At this time of year, I write a good bit about the health benefits of many spices and foods associated with the holidays, such as cinnamon, ginger, cocoa, and nuts. It can help get us in the spirit. But let’s not neglect another common holiday spice–nutmeg. You can add this popular spice to eggnog, mulled wine, hot rum, coffee (Irish or otherwise), and other holiday delicacies.
Actually, Connecticut is “The Nutmeg State,” so perhaps that explains the origin of the film “Christmas in Connecticut” starring Barbara Stanwyck. (Stanwyck typically played a hard-bitten “femme fatale.” But in this case, she was only “fatale” to the film itself!)
Like other spices, nutmeg has a host of health benefits. It can help relieve pain, soothe digestion, boost the brain, balance the immune system, relieve insomnia, and support healthy blood circulation. It’s even been studied for its activity against leukemia.
Nutmeg originally came from islands in the Indonesian archipelago. And today, farmers grow it commercially on islands in the Caribbean and in Kerala, Southern India.
Nutmeg is actually one of two spices that grow on an evergreen tree botanically classified as Myristica fragrans. Nutmeg is the seed of the tree. The spice called mace comes from the dried, red shell of the seed. And it yields the potent mace-lignan (or mace wood). In aromatherapy, we now use the essential oils extracted from the tree and leaves.
Of course, nutmeg has a number of micronutrient constituents. Including vitamin B6, thiamin, folate, electrolytes and minerals; calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus.
The calcium and phosphorus in nutmeg appear to help maintain healthy circulation and blood pressure. The phytochemicals in nutmeg include a compound similar to menthol (from peppermint), which is helpful for soothing pain and aiding digestion.
There’s also another compound in nutmeg called myristicin. And along with macelignan, it has significant brain benefits. In fact, research shows they 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. When added to the tasty, holiday beverages I mentioned earlier, nutmeg helps your body metabolize any extra “spirits” you might consume around this time of year.
Nutmeg is also good for oral health. It has antibacterial properties that reduce bad breath and dental cavities. 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 healthy appearance.
As a home-remedy sleep aid, you can add nutmeg to warm milk. And there’s actually some good science behind this tradition. You see, 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 has trace elements of opiates–which, of course, are nature’s original sleep remedy. (In fact, the prototype opiate morphine is named for Morpheus, the Greek god of sleep.) Thankfully, the FDA and DEA don’t regulate nutmeg as closely as they regulate opiates and dozens of other natural substances–not yet, that is.
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and to all a good night,