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Nutmeg

Scientific Name(S): Myristica fragrans Houtt. Family: Myristicaceae

Common Name(S): Nutmeg, mace, nux moschata

Botany: The nutmeg tree is the source of the spices nutmeg and mace. This evergreen grows to over 60 feet. It is found in India, Ceylon, Malaysia and Granada. This slow-growing tree produces a fruit called a nutmeg apple, which is similar in appearance to a peach or apricot. When the fruit ripens, it splits to expose a bright-red, net-like aril wrapped around a shell, which contains the nut. The nut is removed and dried to produce nutmeg. The dried aril yields the spice mace, which possesses aflavor similar to that of nutmeg.

History: Nutmeg is a widely used food spice that has received attention as an alternative hallucinogen. Both nutmeg and mace have been used in Indian cooking and folk medicine. The folk uses of nutmeg have included the treatment of gastric disorders and rheumatism, and it has been used as a hypnotic and an aphrodisiac.

Pliny, in the 1 st century A.D., described a "comacum" tree with a fragrant nut and two perfumes. During the 6th century A.D., nutmeg and mace were imported by Arab traders. By the 12th century, these spices were well known in Europe. Chaucer writes of "nutmeg in ale" in The Canterbury Tales during the 14th century.

At the turn of the 19th century, interest developed in the use of nutmeg as an abortifacient and a stimulant for menses. These properties have been largely discounted but remain a persistent cause of nutmeg intoxication in women with delayed menses.

Uses of Nettles:

Nutmeg is used as a flavoring agent and a fragrance. It has also been used as a larvicidal, a hallucinogen and treatment for diarrhea, mouth sores and insomnia.

Side Effects of Nettles:

Side effects include weak pulse, hypothermia, disorientation, giddiness, nausea, vomiting, a feeling of pressure in the chest or lower abdomen, a sensation of loss of limbs, a fear of impending death and, after a very large dose, death.

Toxicology: Symptoms appear 3 to 8 hours after ingestion of large amounts of the spice. The episodes are characterized by weak pulse, hypothermia, disorientation, giddiness. nausea and vomiting and a feeling of pressure in the chest or lower abdomen. For up to 24 hours, an extended period of alternating delirium and stupor persists, ending in a heavy sleep. There is often a sensation of loss of limbs and a terrifying fear of impending death. Death has been reported following the ingestion of a very large dose. A case report reviews a 25-year-old male expressing psychotic symptoms upon ingestion of 120 to 650 mg nutmeg. Haloperidol therapy was necessary to stabilize the patient. Another case report discusses similar findings in a 23-year-old with acute psychotic break and anticholinergic toxic episode symptoms, such as hallucinations and palpitations. In a similar case, an acute anticholinergic hyperstimulation occurred in a pregnant woman after excessive nutmeg ingestion. Gastric lavage and supportive therapy have been recommended for nutmeg toxicity. Recovery usually occurs within 24 hours but may extend for several days. Additional reports discussing misuse of nutmeg are also available.

Safrole, a minor component of the oil, has been shown to promote hepatocarcinomas in mice. The oil is moderately irritating when applied to rabbit skin for 24 hours under occlusion but was found to be nonirritating and nonsensitizing to human skin.

Summary: Nutmeg is a common spice that is used widely in cooking. It has been used pharmacologically for diarrhea treatment and is being studied for its role in inhibition of prostaglandin synthesis and inhibition of platelet aggregation. The ingestion of several tablespoons of the spice can lead to a stuporous intoxication that may be severe in its presentation.


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