Nutmeg Profile

Posted on Sunday 13 April 2008

The Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) tree is a very impressive one – an evergreen tree growing up to 20 meters. In Sri Lanka we saw Nutmeg growing in a plantation which had a number of different types of trees growing amongst each other – Nutmeg, Rubber, Clove, Sri Lankan Cotton Trees and vines of Vanilla and Black Pepper. This gave the feeling of being more in a forest than a plantation – further enhanced by the green tree snakes curling up and around tree trunks (prompting our guides to use a large stick to beat the ground ahead of us) and biting ants that ran quickly over shoes and up legs of those unfortunate enough to cross their path!

Only the female trees produce fruit, and it is not possible to identify whether a tree is male or female until its first flowering – approximately 6-8 years. The male trees are generally thinned out at this stage to a ratio of one male tree to ten female trees. The trees will continue to develop more fruit each year, with the greatest production occurring at around 25 years of age (some trees in optimum conditions can produce 10,000 Nutmegs), the tree stops bearing fruit at approximately 35 years.

The Nutmeg (the seed of the fruit) is wrapped in the Mace which is a striking bright red colour, and has a rubbery texture – it is referred to as the Aril. The Mace actually leaves an imprint on the Nutmeg where it was wrapped around it, giving the seed an alien appearance.

Generally the fruits are allowed to fall to the ground and then they are collected. Some growers will pick fruit from the trees once they are ripe. If the fruit is picked too early, the Mace and Nutmeg are both still white in colour, and the skin of the fruit is a yellow/green still.

Once collected the Nutmeg are dried. Some growers remove the Mace from the Nutmeg and dry them separately. Others dry the Mace still wrapped around the Nutmeg. The various products are then either turned into spices or steam distilled to produce essential oils of Mace (using the aril only) or Nutmeg (using the seeds only).

Nutmeg essential oil is commonly used as a flavouring in food and beverage industry, it is also well regarded in the pharmaceutical and perfumery industries.

In Aromatherapy Nutmeg is used for its warming and relieving properties, helping to relieve muscular aches, pains, cramps and spasm when diluted to 0.5% in massage oil (ie 1 drop in 10mL). To help relieve stress, nervous tension, mild anxiety and sleeping difficulties Nutmeg oil can be added to your oil burner or vapouriser – and it blends beautifully with Lavender.

Cautions: Keep out of reach of children. Not to be taken. If symptoms persist contact your health care professional.

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