I thought I would make a post about this because vast numbers of people still remain ignorant of nutmeg’s medicinal and psychoactive properties. In the 36 years that I’ve been alive, I’ve never once heard about this. It was only after I started listening to Terrance McKenna, due to my interest in the nature of conscious awareness, that I learned nutmeg was a psychoactive and medicinal substance.
It would be interesting to see just how long it would take the state to ban nutmeg if someone started selling nutmeg extract in form that was explicitly for the purpose of inebriation. Imagine walking into a gas station and seeing packages of nutmeg extract pills labeled “meg-a-blow.”
The Erowid Vaults fill us in:
NUTMEG AS MEDICINE
Since the time that nutmeg became popular as a spice, it has also been used in medicine. Nutmeg has been employed for healing purposes from the Middle East, to India, to China. After being introduced to Europe, many of these medicinal applications were then adopted by European physicians. While nutmeg was put to use for an assortment of medical purposes, several applications merit particular mention due to their persistence and widespread acceptance.
Nutmeg has been used to treat rheumatism in Indonesia, Malaysia, England, and China. The essential oil is used externally to treat rheumatic pains, limb pains, general aches, and inflammation. In England, far into the twentieth century, a nutmeg was simply carried in one’s pocket to ward off the pains of rheumatism (Rudgley 1998).
Nutmeg has been used for its sedative effect to treat nervous complaints and to promote sleep in Malaysia and India. The inhabitants of the Moluccas would mix nutmeg with milk or a banana drink to give to children as a sleep aid (Rätsch 2005). In Europe, older women would carry nutmegs with them in silver graters to promote sound sleep (Krieg 1964). Nutmeg has also been widely used as an analgesic.
Nutmeg is probably most widely used to treat stomach complaints. It has been used in South East Asia, India, the Middle East, and Europe to treat stomach aches and cramps, to aid digestion, and to dispel gas.
Perhaps the most infamous medical use of nutmeg, as mentioned earlier, is as an abortifacient. It is not clear how far back this use dates, but it was a popular–albeit ineffective–“remedy” at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century.
While there doesn’t appear to be any traditional use of nutmeg as a mood elevator, several individuals have noted that it does indeed have such properties. The German writer Georg Meister noted nutmeg’s uplifting effects in his 1692 work Der Orientalisch-Indianische Kunst- und Lust-Gärtner(Oriental-Indian Art and Pleasure Gardener) commenting that “it can greatly refresh even the ill and cheer them up with fresh spirits” (Rätsch 2005); and the twelfth century mystic Hildegard von Bingen had this to say:
When a human being eats nutmeg it opens his heart, and his sense is pure, and it puts him in a good state of mind. Take nutmeg and (in the same amount) cinnamon and some cloves and grind them up. And then, from this powder and some water, make flour–and roll out some little tarts. Eat these often and it will lower the bitterness of your heart and your mind and open your heart and your numbed senses. It will make your spirit happy, purify and cleanse your mind, lower all bad fluids in you, give your blood a good tonic, and make you strong (Rätsch & Müller-Ebeling 2006).
I have personally noted that nutmeg taken regularly in small amounts helps elevate mood, while reducing stress and anxiety.
Nutmeg is still used in Arabic and Indian folk medicine today, but its use as an herbal remedy in Europe is long forgotten. Use as a medicine never seems to have caught on in the United States, with the exception of its use as an abortifacient in the nineteenth century.
NUTMEG AS APHRODISIAC
One little-known application of nutmeg is its traditional use as an aphrodisiac. In India, nutmeg has been added to curry dishes and also to betel quids for its aphrodisiac effect (Rätsch 2005). Nutmeg is recognized as an aphrodisiac in Malaysia and in Arab countries, and its counterpart, mace, is prescribed by physicians in the Near East as an aphrodisiac (Forrest & Heacock 1972).
While the use of nutmeg as an aphrodisiac in Europe does not appear to have been well-known or widespread, several examples exist. William Salmon, a seventeenth century Englishman writing in 1693, described a self-experiment in which nutmeg oil rubbed on the genitals produced sexual excitation (Rudgley 1998, citing Salmon 1693). Most peculiar, perhaps, is an old German folk tradition in which a girl would swallow a nutmeg whole, collect the intact nut after it passed, and then powder and mix it in the food of her beloved. Doing such was supposed to cause the man in question to fall deeply in love with the girl (Rätsch 2005).
