Nutmeg (myristica fragrans) is a spice from the seed of the myristica fragrans, a tropical, dioecious evergreen tree native to the Moluccas or Spice Islands of Indonesia.
The nutmeg plant, myristica fragrans, is a member of the family Myristicaceae containing about 300 species spreading from India and Sri Lanka eastwards through Malaysia to North-Eastern Australia, Taiwan and the Pacific, including the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Samoa.
Since 40 known species of myristica are found in New Guinea (Indonesia), this location has been designated the center of origin of this genus.
Most of the species in the genus myristica are tropical evergreen trees found growing mainly in the lowland tropical rain forest, but some mountain species also occur.
The trees may reach about 65 feet (20 meters) tall and yield fruit 8 years after sowing and may continue to bear fruit for 60 years or longer.
It has been grown for commercial nutmeg production in the Moluccas, Antilles, Java, Sumatra, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Grenada.
The typical tree is unisexual- with male and female flowers on different trees. On occasion both male and female flowers may occur on the same tree and even rare hermaphrodite flowers may be formed.
From field observations in Grenada it has been reported that male trees progressively change to female with aging and bear fruits.
Nutmeg is said to have a subtle aphrodisiac effect in smaller doses, and has been used as such by Hindus, Arabs, Greeks and Romans.
In the Orient it was especially highly prized among women. The compound that may be responsible for the aphrodisiac effects of nutmeg is myristicin, 4-methoxy-6-(2-propenyl)-1,3-benzodixole.
It has some structural similarity with mescaline, the hallucinogen from peyote cactus.
Nutmeg is used as a stimulant but very high doses can cause agitation.
Historically, it has been used to improve circulation and for muscle and joint aches and pains.
The ancient Romans used nutmeg as a form of currency. In the 13th century, nutmeg was used for it’s medicinal qualities.
The Dutch had a monopoly on the trade of nutmeg for 200 years (1600-1800) and established plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Dutch plotted to keep prices high while the English and French sought (by any means) to obtain fertile seeds for transplantation.
The name nutmeg is also applied in different countries to other fruits or seeds: the Jamaica, or calabash, nutmeg derived from Monodora myristica; the Brazilian nutmeg from Cryptocarya moschata; the Peruvian nutmeg from Laurelia aromatica; the Madagaskar, or clove, nutmeg from Ravensara aromatica; and the California, or stinking, nutmeg from Torreya californica.
The nutmeg fruit is similar in appearance to an apricot.
When ripe it splits in two, exposing a single shiny, brown seed, the nutmeg.
After collection, the seed is removed, flattened, and dried gradually in the sun over a period of six to eight weeks.
During this time the nutmeg shrinks away from its hard seed coat and after the shell is broken, the nutmegs are picked out.
Dried nutmegs are grayish-brown and about 1.2 inches long and 0.8 inch in diameter.
Nutmeg contains 7 to 14 percent essential oil, of which the principal components are pinene, camphene, and dipentene.
The oil is obtained by distillation from nutmeg and is colorless, pale yellow or pale green liquid with the color and taste of nutmeg.