We are familiar with nutmeg as a ubiquitous spice in autumn desserts, often in combination with cinnamon, as well as the flavouring in eggnog. But this warm spice also has a long and interesting history— traveling from Indonesia to England—and because of its high value, wars were fought to control trade.
Botanically known as Myristica fragrans, the nutmeg tree originates in Banda, the largest of the Molucca spice islands of Indonesia. The English word nutmeg comes from the Latin nux, meaning nut, and muscat, meaning musky.
You may be wondering why a spice we use to sprinkle over a Christmastime beverage would cause so much blood and turmoil. Turns out nutmeg was fashionable among the wealthy as a hallucinogenic; the intoxicating spice could make you feel as if you were floating. It also was prized for its curative and culinary uses.
The British East India Company brought the nutmeg tree to Penang, Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and most notably Grenada, where it is the national symbol and proudly emblazoned on the country’s red, yellow, and green flag.
Aside from its many culinary uses, nutmeg contains powerful anti-inflammatory plant compounds that act as antioxidants. These may improve mood, blood sugar control, and heart health, though more research is needed on these effects in humans.