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What Is Nutmeg Oil?

Whole and grated nutmeg.
Nutmeg seeds.
Nutmeg oil has a spicy, musky smell and flavor.
A cappuccino flavored with nutmeg oil.
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  • Written By: Lori Spencer
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2014
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Nutmeg oil (Myristica fragrans) is an essential oil extracted from the kernel of nutmeg seeds. Native to the Molucca islands, nutmeg trees can grow up to 65 feet (nearly 20 m) tall and have very thick foliage. Their fruit somewhat resembles a tiny peach, or a walnut. The volatile oil is extracted by a method of steam distillation from dried ground nutmeg seeds. Nutmeg oil is either colorless or light yellow and has a spicy, musky smell and flavor.

Traditional medicinal uses for nutmeg oil date back to ancient times. It was used by the Egyptians for embalming purposes, by the Indians to ease digestive complaints, and by Europeans during the Plague. Because nutmeg oil has calming properties, it is often used in herbal remedies to treat disorders of the nervous system and as a cough syrup. The oil also acts as a stimulant for the brain, heart and circulatory system. Nutmeg oil can have hallucinogenic effects if taken in too large of a quantity internally; it is believed that the Myristicin in the oil is the agent responsible for producing hallucinations. The oil must be ingested in small amounts, and it should never be used by pregnant women.

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The oil can be used externally as a massage oil, particularly in combination with thyme or rosemary oils. Nutmeg oil has been reported to be helpful in soothing rheumatism or muscle aches caused by overexertion. Applying a drop or two to the tongue is an old home remedy for bad breath. Swabbing some nutmeg oil on the gums around an infected tooth can bring some temporary emergency relief from a toothache. Placing three to five drops in a teaspoon of honey or on a lump of sugar can help quiet indigestion, gas, nausea and diarrhea.

Nutmeg oil is frequently used for culinary purposes. The oil replaces ground nutmeg and adds flavor without leaving dry nutmeg particles in food. It is often used in potato and meat dishes, especially in parts of Europe, India, the Mediterranean and Asia. Nutmeg is commonly used as a spice in baked sweets, breads, ice cream, custards, puddings and pumpkin pie. Combined with cinnamon, nutmeg is a popular flavoring for coffee and cappuccino drinks.

Nutmeg oil is also found in various brands of commercial tobaccos. It is used in the manufacture of air fresheners and incense. The oil's natural antibacterial and antiseptic properties make it a popular ingredient in soaps, body washes, and bubble baths. Due to the oil's pleasant fragrance and health benefits, it is used in numerous shaving creams and lotions, particularly those formulated for dry or wrinkled skin. Essential oil of nutmeg is customarily blended into many popular perfumes and colognes for both men and women.

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