Nutmeg is a spice many people associate with the holidays and with pumpkin recipes, but it also has a very rich history of being used as a medicinal herb.
It has warming qualities that stimulate circulation and digestion and calming properties that aid sleep and stress. Rich and fragrant, nutmeg has many culinary uses as well and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.
Here's more about the often overlooked health benefits of nutmeg and why this aromatic spice should be in every cupboard.
What Is Nutmeg? A Tumultuous Spice
It may surprise you to learn that wars were once fought and much blood shed over nutmeg.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) is native to the Banda Islands (also called the Spice Islands) and once grew solely in this area. It became a highly coveted spice towards the end of the Middle Ages, which resulted in European powers fighting for control of these islands, much to the devastation of the indigenous people.
Eventually, seeds were smuggled off the island, and nutmeg now grows in other locations, particularly in France.
This exotic spice comes from large evergreen trees. It is the seed of the trees and can be extracted by cutting open the fruit to reveal a large brown pit inside. Surrounding the nutmeg seed is a bright red skein that can be powdered to produce another spice: mace.
The nutmeg seed itself can be kept whole or ground into a powder. The powdered form of it is most often used as a holiday seasoning, but the whole spice is more potent.
Top Health Benefits of Nutmeg
Nutmeg is one of the most powerful sleep-promoting herbs, although many people don't know this fact.
Taken in large enough quantities, nutmeg even has a sedative-like effect that can help you fall asleep and sleep through the night, although it generally takes 2-6 hours to take effect. Even smaller quantities can help you relax enough to fall asleep.
Some research studies have produced evidence that confirms the sleep-improving power of nutmeg and suggest that it might be helpful for those suffering from insomnia. (1)
For a very traditional remedy, you can try warm milk with nutmeg a few hours before going to bed.
Calms Stress & Can Improve Your Mood
Along with promoting better sleep, nutmeg can also help you to relax and feel less stressed in general.
It has mood-elevating properties that help to release tension and anxiety. This is true both when nutmeg is used as a ground or grated spice and when it's applied or diffused as an essential oil.
Interestingly, some preliminary studies indicate that nutmeg may also have an antidepressant effect, which just goes to show how powerful it can be for your mind. (2)
Aids Digestion & Relieves Discomfort
As a warming and aromatic spice, one of the major health benefits of nutmeg is gentle digestive support and stimulation.
Like many other warming herbs, nutmeg can help to relieve gas, bloating, and a sluggish (or overstuffed) digestion. You can use it to make a chai-like drink with other spices (cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, etc.) that is extremely supportive for digestive health.
Because of its warming effect, nutmeg has a stimulating effect on circulation, which can be helpful for those who are always feeling cold or who simply need a little extra blood flow.
To boost circulation even more, combine nutmeg with cinnamon, ginger, or a tiny amount of cayenne in a warm drink. You can also use it for a massage by diluting the essential oil in a carrier oil and rubbing it into stiff muscles and joints.
Used as an Aphrodisiac & May Boost Sexual Health
Nutmeg has long been known as an aphrodisiac, which means it can help to boost libido, although it may be best when used in combination with other aphrodisiac herbs.
A few animal studies have found that it can enhance libido and potency all on its own, but the exact way it works in humans is still unknown. (5)
Along with more sexual energy, nutmeg may also be able to boost sexual health, especially helping with impotence and premature ejaculation in men. It has long been used for sexual disorders in certain traditional medicine systems.
Rich in Antioxidants
This high level of antioxidants also gives nutmeg anti-inflammatory health benefits, particularly for calming chronic inflammation that can be extremely hard on your physical and mental health. (7)
Good for Oral Health
Studies have shown that nutmeg has antibacterial effects against specific bacteria that are known to cause dental problems like cavities and gum inflammation. (8)
This could give it potential to be used in products for oral care- or in a homemade tooth powder.
How to Use Nutmeg for Health Benefits
The ground nutmeg you typically find in the grocery store probably isn't very potent anymore. Nutmeg quickly loses its medicinal potency after being ground (not to mention left on a shelf).
For the greatest health benefits, buy whole nutmeg seeds and invest in a nutmeg grater or use a cheese grater to grate out the amount you need fresh for any given recipe.
If you can't find whole nutmeg seeds, buy small amounts of ground nutmeg from a herbal supplier (rather than a grocery store) and try to use it up quickly.
In moderate amounts, nutmeg is completely safe and not known to have any side effects, although it is recommended that you avoid nutmeg in medicinal amounts during pregnancy and breastfeeding. (Culinary amounts are fine.)
If you take an extremely large amount of nutmeg (usually larger than 10 grams), it can have a hallucinogenic effect and cause nausea, vomiting, headache, and disorientation.
It's difficult to consume this much nutmeg without intentionally trying to do so, but do be aware that very high doses can be toxic (just like with nearly any other substance).
Getting to Know Nutmeg
Sadly, nutmeg is often dismissed as a somewhat insignificant spice that only appears occasionally around the holidays.
As you can see, there are actually many surprising health benefits of nutmeg that make it far more valuable that most people realize. It's time to pull nutmeg out of the "holiday" cupboard for good and start using it regularly!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.