Nutmeg, Mace and Ginger; Health Benefits and Side Effects
Nutmeg Fruit with Mace and Nutmeg seed
The fruit, Mace Aril, and Seed of the Nutmeg Plant are all Usable
Know Your Herbs and Spices
Grenadian Flag Proudly displaying the Nutmeg Fruit
A Brilliant original history of the Spice Trade
Nutmeg, Mace Ginger Health Benefits and Side Effects
Nothing shouts holiday quite as loudly as the aroma of ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon drifting merrily throughout the house. But those wonderful aromatic spices are not just for the holidays.
Many of the humble herbs and spices we use to flavour our foods have been around since time immemorial. These herbs and spices were used medicinally by ancient civilisations in the treatment of a diverse range of conditions. These plants from nature's medicinal chest, have a plethora of natural healing ingredients that benefit our health.
However, before you rush off to the shops to stock up on those exotic beauties, a word of warning. Some of these herbs and spices have a sting in the tail. When taken in excess, they can have dangerous side effects.
For this hub, I chose to look at nutmeg, mace and ginger, for my next hub I will endeavour to delve into the many wonders of the incredible cinnamon.
While the use of herbs and spices in complementary medicine continues to grow in popularity, comprehensive clinical research studies on the efficacy of natural treatment continue to be sparse; results are often mixed or inconclusive.
Natural herbal medicine has been known to have adverse effects and should be taken with care. Some may interact with pharmaceutical drugs. Therefore, always consult your healthcare professional before taking herbal medicinal products.
Grenada The Nutmeg Island
I was surprised to find that many of the exotic spices found in my local supermarket originated from my ancestral home of Grenada, also known as the 'Isle of Spice' or The Nutmeg Island.
With the 17th century craze for nutmeg and the monopoly of the Asian nutmeg trade by the Dutch, the British needed to grow their own. Grenada's climate of high humidity and high annual rainfall proved to be ideal for growing the valuable spice.
The two largest producers of nutmeg today are Indonesia and Grenada in the Caribbean.
Grenada is known for its top quality nutmeg and mace; this buoyant industry contributes to the livelihood of many Grenadian. While visitors to Grenada are advised to enjoy the beauty of the island but leave nothing but footprints, taking home a piece of paradise in the form of nutmeg, cloves, cinnamons and mace are positively encouraged.
A Brief History of Nutmeg
Nutmeg is one of the oldest spice known to man. In the first century AD., Roman author Pliny described a tree bearing nuts, having two separate flavours, historians now believe that Pliny might have been describing the nutmeg tree. Pepper, clove and nutmeg have been referred to as the original holy trinity of the Asian spice trade. Nutmeg was brought to Europe by Arab traders from the Moluccas through India. However, the source of the precious spice would remain a closely guarded secret.
The Moluccas was not mentioned by the spice traders as the source of nutmeg until 1300 AD.
Physicians in Elizabethan London promoted their nutmeg pomanders as the only sure cure for the plague. That is how highly the Europeans regarded the nutmeg spice. The European valued nutmeg spice above gold; they fought wars for control of the nutmeg-producing Indonesian Islands. Many of the islanders were killed and enslaved in the pursuit of nutmeg.
Nutmeg became a valuable commodity that only the rich were able to afford. When King Henry Vl of Germany was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome, it was reported that the streets were fumigated with nutmeg and strewing herbs.
The history of nutmeg is nothing, if not colourful and cruel. Nutmeg was at the centre of the spice war. The Banda Islands in the Indonesian province of Maluku were once the world's sole producer of nutmeg and mace.
Around 6th century AD, Arab traders introduced nutmeg to Europe, channelling the precious commodity through Venice. Once there, the spice would be sold to wealthy Europeans and particularly the aristocracy.
By the 12th century, nutmeg was well known throughout Europe. Columbus' men famously charged the shores of south-west India, now known as Kerala in 1497 crying "For God and spices!"
The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama cunningly duped the Arabs by sailing around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498 to reach the spice markets of India. Portuguese navigator, Afonso de Albuquerque built a fortress on the Indonesian Maluku islands where nutmeg was grown, helping to monopolise the world's nutmeg trade. This monopoly lasted a century.
