, (Myristica fragrans
), tropical evergreen tree (family Myristicaceae) and the spice made of its seed. The tree is native to the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, of Indonesia and is principally cultivated there and in the West Indies. The spice nutmeg has a distinctive pungent fragrance and a warm slightly sweet taste; it is used to flavour many kinds of baked goods, confections, puddings, potatoes, meats, sausages, sauces, vegetables, and such beverages as eggnog. The fleshy arils surrounding the nutmeg seed are the source of the spice mace.
Historically, grated nutmeg was used as a sachet, and the Romans used it as incense. Around 1600 it became important as an expensive commercial spice in the Western world and was the subject of Dutch plots to keep prices high and of English and French counterplots to obtain fertile seeds for transplantation. The nutmegs sold whole were dipped in lime to prevent their sprouting.
Nutmeg trees may reach a height of about 20 metres (65 feet). They yield fruit eight years after sowing, reach their prime in 25 years, and bear fruit for 60 years or longer. The fruit is a pendulous drupe, similar in appearance to an apricot. When fully mature it splits in two, exposing a crimson-coloured aril, the mace, surrounding a single shiny brown seed, the nutmeg. The pulp of the fruit is eaten locally. After collection the aril-enveloped nutmegs are conveyed to curing areas where the mace is removed, flattened out, and dried. The nutmegs are dried gradually in the sun and turned twice daily over a period of six to eight weeks. During this time the nutmeg shrinks away from its hard seed coat until the kernels rattle in their shells when shaken. The shell is then broken with a wooden truncheon and the nutmegs are picked out. Dried nutmegs are grayish brown ovals with furrowed surfaces.
Leaves simple, alternate, distichous; petiole 1.5-4 cm, canaliculate, glabrous; lamina 12-25 x 4-12 cm, variable from narrow oblong to oblong, elliptic to lanceolate, apex acute with blunt tip or obtuse, base acute to rounded, margin entire, thickly coriaceous, shining above, white glaucous beneath; midrib raised above; secondary nerves 10-18 pairs, impressed above; tertiary nerves obscure or broadly reticulo-percurrent when visible.
Flowers unisexual, dioecious, white; male flowers in axillary short umbels, 10-20 flowered; female flowers in fascicles, sessile.
Nutmeg has been used to treat digestive disorders, such as nausea and diarrhea and kidney ailments. Southeast Asians also treat fevers, headaches and bronchial problems with nutmeg. The Chinese consider it to be an aphrodisiac. One study found that nutmeg acted as a potential antidepressant in male rats, and the spice has been used for its invigorating properties in folk medicine.