What is nutmeg 1

nutmegPhytopharmaceuticalsThe nutmeg is the dried kernel of the fruit of the nutmeg tree that has been freed from the seed coat (Myristica fragrans, Myristicaceae). It contains essential and fatty oils and is mainly used as a spice. The essential oil is found in cold balms and digestive agents. Since a kind of intoxication occurs when consuming more than 10 g of nutmeg, young people and students experiment with nutmeg powder. It is not recommended due to the possible undesirable effects.

synonym: Myristica frangrans, Nutmeg, Myristicae semen, Nux Nucistae, Muskatsame

Parent plant

The nutmeg tree Myristica fragrans Houttuyn (Myristicaceae) is a bushy, evergreen tree that grows 9 to 12 m high and bears yellow fruits that resemble apricots or peaches and each contain a seed that is covered by a light red, fleshy seed coat. The nutmeg tree grows on the Banda Islands, an Indonesian group of islands that belong to the so-called Spice Islands (Moluccas). Nutmegs were brought to Europe by Portuguese and later Dutch colonialists in the early 16th century. The trees are now also being planted in other regions, for example on Java or in the Caribbean.

Medicinal drug

The nutmeg (Myristicae semen) is the seed that has been freed from the seed coat and the seed coat and dried, corresponding to the endosperm and embryo. The seed coat is called mace (Myristicae arillus, mace) and is also used as a drug and food.


Nutmeg oil (Myristicae aetheroleum, Myristicae fragrantis aetheroleumPhEur) is an essential oil that is obtained from the dried and crushed seed kernels by steam distillation. It is a colorless to pale yellow liquid with a spicy odor and contains monoterpenes, monoterpene alcohols and phenylpropanoids such as elemicin, safrole and myristicin. Myristicin (methoxysafrol, C.11H12O3) is a colorless oil that is mainly held responsible for the psychotropic effects of nutmeg.

In addition to the essential oil, nutmeg also contains a fatty oil (Myristicae oleum). The orange-red, buttery, fatty mass is obtained by pressing and is also known as nutmeg butter or fat. Finally, the seeds contain starch, sugar, steroids and pectins.

Effects Areas of application

Nutmeg was used in traditional Indonesian medicine for numerous diseases, such as indigestion, rheumatism, cough, nervousness, flatulence, as a stimulant, aphrodisiac and tonic. As far as is known, it was not used as an intoxicant.

In Switzerland nutmeg is mainly used as a spice e.g. for mashed potatoes, game, vegetables or in mulled wine spices.

The essential oil has skin-irritating and digestive effects and is contained in cold balms, rheumatic ointments, throat lozenges, herbal candies, massage oils and drops to promote digestion in this country. The best-known medicines with essential nutmeg oil include Vicks VapoRub®, Carmol® and Klosterfrau Melissengeist®. The use of the medicinal drug is not very common.

Nutmeg as an intoxicant

Nutmeg is taken, for example, by adolescents or students who are keen to experiment, to trigger psychotropic effects and hallucinations. Nutmegs and their powder are legal, easy and inexpensive to buy in grocery stores. The freshly ground powder is preferred. When taking high doses of> 5-10 g (up to 30 g) symptoms of poisoning occur. Poisoning was reported in England as early as 1576. One woman had consumed 10-12 nuts (one nut weighs about 6-7 g and corresponds to one tablespoon). The higher the dose, the higher the risk of serious adverse effects.

Nutmeg can cause absent-mindedness, a kind of trance, and possibly hallucinations. However, it is not a specific hallucinogen such as Salvia divinorum and the hallucinogenic effects occur as with the thorn apple as a result of poisoning and not with every use. It is therefore referred to as a pseudo-hallucinogen.

The effects of a high dose of nutmeg include:

  • Absence of mind, drowsiness, dream-like states, fatigue, lethargy, euphoria, dizziness, tremor, ataxia, convulsions
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain
  • Rapid pulse
  • Fear, restlessness
  • Narrowed or dilated pupils
  • Sensory disturbances such as tingling, pins and needles
  • Palpitations
  • Anticholinergic effects such as urinary retention, dry mouth, constipation, visual disturbances, flushing, high blood pressure, hyperthermia, central disorders, delirium
  • Delusions, hallucinations, triggering of psychoses

The symptoms of poisoning start delayed within about 3 to 6 hours after ingestion and resolve within 1 to a maximum of 2 days. With their anticholinergic effects, they are similar to atropine poisoning. Any treatment is symptomatic. Very rare cases of death have been reported. High doses are said to be hepatotoxic.

No precise figures are available on the frequency of abuse in Switzerland, because most of the experiments are relatively mild, carried out in secret and are not reported. According to the literature, the Toxicological Information Center received a total of 125 inquiries about nutmeg between 1995 and 2001 (Beck, Marty, 2001). Five cases are reported in the 2002 annual report. In one case, the deliberate ingestion of 30 g caused a sharp drop in blood pressure. The other victims felt nauseous, vomiting, restlessness, tremors, increased pulse and dry mouth. PharmaWiki strongly advises against improper use due to the possible undesirable effects.


It is advisable not to take high doses because of the possible undesirable effects. Particular caution is required with underlying diseases such as epilepsy or cardiovascular diseases, intestinal stenosis, intestinal obstruction, glaucoma, urinary retention, when taking other medication or with a predisposition to mental illness. Nutmeg is believed to lead to an abortion in high doses during pregnancy. Such experiments are also not indicated during breastfeeding.

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Conflicts of Interest: None / Independent. The author has no relationships with the manufacturers and is not involved in the sale of the products mentioned. Photo credits: PharmaWiki, © Unclesam - Fotolia.com (Fig. 2)

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