For years, Spain and Portugal fought for control of the spice trade. The English and the Dutch followed close on their heels. By 1617, the Dutch East India Company was the world's wealthiest commercial operation.
The Dutch gained the monopoly by employing extreme barbaric practices. Once in control of the group of Indonesian islands known as Banda, the Dutch kerbed resistance by the Islanders by executing every male above the age of 15. The village leaders were beheaded and their heads displayed on poles, this served as the discouragement to others. Natives caught growing nutmeg or carrying seeds without authorization were summarily executed.
Not only was nutmeg a favourite for flavouring food and drinks in Medieval times, but the spice was also widely used by the wealthy in an attempt to prevent the plague. Ladies carried sachets of nutmeg around the neck for protection and to avoid breathing the bad air. Posies of tobacco, flower petals and nutmeg were used to mask the stench of decay while men added the spice to their snuff to inhale the aromatic scent and no doubt for a little inebriation.
At the turn of the 19th-century nutmeg was gaining a reputation as an abortifacient and stimulant to induce menstruation. The first recorded incident of nutmeg's inebriating properties occurred in 1576 when a pregnant woman became delirious after consuming a toxic dose of between ten and twelve nutmegs (Stein et al. 2001). The psychoactive qualities of the spice only came to light because of its reputation as an abortifacient.
"Nutmeg was once considered an abortifacient, but may be safe for culinary use during pregnancy, however, it inhibits prostaglandin production and contains hallucinogens that may affect the foetus if consumed in large quantities." (Wikipedia)
Dutch Ships,Table Bay, Cape of Good Hope 1762
16th Century Portuguese and Spanish Trade Routes
What exactly is nutmeg?
Nutmeg, The Spice of Life
Myristica fragrans Houtt, commonly known as nutmeg or Pala in Indonesia, is an aromatic evergreen tree belonging to the plant family Myristicaceae. The fruit of the nutmeg tree is firm, pale and yellowish in colour, quite edible often made into jam. But the real prize is the dried seed kernels containing not one, but two spices.
Nutmeg was once called a "nervine," due to its ability to nourish, calm and soothe the nerves, relieving tension, stress and anxiety, and has been used to relieve headaches. Nutmeg seed is roughly oval in shape and about 15 to 18 mm wide. It is this seed with its pungent aromatic flavouring we know and love as nutmeg.
Nutmeg plays a significant role in folk medicine, often used to treat skin conditions like scabies also general respiratory diseases, colds, fever and catarrh. Recent studies have shown that macelignan found in nutmeg and mace can help to treat and prevent certain types of cancers. Potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of macelignan also make nutmeg an effective antiphotoaging agent.
Nutmeg High, Mind-Altering and Other Toxic Effects Of Nutmeg
Controlled laboratory studies show Myristica Fragrans or nutmeg contains insulin-like properties also insecticidal, antibacterial and antioxidant activities to name a few. But conversely; although nutmeg is considered safe when used in food for flavouring, studies show that prolonged use of nutmeg can cause degenerative changes in the kidney, liver, heart and spleen, and can also cause auditory problems when taken in high dosage.
The natural compound found in nutmeg known as myristicin acts as a serotonin agonist, it is believed that myristicin may inhibit monoamine oxidase with amphetamine-like stimulant effects. Care should be exercised when using nutmeg.
Symptoms of toxicity include:
- Gastrointestinal problems,
- Blurred vision,
- Frightening hallucinations
- Severe Headache
The toxic dose of nutmeg is said to be about two to three teaspoons, likened to LSD and can last for one to two days. However, people who took nutmeg in high doses for the buzz often do not repeat the experience because of the dangerous side effects.
About 30 to 60 minutes after taking large doses of nutmeg, gastrointestinal reactions such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea can occur. Hours later heart and nerve problems can result. According to a representative for the Georgia Poison Center in Atlanta. “A person who has an unrecognised heart ailment could have problems that could lead to irregular rhythms."
While nutmeg is safe as a food flavouring it should not be taken in large doses. Always discuss with your doctor before taking medicinal herbs and spices.
