As the Holidays draw near, we begin to plan time for family, friends and of course extravagant home-cooked meals! Many of the herbs and spices that we use for traditional dishes, or new experimentations, can offer an array of health benefits and many can aid in digesting all those heavy, fat-laden meals.
The nutmeg tree (myristica fragrans) yields two familiar spices, mace and nutmeg. This evergreen, native to the Spice Islands, yields an actual fruit and the kernel inside is actually the nutmeg, with the mace being the bright red-casing (arillus) covering the seed. One mature nutmeg tree can produce 2,000 nuts a year, which are harvested by using baskets attached to long poles. The popular spice, once only known by the Arabs, became the center of an all-out battle for absolute control of its market. In the early 1500’s, the Portuguese, and later the Dutch, attempted to monopolize the farming, production and selling of the spice, by growing and harvesting the trees on private islands. In order to prevent other countries from re-producing the trees, they soaked the nuts in lime, so they would be unable to grow, before shipping them for production. Eventually, the French smuggled the seeds for their own use and the British introduced the trees to Grenada in the Caribbean, which saw so much success from the fruit that it now calls itself “Nutmeg Island” and displays the nut on its flag.
Nutmeg is a warming, sweet spice that is commonly found in eggnog, coffee, baked goods, cheese dishes and soups. Nutmeg can aid in digestion, decrease gas and nausea. Nutmeg is safe as a cooking ingredient, but in large doses (five to seven grams) can cause “Nutmeg Psychosis”, a potentially toxic condition that can cause hallucinations, convulsions, palpitations and possibly death. There are no risks with cooking, even using generous amounts, but the spice should not be taken alone.
Nutmeg oil can be used externally for rheumatoid arthritis and sore muscles. It can be applied topically, one to two drops, on a toothache or diluted nutmeg oil can be mixed with honey or maple syrup to eradicate bad breath.
Spiced-Mulled Wine (serves 4)
One bottle of red wine, a full-bodied Chilean or Italian wine is recommended
2 large oranges, sliced
2 lemons, sliced
Nutmeg, to taste
Cloves, to taste
4 cinnamon sticks
1 oz brandy, to taste
1 cup sugar, or natural sweetener (make the appropriate adjustments)
Loose herbal tea or water to dilute, to taste
Orange slices, for garnish
Pour wine into large saucepan on low heat. Add the sliced lemon and orange (leave a few orange slices for garnish), nutmeg, cloves and brandy to the saucepan. Watch the wine and make sure it does not boil! After it is hot to the touch, stir in the sugar. Remove from heat and pour into glasses, about _ full. Add the tea or water to taste and garnish with the cinnamon sticks and orange slices.