Nutmeg is one of the most popular culinary spices in the world. This delicious spice is used for flavoring all sorts of dishes. In Indian cuisines, nutmeg is used in meat preparation. In European cuisine, it’s found in soups, rice puddings, and desserts.
Nutmeg’s popularity doesn’t end at being an autumn spice. It is also popular as a butter. In fact, nutmeg butter is popular in fragrance formulas found in balms, body butter, and even hair products.
But a sweet aroma and flavor-enhancing effects aren’t the only use of this seed. Nutmeg has some pretty amazing uses, especially when it comes to health.
A Brief Look at Nutmeg
Nutmeg is the term used for a spice that is made from the seed of an Indonesian evergreen tree known as Myristica fragrant — or the nutmeg tree. This same tree is popular for producing not one, but two popular spices: Nutmeg and mace.
The former is made from the inner seed while the latter is made from the substance that covers the seed.
Traditionally, nutmeg is used for seasoning. The process from seed to spice is quite simple. The nutmeg seeds are dried out over several weeks and eventually ground into powder and spice.
As a spice, nutmeg is rather intense, having a very strong aroma. In terms of taste, it is slightly sweet with a rich, nutty flavor. But nutmeg’s history is also rich.
Originating in the Banda Islands, nutmeg’s culinary popularity goes back centuries, being first discovered by the Portuguese and brought to culinary prominence by the Dutch. Today, it is sprinkled over cappuccinos and baked into pumpkin pies.
Beyond the Kitchen Spice
Aside from its use as a spice, parts of the nutmeg tree and seeds have also been used to create nutmeg butter and extracted for use in essential oils.
Some Nutmeg Uses That May Surprise You
The benefits of nutmeg don’t start and stop with flavor. It has uses that go well beyond the kitchen. So, before you sprinkle this delicious spice on your eggnog, let’s take a look at some of its uses when it comes to health.
Nutmeg as an Antioxidant Booster
Most of the benefits that flow from nutmeg start with its potent antioxidant properties. The seeds of the nutmeg tree itself are rich in phytochemicals, which act as powerful antioxidants in the body.
Antioxidants help protect the body from the harmful effects of free radicals — products of oxidative stress. In effect, antioxidants inactivate and neutralize free radicals.
In addition to the harm and damage they cause to cells, oxidative stress can also:
- Impair the immune response, even causing chronic inflammation
- Contribute to cardiovascular disease (oxidizing cholesterol and causing plaque)
- Exacerbate complications from diabetes
- Contribute to various chronic diseases — and aging
Thankfully, nutmeg has no shortage of antioxidants, such as phenolic compounds like caffeic acid and ferulic, and plant pigments like cyanidin.
Though more research is needed, one study found that nutmeg extract exhibited powerful antioxidant effects.
Nutmeg as an Anti-Inflammatory
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to illness and foreign pathogens like bacteria, injuries (scrapes, cuts, etc.), and irritants or allergens. It is the immune system's natural defense and is often essential to the healing process.
However, this type of inflammation is often acute — it comes and goes with the illness, injury, or irritant. Chronic inflammation is not so. This refers to an uncontrolled inflammation that hangs around well beyond its eviction date. If left to its own devices, chronic inflammation can exacerbate serious conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and more.
Thankfully, there are some foods (and spices) that act as natural anti-inflammatories. Nutmeg is one of them. Nutmeg is rich in anti-inflammatory phenolic chemical compounds, such as sabinene, pinene, and terpineol. These compounds could help reduce the effects of chronic inflammation in the body.
This is thought to occur thanks to nutmeg’s enzyme-inhibiting effects — specifically enzyme COX-2.
Nutmeg May Be Useful as an Antibacterial
We live in a day where nearly everyone is taking precautions for bacteria. More people are washing their hands, and more time is being taken to clean items before and after use.
The truth is, some strains of bacteria are good (i.e., the bacteria in our gut microbiome). But, there is also a laundry list of harmful strains that could lead to some pretty serious illnesses.
So, it is promising to learn that nutmeg may have some antibacterial properties — especially against oral pathogens like Porphyromonas gingivalis, a culprit behind gum disease.
The same goes for the bacteria strains Streptococcus mutans and Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans — both of which contribute to poor oral health. In addition to its antibacterial properties on oral health, nutmeg could positively affect bad breath, which is caused by bacteria in the mouth.
More studies are certainly needed to better understand the full scope of nutmeg’s effects on bacteria, but the future is bright.
Nutmeg Could Help Improve Your Skin
It is actually pretty common to find nutmeg as a natural ingredient in skincare products. The reason for this goes back to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Furthermore, nutmeg’s antibacterial properties might be good news for those battling acne. Many acne flare-ups are the result of bacteria on the face. A standard home remedy to help fight acne naturally involves nutmeg and honey.
The recipe is simple: Mix equal parts ground nutmeg and honey and stir until it is a paste. Next, apply to areas affected by acne and sit for at least 20 minutes. Finally, rinse thoroughly with cool/warm water.
The same can be done with other natural remedies (e.g., adding nutmeg powder to scrubs, peels, and oatmeal pastes).
Nutmeg for Heart Health
Thanks to its abundance of essential vitamins and minerals, nutmeg might also prove a helpful ally when it comes to heart health. It boasts nutrients like calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and iron.
Each of these are proven to be heart-healthy minerals. For example, both potassium and magnesium are well-known for their ability to help regulate blood pressure.
Furthermore, research has shown how high doses of nutmeg might help reduce heart disease risk factors, such as cholesterol and triglyceride levels. But, more research is needed.
The Bottom Line
Nutmeg is best known for being a potent culinary spice that bursts onto the scene during autumn. But this flavor-enhancing spice has so much more to offer.
Apart from being the main act in savory dishes, nutmeg also has some pretty amazing medicinal uses. Thanks to its numerous plant compounds, it has been shown to be a powerful antioxidant. This has implications as an anti-inflammatory and so much more.
The uses for nutmeg far exceed its notoriety but has also proven to be a powerful ally in the kitchen and the body.
- The Early History of Clove, Nutmeg, & Mace | WorldHistory.org
- Antioxidant and Antiinflammatory Compounds in Nutmeg (Myristica Fragrans) Pericarp as Determined by in vitro Assays | NIH
- Chemical diversity and pharmacological significance of the secondary metabolites of nutmeg (Myristica fragrans Houtt.) | NIH
- Nutmeg oil alleviates chronic inflammatory pain through inhibition of COX-2 expression and substance P release in vivo | NIH
- Antibacterial Activity of Myristica fragrans against Oral Pathogens | NIH