Origin

Nutmeg is the kernel of the fruit of Myristica moschata, a handsome middle-sized tree, originally confined to the Moluccas, but now cultivated in Sumatra, Java, Singapore, Cayenne, Brazil, and other intertropical countries. The product, however, is said nowhere to attain such perfection as in its native islands. The fruit, about the size of a small peach, has an outer covering or hull; and within this is a red membrane with slits, through which is seen a chestnut-coloured nut The shell of the nut being broken, the kernel is obtained, and, having been steeped in a mixture of lime and water, and afterwards cleaned, is prepared for market.

Sensible Properties. The appearance of the nutmeg is too well known to require description. When broken, or cut through, it presents a yellowish surface, with dark, branching veins, in which volatile oil abounds. It is not very easily pulverized by pounding, and is reduced to powder by grating or grinding. It has a fragrant odour, and a warm, spicy taste, and is among the most grateful of the aromatics. It yields its virtues much more readily, and in larger proportion, to alcohol than to water.

Chief Constituents. The most interesting constituents of nutmeg arc a volatile and fixed oil, the former of which is obtained by distillation with water, the latter by expression with heat. The volatile oil is lighter than water, colourless or of a pale straw colour, with the odour of nutmeg, and a pungent, aromatic taste. It is the active principle of the medicine. The fixed oil, often though erroneously called oil of mace, concretes, after expression, into a soft unctuous solid, of a yellowish or orange-yellow colour, often more or less mottled, and of the smell and taste of the nutmeg, owing to a proportion of the volatile oil contained in it.

Medical Properties and Uses

Nutmeg seems not to have been known to the ancients. The Arabians were acquainted with it; but it was little employed in Europe until after the discovery of the maritime passage to India. It has the ordinary properties of the aromatics, and, in large doses, is somewhat narcotic. In the quantity of two or three drachms, it has produced delirium and stupor; but no danger need be apprehended from it in the ordinary medicinal doses. It is more used as a condiment, or to give flavour to ordinary drinks, than as a medicine; and, in the latter capacity, it is chiefly employed to cover the taste and qualify the action of other substances. It is an excellent addition to farinaceous drinks used as a diet by the sick.

The dose of the powder is from five to twenty grains. The Volatile Oil (Oleum Myristicae, U.S.) may be used, for any of the purposes of the aromatics, in the dose of two or three drops. There is an officinal Spirit (Spiritus Myristicae, U.S.), prepared by distilling proof spirit from bruised nutmeg. In the quantity of from one to four fluidrachms, it forms an elegant addition to tonic and purgative infusions, when the stimulus of alcohol is not forbidden. The expressed oil is sometimes used as a gentle rubefacient in local rheumatism and palsy, and is an ingredient in Emplastrum Picis of the British Pharmacopoeia.

Mace (Macis, U. S.) is the membrane above referred to as surrounding the nut in the fruit. It is in flat, longitudinally slit pieces, of a rather soft consistence, of a reddish colour, and an odour and taste recalling those of nutmeg, but different and peculiar. Like nutmeg, mace contains a volatile and a fixed oil. It may be used for the same purposes as that spice, but is much less agreeable, and proportionably less employed.