Festive, healing spice reminds me of home

At this time of year, I really enjoy writing about the many foods and spices associated with the holidays. It helps get me in the festive spirit!

Of course, nutmeg is one of my favorite holiday spices. You can add it to your baking (which, by the way, is best with whole-grain flour and natural sweeteners) or sprinkle it on seasonal beverages — such as eggnog, mulled wine, hot rum, or coffee (Irish or otherwise) — for some added holiday cheer. Keep reading and I’ll share with you the recipe for my favorite nutmeg-infused holiday spirit.

But first, let’s talk a little more about nutmeg. Like other traditional spices, nutmeg also offers a host of health benefits…

Enjoy a good dose of cheer — and healing nutrients — from this ancient spice

Nutmeg originated from islands of the Indonesian archipelago. But today, farmers grow it commercially on islands in the Caribbean and in Kerala, Southern India.

Nutmeg comes from the seed (nut) of a dark-leaved evergreen tree, botanically classified as Myristica fragrans. (This beautiful tree resembles the achiote tree used to provide the yellow-orange-red color of cheeses.)

The spice called mace comes from the dried, red shell of the seed. And it yields the potent mace-lignan (or mace wood).

Nutmeg’s wide array of benefits probably relates to the many essential micronutrients nutmeg contains, including:

  • Calcium (which you should only get from food sources, not supplements)
  • Copper
  • Electrolytes
  • Folate
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Thiamin
  • Vitamin B6

The calcium and phosphorus, specifically, appear to help maintain healthy circulation and blood pressure.

Nutmeg also contains a compound similar to menthol (from peppermint), called neolingan, which helps soothe pain and aid digestion.

Another compound in nutmeg, called myristicin, offers significant brain benefits. In fact, research shows when combined with mace-lignan (or mace wood, as I mentioned earlier), it can reduce the degeneration of neural pathways and impairment of cognitive function, typical of people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

In addition, nutmeg appears to help detoxify the liver when you drink alcohol. I suppose that’s why it’s been traditionally added to many holiday beverages (such as hot toddies, Brandy Alexanders, eggnog, or hard apple cider), as it helps your body metabolize any extra “spirits” you might consume around this time of year.

Nutmeg also supports oral health, reduces bad breath, and helps prevent cavities through its antibacterial properties. In fact, manufacturers add it to mouthwash and toothpaste, especially the natural varieties. You can also apply it topically to the skin as a paste mixed with honey and water for a bright, healthy glow.

Nutmeg also supports blood circulation, digestion, and immune balance, as well as relieving insomnia and pain.

Settle in for a deep winter slumber with nutmeg

You can add nutmeg to warm milk for an effective and natural sleep aid. And there’s actually some good science behind this traditional home remedy…

Nutmeg is relatively high in magnesium, which can help balance neurotransmitters and settle brain activity. (For this reason, it can also help with headaches.)

Like many plants, nutmeg also contains trace elements of opiates — which are Nature’s original sleep remedy. In fact, morphine — the prototype opiate — is named for Morpheus, the Greek god of sleep.

Of course, perhaps best of all, nutmeg reminds me of my childhood home…

Nutmeg fills the air at Christmastime

Each Christmas, I now return back to New England, which holds many fond memories for me.

And having grown up in Massachusetts, we frequently visited Connecticut, which is known as “The Nutmeg State.”

Perhaps that explains why here in New England on bitter, cold, winter nights, we sometimes enjoy a bit of nutmeg in our traditional hot toddies.

So, this holiday season, enjoy one of my favorite recipes (and the health benefits of nutmeg) — from my family to yours.

Traditional Hot Toddy

Yields 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces of boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 3 ounces of whiskey
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 slices of lemon
  • 2 pinches of nutmeg

Directions:

  1. Pour the boiling water into both mugs with whiskey and honey.
  2. Add the cloves, cinnamon stick, and lemon.
  3. Let steep for five minutes for flavors to mingle.
  4. Then, add a pinch of nutmeg to each before serving.
  5. Enjoy!

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