The traditional use of nutmeg as an aphrodisiac was recently put to the test by researchers at the Aligarh Muslim University in Aligarh, India. Their findings strongly support such an application. Their study was conducted by orally administering a 50% ethanol extract of nutmeg to male rats and monitoring changes in mating behaviors and sexual function. The extract was shown to significantly increase the frequency of erections and the mounting frequency, to decrease the amount of time between sexual episodes, and to significantly delay ejaculation in the test animals. In an earlier study on male mice, conducted by the same group, four of the six mice mated three females each while the remaining two mated five females each. This is in comparison to the control group, where two mice mated two females each and the remaining four mated only one female a piece. In order to test the purely libido-enhancing effects of nutmeg separately from the effects on physical sexual function, the research group anesthetized the genitals of the test animals and monitored the mounting behavior. While the rats could not properly perform, their attempts to mount were significantly higher than those in the control group. In addition, the research group conducted testing to determine the toxicity of the 50% ethanol extract, and found that doses up to eight times the active dose in the test animals displayed no signs of short-term toxicity (i.e., no mortality and no gross behavioral changes). The findings of these studies strongly corroborate the traditional uses of nutmeg to improve sexual function and enhance the sex drive, and suggest that nutmeg may be a safe and effective herbal remedy in treating sexual disorders (Tajuddin et al. 2003; Tajuddin et al. 2005).
NUTMEG FOR DREAM ENHANCEMENT
There is not much written about the effect of nutmeg upon dreaming. Many experimenters have described the effects of nutmeg as having a dream-like quality and of promoting vivid daydreams. Many users also report increased dream recall as well as an increase in the vividness and lucidity of their dreams. From my own experiences, as well, I have found that nutmeg increases dream recall.
The most complete report of the effects of nutmeg on dreams comes from Paul Devereaux, who ingested two teaspoons of ground nutmeg and sprinkled essential oil of nutmeg on his pillow and sheets as part of a self-experiment. Devereaux reported becoming fully self-aware during a dream where he was flying through a tunnel at high speed. Devereaux also found that his tactile senses were partially operational while dreaming. When flying over a landscape of sorts, Devereaux described snatching at the leaves of a passing tree and reported feeling “the pull of the branches and the foliage digging into my hand” (Rudgley 1998).
Devereaux’s report reinforces the contention that nutmeg may have an effect on the lucidity of dreams and on dream recall; however, more definite support is lacking.
NUTMEG AS INEBRIANT
Nutmeg has historically been used in Egypt as a surrogate for hashish. It has also been used in India, either chewed, or snuffed with tobacco, or added to betel chew, but little information is available on these practices (Schultes & Hofmann 1992).
Nutmeg was introduced first as a spice into Europe, and later as a medicine. The Europeans remained ignorant of the inebriating properties of this most popular of spices for several centuries.
The first nutmeg inebriation on record was reported in 1576 when a pregnant English woman became delirious after eating between ten and twelve nutmegs (Stein et al. 2001). Had it not been for the rumors of nutmeg’s efficaciousness as an abortifacient, the psychoactive properties of nutmeg may have remained unknown for a long time. Occasional case notes of nutmeg poisoning were published subsequently, but nutmeg’s inebriating qualities remained largely obscure and unexplored.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, nutmeg again became popular as an abortifacient. The tales of nutmeg poisoning increased, and many more case studies were reported. This helped to paint a clearer picture of the actions and effects of nutmeg. It is not certain how nutmeg came to be a recreational drug, but it appears to have its origins in the early twentieth century when its use emerged in United States’ prisons as an alternative to marijuana and other illicit substances. Some authors suggest that use of nutmeg as a narcotic didn’t emerge until after World War II. However, the report by Malcolm X that there was a nutmeg culture at Charlestown State Prison in 1946 suggests that prisoners had already been keen to the properties of nutmeg for some time. Malcolm X described his experiences with nutmeg in his autobiography, published in 1965:
I first got high in Charlestown on nutmeg. My cellmate was among at least a hundred nutmeg men who, for money or cigarettes, bought from kitchen worker inmates penny matchboxes full of stolen nutmeg. I grabbed a box as though it were a pound of heavy drugs. Stirred into a glass of cold water, a penny matchbox full of nutmeg had the kick of three or four reefers (Haley 1965).
Malcolm X’s autobiography sparked interest in nutmeg’s narcotic properties within the counter-culture–interest that has carried through to the present day. The use of nutmeg in prisons eventually became so widespread that nutmeg was ultimately removed from prison kitchens.
The fact that nutmeg was cheap and legal made the narcotic popular among prisoners, seamen, soldiers, and struggling musicians. Jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker reportedly knew about the narcotic properties of nutmeg, and would take the ground spice in Coca-Cola or milk (Rudgley 1998).
While many have experimented with nutmeg since the 1960s, it remains viewed as a second-class drug, deserving of little attention.
Read the full article for more information on dosage, pharmacology and toxicity.