The Ecology of Humans (57-23) Nutmeg & Mace

Nutmeg & Mace

Nutmeg and mace are derived from a dioecious evergreen tree (Myristica) indigenous to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. The tree takes 7–9 years after planting to produce fruit. A tree produces maximum fruit after 20 years.

The fruit of the nutmeg tree is the size of an apricot. The seed of the fruit is covered with an aril: a waxy crimson wrapping.

The aril is dried and ground into the spice mace, which has a more delicate flavor than nutmeg. The seed itself is nutmeg, which has a sweeter taste than mace.

Nutmeg was a pricey, prized spice in medieval Europe. It was one of the spices that the Arabs had a trading monopoly on during the Middle Ages: available to Europeans only through Venetian traders at high prices, who did not divulge their source. Until the mid-19th century, the small island of Banda was the world’s only source of nutmeg.

The Dutch dominated the nutmeg trade in the 17th century, fighting the English for the privilege, and massacring and enslaving the inhabitants of Banda to control its production.

Nutmeg contains myristicin: a psychoactive drug that acts as an anticholinergic agent, blocking the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Anticholinergic agents are classed as a deliriant: causing delirium. Such drugs do not invoke euphoria, and so are generally considered the least enjoyable hallucinogen.

The nutmeg tree puts myristicin in its seeds to keep insects and arachnids from munching them.

The amount of nutmeg spice used in foods produces no noticeable untoward effect on humans. But myristicin is the reason that dogs should not drink eggnog.