Early European explorers had traveled all over the world to find spices such as nutmeg with good reason. Nutmeg, or Myristica fragrans, isn’t just a popular ingredient for cooking. It also possesses therapeutic properties, which made it a part of ancient cultures that include traditional Chinese and Indian medicine.1
Today, nutmeg is very much present in the alternative health scene. As an essential oil, it is used as a natural treatment for digestive problems, arthritis, and other health conditions. Using nutmeg oil has a number of benefits, which I’ll discuss below.
Nutmeg essential oil is obtained by steam-distilling the dried kernels of the ripe seeds of the nutmeg. This fruit is native to Moluccas Island, in an area also known as the Spice Islands, but is also grown in Java (Indonesia), Penang (Malaysia) and Sri Lanka.2 The evergreen tree from which nutmeg is derived also produces another type of spice: mace.
The essential oil of nutmeg was used by various civilizations:3 Indians used it to help treat intestinal problems, while the Egyptians used it for embalming the dead. During the Elizabethan era, nutmeg oil was believed to be effective against the plague and gained great popularity, but with a high price4 as sellers took advantage of even the poorest by charging exorbitant prices for it.
Interestingly, modern research shows the Elizabethans may have been on to something, as nutmeg has antibacterial properties that work against 25 different bacteria including those of both plant and animal pathogens. Nutmeg oil was also used in Ayurvedic practices, mainly for treating fever, respiratory problems, headaches, and digestive discomfort.5 Today, the essential oil is added to soap, candles, dental products, and personal care products.
Uses of Nutmeg Oil
Nutmeg oil has a long list of uses, aside from being a natural cure for common health conditions. Below are just a few of the many uses for which it is known
Address bad breath — Nutmeg oil, when used as a gargle, helps address bad breath. It can also help eliminate toxins from your gut that may contribute to foul-smelling breath.
Massage oil — When used for massage, nutmeg essential oil not only can help relieve muscle pain, swelling, and inflammation, but also promote circulation. Oil of nutmeg can also be used as a natural painkiller and treat menstrual discomfort.
Sleeping aid — Nutmeg oil has a sedative and calming effect. It can relieve stress, helping improve the quality of sleep and make dreams more intense and colorful.
Stimulant — Nutmeg oil can help remove exhaustion and treat anxiety-related symptoms. It can also enhance your concentration.
Detoxification agent — This oil helps remove toxins from your liver and kidneys, as well as dissolve kidney stones and uric acid.
Flavoring agent — To replace ground nutmeg, which can leave food particles in food and beverages, nutmeg oil has been used as a natural flavoring extract.
Composition of Nutmeg Oil
There are several types of nutmeg oil and their compositions vary greatly depending on where the plant was cultivated. However, studies have shown similarities between the East Indian oils (those produced in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia) and the West Indian samples (oils created in Grenada and the Caribbean).10
The main constituents of nutmeg essential oil found in both varieties include sabine, alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, myrcene, limonene, terpenes, safrole, and myristicin.11 West Indian oils often have higher amounts of alpha-pinene, beta-pinene and sabinene (which comprise about 40 to 50 percent of the oil), but have low amounts of safrole and myristicin. On the other hand, East Indian oils have more myristicin content.1