Sunday, 18 December 2011

Nutmeg, How Much Is Safe To Use?

At Sarah’s herb workshop last week we made remedies for coughs and colds and used some warming spices in our mixtures including nutmeg. My first ever memory of nutmeg is in this nursery rhyme:

I had a little nut tree,
Nothing would it bear,
But a silver nutmeg,
And a golden pear.

The King of Spain's daughter
Came to visit me,
And all for the sake
Of my little nut tree.

I skipped over water,
I danced over sea,
And all the birds in the air,
Couldn't catch me.

I had eaten it without any concerns until one day a friend told me that too much nutmeg was hallucinogenic, he could not say what amount induced this state. I’ve since heard lots of tales about nutmeg since; ranging from being an aphrodisiac to deadly, and being a mixture of prize coward and ignorant I’ve limited my intake since. So, when Sarah asked Maria & I to grate a whole nutmeg into our pan of elderberry cordial my yellow streak reared up. Add a whole one? How much is hallucinogenic? How much is deadly?

 According to everything I’ve read on the subject, the dose of nutmeg in usual or generous culinary use is perfectly safe.
Nutmeg (picture from Wikipedia)

Medicinal Uses of Nutmeg

 The nutmeg tree is of the species Myristica fragrans, an evergreen tree indigenous to the Banda Islands in the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Nutmeg is the seed of the fruit and has a red, webbed covering which is the spice mace. Nutmeg was a prized spice in Medieval times and was believed to ward off the plague in Elizabethan times which escalated the price although there is no evidence that it was effective.

 Nutmeg has been used in medicine since at least the seventh century. In the 19th century it was used as an abortifacient, which led to numerous recorded cases of nutmeg poisoning. One study has shown that the compound macelignan isolated from Myristica fragrans (Myristicaceae) may exert antimicrobial activity against Streptococcus mutans which is found in the mouth and contributes to tooth decay. Medicinal properties of nutmeg are found here and include:

·         A brain booster by improving circulation and therefore the blood supply to the brain.

·         Bringing benefits to the cardiovascular system (oil), thus, protecting you from cardiovascular diseases and improving the function of the heart.

·         Detoxifying the liver and kidneys, a regular dose of nutmeg can help in the cleansing process. Nutmeg oil is particularly effective as a liver tonic. Nutmeg also prevents stones from forming in your kidneys.

·         Aiding insomnia, which in turn promotes relaxation. Julie Bruton Seal (2010) has found it effective for the type of insomnia where you wake in the night but are unable to get back to sleep. It takes about 4 hours to start working but will then last another 8 hours. So if you plan to go to bed at 10pm you need to take the remedy at 6pm. A lower dose can be used during the day for anxiety. Myristicin, a constituent of nutmeg, has been shown to increase the levels of serotonin in rats brains (Battaglia, 2003).

·         Because of its antibacterial properties, nutmeg is also beneficial if you are suffering from halitosis or bad breath and can help prevent tooth decay.

·         Helping problems in the digestive system, such as bloating, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea, problems from nervous indigestion, hiccups and wind. Traditionally it is used in India with coconut water for dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhoea. It is anti-inflammatory and antiseptic for Chron’s disease, colitis, infections, dysentery, gastroenteritis and vomiting (McIntyre, 2010). Ancient Wisdom say that recent research shows that nutmeg may inhibit the growth of the rota-viruses associated with diarrhoea in children.

·         Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, nutmeg is also known as an effective pain reliever. To help conditions such as chronic pain, rheumatic fever or muscle sprain, then incorporating nutmeg into your diet can help. Nutmeg oil is usually applied to the body to sooth aching joints and muscles, it can be infused into an oil or essential oil can be used. Nutmeg’s anti-inflammatory action is attributed to eugenol, the greatest effect was observed in tests after 4 hours and was comparable to phenylbutazone and indomethacin (Buckle, 2006).

·         Treating male sexual dysfunction. Nutmeg has been highly prized by Chinese women to help seduce their male lovers. In Mace and Nutmeg for Magical Lovemaking it says “The main component that makes this wonder spice, well, such a wonder, is myristicin, the base of the "love drug" MDA, otherwise known as "Ecstasy". It's no wonder why this spice has been used in so many love potions and magic spells! It's one of the ingredients of a magical perfume described in the most famous of all the grimoires, or black books of the sorcerers, The Key of Solomon the King”

·         Helping to prevent coughs and colds and relieve congestion.

