Nutmeg - Myristica fragrans


This spice is made from a tree, or large, evergreen shrub, native to Indonesia, now grown in part of southern Asia. It is a tree up to 7-10 meters tall, with an erect stem, greyish-colored bark, and wood containing a red or pinkish latex; the crown is rounded, with dense, slightly spiral branches; in the shape it resembles a large orange tree. The leaves are oval, pointed, dark green, with a shiny, waxy top; produces small bell-shaped flowers, fleshy, female ones in small axillary racemes, single male ones. Two or three times a year it produces numerous fruits, the size of small peaches, of green color, they become yellow when ripe; they are juicy and in the places of origin the pulp is used to prepare a jam; when they are ripe they open in half, revealing a large walnut 3-4 centimeters or so, covered with a bright red aril.

Uses of Myristica fragrans

Inside the walnut there is a single seed, soft, it soon becomes a woody consistency; this seed is nutmeg; the dried aril tends and becomes lighter and stiffer, it is the mace, a spice little used in our country, it has a fragrance similar to the myristica fragrans. This spice is widely used in cooking, to obtain a more intense aroma it is good to grate it at the time of use. For centuries it has also been used in herbal medicine and in natural medicine; ingesting large amounts of nutmeg oil can lead to hallucinatory states and a slight form of intoxication, and even to death. Before being used for feeding, walnuts, and also arils, are dried and often immersed in quicklime, to avoid any possibility of germination.

Family, genus, species Myristicaceae, Myristica fragrans
Type of plant Tree, dioico
leaves persistent
Height From 6 to 10 m at maturity
Jar At least 40 cm in diameter and depth
Cultivation from medium to very difficult
Water needs From medium to high
Environmental humidity high
Growth slow
Propagation Seed, cutting (for the production of female plants only)
RusticitŠ° Delicate, temp. Minimum 12 ° C
Exposure Full sun, half shade
Ground Rich, deep, but well drained
pH subacido
Soil humidity Fresh, but well-drained
Use Vase, warm greenhouse
Ideal climate Tropical and subtropical


The trees of Myristica fragrans grow in rich soils, very well drained, 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. The trees of myristica can be cultivated by seed or by cuttings; the large seeds sprout easily, but a tree produces its first flowering after at least 8-10 years. In 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, they are ready to be harvested. These are recovered by hand or with a bamboo rod and then placed to dry in the sun. Once dried, it will be possible to separate the aril from the stone and proceed to drying again. The most valuable part of our nutmeg is the aril. This powder is known as "macis", a very fine and refined spice. The seed instead is the real nutmeg.

Potato cultivation of nutmeg

Pot cultivation is only possible if you have a heated greenhouse. The minimum temperature must never fall below 12 ° C and the ambient humidity must always remain rather high. Getting a fruiting is difficult because it takes at least 10 years and a very large container to reach maturity. It is also a dioecious vegetable and it is therefore necessary to possess a female and a male specimen.
Watering and spraying 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, although it was considered a very rare product; it spread relatively more from the 12th century thanks to the trade 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 refuel directly and obtain better fares. However, success did not come until the Dutch intervened.
The Dutch period
They invaded the Moluccas and took control of it. From that moment on they practically had a monopoly on the world trade of this spice. At that time its value was so high that it led the Dutch to a bizarre exchange with the English. At the end of the second Anglo-Dutch war (1667) they agreed to cede the island of Manhattan in exchange for the Run one (the only nutmeg production that was not under their domain).
To prevent someone from 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).
However, it was noted that some were transported to nearby islands by birds. It was then possible to start the reproduction and soon some specimens were introduced, secretly, also to the Reunion and to Mauritius. Here the tree began to acclimatize and grow luxuriantly. The French also had their own small production.
The current major nutmeg producers are Indonesia and the island of Grenada. The Netherlands maintains a leading position in this trade as it is still the largest intermediary in the world.

Nutmeg in the kitchen

Whole or in powder? Dried nutmeg has a very distinctive aroma with warm and slightly sweet notes. To hear all the nuances it is essential to grate it at the moment: it is not recommended to buy a product in the form of poor as it will lose a lot of its organoleptic qualities.
A test to see if the seed is of quality consists in pricking it with a pin: if we see a drop of oil coming out we will know that it is excellent and well preserved.
What pairings? It is a spice that is traditionally used in meat, potato, gratin and savory pies. Can not miss to flavor the stuffed pasta made with meat or in the béchamel or in the preparations where the eggs appear. We can easily put it in all savory dishes where it appears with cream or milk cream.
In ethnic cuisine it is an indispensable element: together with the clove, ginger and pepper it creates the melange called "the four spices" widely used in India. It also enters some curry formulations.
However, it can also be used in sweet dishes: it is excellent in English cream, in spicy biscuits or to give a warm note to ice cream and fruit salads.
Spices hot drinks to drink during winter evenings such as mulled wine and punch.
Mace is a practically unknown product in Italy, but it is quite widespread in England and Holland, given their link with India and the East. However, it can be purchased quite easily at ethnic food stores.
Its use is similar to that of the seed, but is distinguished by a more delicate, fresh and slightly citrus aroma, which goes well with sweets, with white meats and with fish.

Nutmeg - Myristica fragrans: Benefits of nutmeg

Traditionally, 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 infection during the plague epidemics.
It was also believed that it was effective against digestive problems: they recommended infusions containing mint, black pepper and nutmeg. He also had the reputation of treating respiratory diseases, of appeasing nausea and intestinal cramps.
The essential oil, instead, was used to soothe rheumatic pains and contractures.
It was also known that, in minimal doses, he had sedative qualities. It was in fact used by slaves during the great oceanic crossings, to mitigate the fatigue and disorders deriving from diseases.
In modern medicine Some of these virtues have been demonstrated 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 should always be used in minimal doses. Massive use may actually have important secondary outcomes: some contained compounds have unpleasant hallucinogenic effects. Excessive doses can even be fatal. Let us always keep this in mind, especially when we use it to prepare dishes for children.
Watch the video
  • Nutmeg plant

    Nutmeg is made from the large core contained within the fruits of myristica: a large tropical tree,

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  • Nutmeg plant

    Nutmeg is widespread in Italy, both on the tables, as a culinary ingredient among the most known and appreciated

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