This healthy spice can be very evocative of the festive season but don't just use it during celebratory times, but all the year round too for its healing properties, and in baking for a wide variety of dishes.
This spice is known as nutmeg
Known as nutmeg, this ancient spice from the nutmeg tree originated in Banda, the largest of the Molucca Spice Islands of Indonesia. The English word nutmeg comes from the Latin nux
(meaning nut) and muscat
The evergreen tree has egg-shaped leaves and small, bell-like light yellow flowers that give off a distinct aroma when in bloom. The fruit is light yellow too with red and green markings, resembling an apricot or a large plum but, as it ripens, it bursts open and reveals its precious contents. The nutmeg has an outer layer of mace. The nut itself is dried for up to 2 months until the inner nut, or edible nutmeg, rattles inside the shell.
The best of the crop are for the spice trade while second-rate nuts are pressed for their oil
Nutmeg had a long and often violent history – it was a highly prized spice used in European medieval cuisine as a flavouring, medicinal and preservative agent but it was also fashionable among the wealthy being exotic and potent enough to induce mild hallucinations.
Today, nutmeg is prized for its many healing properties
- Helping with insomnia as if you have difficulty sleeping at night, drink a cup of milk with some nutmeg powder to achieve relaxation and induce sleep.
- Diminishing bouts of anxiety.
- Calming muscle spasms.
- Lessening nausea and vomiting. As a tonic, nutmeg can clean your liver and kidney and remove these toxins. If you are suffering from a liver disease then nutmeg can also be beneficial.
- Effective in preventing and dissolving kidney stones.
- Dealing with indigestion and diarrhea as nut meg will sooth and give relief to digestion-related problems like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, flatulence and more. Nutmeg oil relieves stomach aches by removing the excess gas from your intestines.
- Combating joint pain such as in arthritis or gout. Nutmeg is also an effective sedative and a staple in ancient Chinese medicine, being used to treat inflammation and abdominal pain. Use nutmeg if you are suffering from aching joints, muscle pain, arthritis, sores and other ailments. For relief, apply nutmeg oil to the affected areas.
- Lowering blood pressure and/or cholesterol.
- Fighting bacterial infections.
- Increasing and improving circulation.
- Helping with male infertility and impotence.
- Improving concentration. During ancient times, Roman and Greek civilizations used nutmeg as a type of brain tonic because nutmeg can be a stimulant, helping eliminate fatigue and stress. Nutmeg can also improve your concentration so you can become more efficient and focused at work, during exams or at school.
- Taking away the pain of toothache and gum problems with the use of nutmeg oil. With its antibacterial properties, nutmeg can also effectively treat halitosis or bad breath by getting rid of bacteria in the mouth. This is why nutmeg is a common ingredient in many brands of toothpastes.
Nutmeg can even improve the skin, achieving smoother and healthier skin by helping to treat several skin problems. A scrub made from nutmeg powder and orange lentil powder can remove blackheads or if you suffer from acne
marks, nutmeg can also help make your scars
A word of warning about those hallucinations mentioned earlier
Taking too much nutmeg can lead to side effects such as nausea, hallucinations, swelling and shock. So moderation with the consumption of nutmeg is needed.
Advice on how to prepare, store and cook with nutmeg
Courtesy of the homecooking site of Peggy Trowbridge Filippone
Once it is ground, nutmeg soon loses the oils which provide its flavor and taste, so grating fresh nutmeg is recommended to achieve the full benefit of the fresh oils. A nutmeg grater should be a part of basic equipment in every kitchen, but if you do not have one, use the finest blade on a larger hand-held manual grater. The difference between fresh nutmeg and commercially-ground is like night and day.
Testing for good quality fresh nutmegs is as easy as inserting a darning needle a centimeter into the meat; if a tiny drop of oil seeps out, the nut is good. Freshly-grated nutmeg should ideally be added at the end of the cooking process, since heat diminishes the flavor. Whole fresh nutmegs, as well as ground nutmeg and mace, should be kept in a tightly-sealed jar or container in a cool, dark place. Wrap leftover fresh nutmeg tightly so the oils are not lost.
Slightly sweeter than mace, nutmeg is essential to bechamel sauce and also goes well with baked or stewed fruit, custards, eggnog, punches, curries, sauces (particularly onion-based and milk sauces), pasta and vegetables (especially spinach).
One whole nutmeg grated yields 2 to 3 teaspoons of ground nutmeg.