Nutmeg - Myristica fragrans

Nutmeg - Myristica fragrans


This spice is made from a large evergreen tree, or shrub, native to Indonesia, now grown in parts of South Asia. It is a tree up to 7-10 meters high, with an erect trunk, greyish bark, and wood that contains a red or pink latex; the crown is rounded, with dense, slightly spiral branches; in shape it resembles a large orange tree. The leaves are oval, pointed, dark green in color, with a glossy and waxy upper surface; it produces small bell-shaped, fleshy flowers, the female ones in small axillary racemes, the single male ones. Two or three times a year it produces numerous fruits, the size of small peaches, green in color, which turn yellow when ripe; they are juicy and in the places of origin the pulp is used to prepare a jam; when ripe they open in half, revealing a walnut about 3-4 centimeters thick, covered with a bright red aril.

Uses of Myristica fragrans

Inside the walnut there is a single seed, soft, which soon becomes woody; this seed is nutmeg; the dried aril tends to become lighter and more rigid, it is the mace, a spice little used in our country, has a scent similar to myristica fragrans. This spice is widely used in cooking, to obtain a more intense aroma it is good to grate it just before use. For centuries it has also been used in herbal medicine and natural medicine; ingestion of large quantities of nutmeg oil can lead to hallucinations and a mild form of intoxication, and even death. Before being used for feeding, the walnuts, and also the arils, are dried and often immersed in quicklime, to avoid any possibility of germination.

Family, genus, speciesMyristicaceae, Myristica fragrans
Type of plantTree, dioecious
HeightFrom 6 to 10 m at maturity
JarAt least 40 cm in diameter and depth
Cultivationmedium to very difficult
Water needMedium to high
Ambient humidityhigh
PropagationSeed, cutting (for the production of female plants only)
RusticityDelicate, temp. Minimum 12 ° C
ExposureFull sun, partial shade
GroundRich, deep, but well drained
Moisture of the soilFresh, but well drained
UsePot, warm greenhouse
Ideal climateTropical and subtropical


Myristica fragrans trees grow in rich, very well drained soils, often in places affected by volcanic eruptions; they prefer sunny places, and need a minimum temperature above 10-12 ° C. Watering must be regular, and the climate must have a high percentage of air humidity. Myristica trees can be grown by seed or by cutting; large seeds germinate easily, but a tree produces its first flowering after at least 8-10 years. In the cultivation areas, nutmeg is also considered an aphrodisiac, and the oil extracted from walnuts, solid at room temperature, is also used against pain and rheumatism.


When the nutmeg fruits begin to open spontaneously it means they are ready to be harvested. These are recovered by hand or with a bamboo cane and then placed to dry in the sun. Once dry, it will be possible to separate the aril from the kernel and proceed with drying again. The most valuable part of our nutmeg is precisely the aril. This, pulverized, is known by the name of "mace", a very precious and refined spice. The seed, on the other hand, is the actual nutmeg.

Potted cultivation of nutmeg

Pot cultivation is only possible if you have a heated greenhouse. The minimum temperature must never drop below 12 ° C and the ambient humidity must always remain quite high. Obtaining fruiting is difficult because it takes at least 10 years and a very large container to reach maturity. It is also a dioecious plant and it is therefore necessary to have a female and a male specimen.

Irrigation and vaporization must be frequent. The soil must be rich and able to remain fresh, but at the same time with an excellent draining capacity.

History of nutmeg

Nutmeg was already known in Roman times, even if it was considered a very rare product; it spread relatively more starting from the XII century thanks to the commercial exchanges that were established with the Arabs during the period of the Crusades. However, it was always a very expensive spice and, from the fifteenth century, the Portuguese decided to open a naval route to the East to obtain supplies directly and obtain better rates. Success was slow to come, however, until the Dutch intervened.

The Dutch period

They invaded the Moluccan Islands and took control of them. From that moment they practically had a monopoly on the world trade of this spice. At the time its value was so high that it led the Dutch to a bizarre exchange with the British. At the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1667) they agreed to sell the island of Manhattan in exchange for that of Run (the only nutmeg producing island that was not under their rule).

To avoid anyone trying to reproduce the tree, they began to treat the seeds (the "walnut") with lime, so that they could not germinate (many still have this whitish appearance today).

However, it was noted that some were carried to nearby islands by birds. It was therefore possible to begin reproduction and soon specimens were introduced, secretly, also to Réunion and Mauritius. Here the tree began to acclimate and grow luxuriantly. Thus the French also had a small production of their own.


The current major producers of nutmeg are Indonesia and the island of Grenada. Holland maintains a leading position in this trade as it is still the largest intermediary in the world.

Nutmeg in the kitchen

Whole or powder? Dried nutmeg has a very distinctive aroma with warm and slightly sweet notes. To feel all its nuances, it is essential to grate it at the moment: it is not recommended to purchase a product in the form of a poor product since it will lose a lot of its organoleptic qualities.

A test to understand if the seed is of quality consists in pricking it with a pin: if we see a drop of oil come out we will know that it is excellent and well preserved.

What combinations? It is a spice that is traditionally used in dishes based on meat, potatoes, gratins and savory pies. It cannot be missing to flavor the meat-based stuffed pasta or in the béchamel or in the preparations where there are eggs. We can safely insert it in all savory dishes where cream or milk cream appears.

In ethnic cuisine it is an indispensable element: together with clove, ginger and pepper it creates the melange called “the four spices” widely used in India. It also goes into some curry formulations.

However, it can be used equally in sweet dishes: it is excellent in custard, in spiced biscuits or to give a warm note to ice creams and fruit salads.

Aromatize hot drinks for winter evenings such as mulled wine and punch.

Mace is a virtually unknown product in Italy, but it is quite widespread in England and the Netherlands, given their link with India and the East. However, it can be bought quite easily at ethnic food stores.

Its use is similar to that of the seed, but it is distinguished by a more delicate, fresh and slightly citrus aroma, which goes better with sweets, white meats and fish.

Nutmeg - Myristica fragrans: Nutmeg beneficial properties

In tradition, nutmeg was already used in the Middle Ages for its medicinal virtues. It was believed that keeping one in your pocket could protect you from contagion during plague epidemics.

It was also believed to be effective against digestive problems: infusions containing mint, black pepper and nutmeg were recommended. It also had a reputation for curing respiratory diseases, alleviating nausea and intestinal cramps.

The essential oil, on the other hand, was used to soothe rheumatic pains and contractures.

It was also known that, in minimal doses, it had sedative qualities. It was in fact used by slaves during the great ocean crossings, to alleviate fatigue and ailments deriving from diseases.

In modern medicine Some of these virtues have been proven by science: it is a good analgesic, neurotonic, antiparasitic and antiseptic. It is also considered an excellent aphrodisiac thanks to the content of dopamine, a vasodilator.

However, it must be emphasized that it must always be used in minimal doses. Massive use can actually have important secondary outcomes: some compounds contained have unpleasant hallucinogenic effects. Excessive doses can even be fatal. Let's always take this into account, especially when we use it to prepare dishes for children.

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