Nutmeg Magic

A couple of years ago I was sold a nutmeg as a cure for my husband’s bad back, I can’t say how it worked as Mr Moon Gazing Hare could not be persuaded to carry it around in his pocket. According to Anna Franklin and Susan Lavender carrying the nut wards off rheumatism and increases clairvoyant powers. They also say its planetary ruler is Jupiter and it can be added to Jupiter planetary incense and burned during rituals where divination plays a part.

Psychoactive and Toxic Effects of Nutmeg

 Taking large amounts of nutmeg has unwanted side effects including disorientation, double vision, hallucination and convulsions (Mabey,1988). The first recorded hallucinogenic effect was by Lobelius in 1576. In 1829 the physiologist JE Purkinje ate 3 nutmegs and described the effects as similar to cannabis intoxication (Battaglia, 2003). From searching the internet it seems that some people have taken high doses for the psychoactive effects, there was a fad in the 1960s and it has been known more recently by the curious and people who have had their drug supply limited by being imprisoned. One grated nutmeg gives 2-3 teaspoons of ground spice, it seems that at least a tablespoon is required to be ingested to achieve any sort of high or altered consciousness. Freshly grated nutmeg seems to produce the most profound intoxication. Nutmeg contains myristicin, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor and psychoactive substance. Myristicin poisoning can induce convulsions, palpitations, nausea, eventual dehydration, and generalized body pain. Another constituent, elimicin, is also believed to lead to psychotropic effects. Myristicin and elimicin are metabolised to TMA and MMDA which are both hallucinogenic substances. Battaglia shows that only taking the whole nutmeg gives psychotropic effects so other constituents in nutmeg must be involved.

Psychotropic Effect
Whole nutmeg
Highly active
Whole nutmeg less the essential oil
No activity
Nutmeg oil
Weakly active
Myristicin on its own
No activity

  The amount of nutmeg required to get a high will also induce nausea and appears to take about 4 days for all the effects to disappear. Nutmeg can also be toxic to your pets, one internet site warns “do not share your egg nog with your dog”! Taking high doses of nutmeg can be fatal to both humans and pets.

Nutmeg Essential Oil

The essential oil is produced by steam distillation of dried nutmegs. It can be applied topically (diluted) in a massage, compress, bath or ointment or inhaled. The oil is non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitising. Indications are:

·         Digestion – stimulates appetite, can help flatulence, nausea, chronic vomiting and diarrhoea.

·         Musculoskeletal system – warming for aches and pains and rheumatism, suitable for the elderly (Price & Price, 2007).

·         Nervous system – a tonic and stimulant and an aid to general fatigue.

Well it would seem that I am safe to continue with nutmeg on my rice pudding and that sharing a whole nutmeg between a room full of people to take in divided doses will not hurt at all and of course, I do trust my mentor, Sarah, not to send us on an unexpected trip! It seems that the benefits of nutmeg take about four hours to take effect so one needs to plan ahead sometimes, such as in the case of using it for insomnia.


Battaglia, S. (2003) The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy (2nd Edition), The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy, Brisbane

Bruton-Seal, J. and Seal, M. (2010) Kitchen Medicine, Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow

Buckle,J. (2003) Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Practice (2nd Edition), Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh

Mabey,R. (1988) The New Age Herbalist, Gaia, London

McIntyre, Anne (2010) The Complete Herbal Tutor, Gaia, London

Price,S. and Price,L. (2007) Aromatherapy For Health Professionals (3rd Edition), Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh

1 comment:

  1. This really made me smile, Jackie! Maybe I should add an halucinogenic task to the apprentice's list! I haven't tried it, but my recall of stories from those who have - one woman took 2 whole grated nutmegs in a warm milk drink when she needed to focus on a particular issues and found it worked. For those in prison, I think the dose was 7 whole nutmegs, but goodness knows how they prepared it and my informer did mention the dreadful headaches and diarrhoea which lasts for days afterwards. Personally, I would never go there and consider that two would be a maximum dose for anyone contemplating anything! If you think of the herbal maxim of "less is more", I'd start with 1/4 of one nutmeg and that probably would achieve what you wanted.