Grenada and Indonesia, Highest Producers of Nutmeg
Myristica Fragrans; Nutmeg and Mace Aril
Mace the Other Spice of the Nutmeg Plant
Health Benefits of Mace Spice
The second spice of the nutmeg plant is the mace, a dry outer reddish brown lace-like covering that snugly envelops the nutmeg seed. Nutmeg is the only tropical fruit to produce two different spices, and although the spices are closely related, mace contains a higher concentration of certain essential oils with a more intense aroma when compared to nutmeg.
The nutmeg tree is also the source of several other products, such as essential oils, extracted oleoresins and nutmeg butter obtained by expressing the nuts.
Nutmeg seed contains about 20% to 40% of the fixed oil known as nutmeg butter. About 75% of nutmeg butter consists of trimyristin, a chemical compound and saturated fat, that is insoluble in water and is the triglyceride of myristic acid.
Studies suggest that like nutmeg, mace may help to treat and prevent cancer by inhibiting the formation of blood vessels that feeds cancer tumors. Journal of Food Science published a study in it's April 2012 issue showing that myristicin compound inhibits the growth of colon cancer cells.
Mace Inhibits the growth of Colon Cancer
Side Effects of Mace
Mace consists of high concentrations of volatile oil compounds containing myristicin geraniol and pinene, these compounds are the source of the potent medicinal properties attributed to mace. Due to the high concentrations of volatile oil compounds, it is recommended that mace should not be taken in excess, no more than 1 teaspoon at any given time. Mace may cause dermatitis in people who are sensitive. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also avoid mace.
16 Health Benefits of Mace
- Enhances the flavour, taste and colour of food
- Prevent Cancer
- Vitamins A, a good source of Vit. A, 100 g of mace powder provides 800 IU, almost nine times greater than nutmeg seed.
- Vitamin C, Mace contains higher levels than nutmeg seed, 100g of mace has 21 mg in comparison to 3 mg in nutmeg seed
- Iron, 100 g of mace powder =13.9 mg compared to 3.04 mg in nutmeg
- Calcium, higher content than nutmeg
- Breath Freshener, effective against bad breath. Add a tiny pinch to a toothbrush to destroy bacteria that causes bad breath.
- Essential Vitamins and Minerals, magnesium, manganese, thiamin, vitamin B6, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, copper, zinc, calcium, iron, selenium, phosphate, potassium, macelignan, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
- Carminative effect
- Helps Digestion
- Massage oil used for centuries in Chinese medicine for the relief of topical pain
16 Health Benefits of Nutmeg
- Anti-inflammatory, helps to relieve arthritis
- Anti-microbial, contains macelignan, a natural antibiotic agent also have therapeutic potential as a cancer chemopreventive agent.
- Relieve joint and muscle pain
- Digestive tonic
- Relieve Fatigue
- Relieve Nausea
- Improve circulation, Contains blood-thinning properties
- Enhances Brain Function, nutmeg oil helps to relieve stress and stimulate mental activities
- Contain Vitamins and essential minerals, magnesium, manganese, folate, vitamin B6, thiamin, copper
- Aphrodisiac, while clinical studies are lacking, some clinical research has confirmed the aphrodisiac properties of nutmeg when tested on mice
- Liver and kidney detox
- Prevents bad breath, widely used in the dental industry for healthy teeth and gum
Ginger, Delicacy, Medicine and Spice
The Many Health Benefits Of Ginger
Ginger powerful Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Action
The common name is Ginger, the Latin name is Zingiber officinale from the family of Zingiberaceae. The rhizome or underground stem of the ginger plant is an aromatic spice commonly used for cooking and medicinal purposes. Ginger dates back thousands of years to the Sanskrit word srngaveram, meaning 'horn root' due to its appearance.
Ginger is indigenous to southern China, the warm pungent aromatic spice was exported to Europe via India through the lucrative spice trade in the first century. The origin of the word ginger comes from the Old English gingifer, from Medieval Latin gingiber and Greek ziggiberis.
Indian and Chinese have used ginger as a tonic root for over 5000 years in the treatment of countless ailments, India is currently the largest producer of ginger. Ginger is used in many different forms, e.g., fresh, dried, powdered, pickled preserved, crystallized or candied. Studies suggest that ginger and its metabolites appear to accumulate in the gastrointestinal tract, exerting many of it powerful therapeutic and preventive action in this area of the body. The anti-inflammatory and powerful antioxidant activities of ginger and the ability to inhibit prostaglandin biosynthesis makes this spice potentially very important in the treatment of conditions like arthritis.
