] flavoured with nutmeg.
  • Savoury dishes like cheese sauces, soups, gravies, pickles and works well when combined with tomatoes, peas, black beans, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, onions, eggplant, cauliflower, french beans, carrots, potatoes and pumpkin. It also combines well with egg, chicken, meat products, pasta and rice.
  • Beverage toppings like eggnog, cappuccino foam, tea froth, milkshake, black coffee, sometimes wine and punches.

Note: One whole nutmeg grated is equal to 2 – 3 teaspoons of ground nutmeg.

A few simple home remedies

Nutmeg may be used to soothe common problems:

  • To control acne, grind 2 – 3 seeds and add little milk to make a paste. After washing the face with warm water, pat it dry, and then spread the paste evenly over the acne. After two hours, use warm water to remove the paste, followed by cold water to close the pores. This paste also acts as a scrub to treat blackheads.
  • To promote sleep, drink one cup of milk boiled with 1/4th teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
  • To soothe eczema [red scaly patches], make a nutmeg paste by grinding its seeds with water and smear the paste over the scaly patches.
  • To calm chest cold, make a paste of nutmeg powder and flour with water. Cover the cotton cloth with paste and apply to the chest.
  • To relieve diarrhoea, drink a filtered mix of 1/4th teaspoon of ground nutmeg, a teaspoon of ground coffee in one cup of water.

Note: Home remedies should not be tried without consulting the physician.


This is an updated version of the article that first appeared in the August 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing magazine

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4 COMMENTS

  1. In the past nutmeg was used intentionally for ending pregnancy, so it should definitely be avoided by pregnant women.

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