Ginger is said to be one of the most widely consumed spices in he world, yet, there is still much to learn about ginger. Studies suggest that the spice can be safely used in the short term to relieve pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting, however, the results are mixed when it comes to nausea caused by motion, chemotherapy or surgery.
In 2007, the University of Arizona conducted studies on the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger and found that the compound known as gingerol effectively reduced the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals that contributes to inflammation. A Johns Hopkins University study revealed that compounds in ginger can suppress inflammatory chemical enough to reduce the need for pain-relieving medication.
The effectiveness of ginger in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or joint and muscle pain warrant further research, the oily resin found in the rhizomes of ginger known as oleoresin are known to contain a variety of incredible physiological and pharmacological activities.
Side Effects of ginger
Ginger is considered to be safe when taken in small doses, there are few side effects linked to ginger. Reported side effects occurs mostly when taken as powdered ginger and include:
According to Surh et al. 1999, 'ginger is one of the most commonly consumed dietary condiments in the world.'
Health benefits Of Ginger
Helps to neutralize stomach acids. Speed up movement of food in the digestive system.
Exerts several effects on gastrointestinal tract which leads to improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms. (Platel & Srinivasan 1996).
Reduces Repiratory Problems
An excellent expecturant, remove mucous from the throat and lungs
(Ahui et al 2008).
Relieve Motion Sickness and nausea of pregnancy
Used by the travel industry. Approved by Commission E for the prevention of motion sickness. Soothes upset stomach
(Blumenthal et al 2000). Many studies suggests powder of extracts may be safe and effective in treating nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.
Fight Ovarian Cancer
Shown to reduce cell death in all ovarian cancer cells to which it was applied.
The inhibitory effects of ginger in tumour development have been demonstrated in animal and human model and human cell lines. (Kim et al 2005).
Lower Cholesterol Levels
Lower cholesterol levels by interfering with cholesterol biosynthesis. May prevent blockage of the blood vessels that can cause heart attack and stroke.
Demonstrates significant lipid lowering activity in animal model and double-blind clinical trials. (Thomson et al 2002).
Boost the Immune System
Powerful antioxidant properties. Research suggests that ginger extract exerts some degree of immunomodulatory activity.
(Ahui et al 2008, Imanishi et al 2006, Tripathi et al 2008).
Antiinflammatory action helps to prevent the development of migrains
Ginger may block prostaglandin action and help to reduce muscle contraction, also effects some hormones with anti-inflammatory effect.
Prevent Blood Clots
Inhibits blood clots more effectively than onions or garlic
Gingerol and derivatives represent a new class of platelet activation inhibitors. (Koo et al 2001).
Relieve Colds and Flu
Added to raw honey and lemon juice, or as a tea
Displays strong antioxidant properties. (Jeyakumar et al 1999)
Anti-emetic, relieve nausea and vomiting
Prevent morning sickness. May be useful in treating nausea induced by Chemotherapy.
Demonstrates anti-emetic activity in human studies and experimental models. (Abdel-Aziz et al 2006, Kawai et al 1994).
Effective Treatment for Arthritis
Antiinflammatory properties helps to reduce joint inflammation, Important antioxidant allow fresh blood to circulate throughout the joints
Effective in preventing both joint inflammation and attenuating cellular destruction. (Funk et al 2009).
Test shows hypoglycaemic activity for ginger. Improve blood lipids, lower glucose, stimulates beta cells to release insulin and control body weight.
Ginger resulted in significent reduction in proteinuria, enuresis, thirst and sustained maintenance of initial weight. (Al-Amin et al 2006).
Control weight loss
The anti-obesity action of ginger may be a result of slowed intestinal absorption of dietary fat.
(Han et al 2005).
Ginger extract was found to be comparable to sulfasalazine in attenuating colonic mucosal injury.
Showed valuable effect of ginger extract against acetic acid induced ulcerative colitis, possible antioxidant and anti in-inflammatorey properties. (El-Abhar et al., 2008).