Recently I made some homemade vanilla EGGNOG and used freshly grated whole nutmeg. It really does make a difference if you grate a whole nutmeg versus regular powdered nutmeg spice that might have been sitting in a supermarket for the past two years!
The flavor is incredibly richer with the fresh, whole nutmeg but you have to grate it which is pretty easy to do! It got me interested in nutmeg and its medicinal actions on the body. This spice is super interesting with tons of health benefits, including a weird psychoactive property. I have a lot of recipes that include nutmeg and if you’re interested in those, just use the search box here on my site and type in “nutmeg” to see a list.
Most people have no idea that nutmeg naturally contains a compound that can get you a tad bit high! I’m not talking about a marijuana-type of high, it’s a little different and it has a gentle sedating effect on most people. This is why some folk remedies suggest a pinch of nutmeg in warm milk at bedtime.
The psychoactive properties of nutmeg might explain why that one relative gets all weird after Thanksgiving dinner which often contains a recipe with nutmeg! Haha, I’m kind of half-kidding because there’s not that much nutmeg in any recipe if you use it correctly!
Nutmeg has compounds in it that impact the brain and for sensitive individuals, it may be a little too much. The worst part is that children and teens are usually the ones getting into trouble with nutmeg because the nutmeg challenge trend started on a popular social media app called TikTok. This is the same app where teens are claiming to do time-travel by taking a shower. 🙄 Kids get led down pathways that are silly, and in the nutmeg case, downright dangerous! Promoters refer to the psychoactive impact of nutmeg as a “nutmeg high.”
This can also be unpleasant if not downright dangerous if you get too much! Before you go and trash the nutmeg in your home, I want to tell you that the myristicin is in your parsley, anise, cinnamon, clove, fennel, parsley, star anise, and basil! There’s just not that much in those other spices. And moreover, the kids trying to trip off the myristicin aren’t going for those other herbs, they’re looking in the cabinet for the nutmeg. As a side note, I mentioned parsley just now, and I’m not sure if you know this or not, but it’s great for blood pressure – so much so that I have a recipe for PARSLEY DIURETIC TEA posted here on my site.
Nutmeg, known also as Myristica fragrans, is a warm spice with a strong flavor. Nutmeg grows on trees! Indonesia is one global supplier of this treasured spice. The nutmeg tree bears fruit and inside the fruit is the nutmeg “seed” which gets dried out or dehydrated. This looks like a nut visually and it’s what I use to grate fresh nutmeg powder. Just use a zester tool to do that. As an aside, did you know that the mace spice is derived from the lacy covering of the nutmeg seed? They are sister spices!
Today, I’d like to focus on the pros and cons of nutmeg spice. The pros far outweigh the cons. The cons don’t even occur unless you abuse the spice. Like every good thing, too much can be a problem so keep that in mind and don’t overdo the nutmeg.
The health benefits of nutmeg are similar to many other superfood spices, and are as follows:
Nutmeg contains minerals that help regulate blood pressure. These include potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper and phosphorus.
The minerals mentioned above, along with some other sedating compounds in nutmeg lead to more restful sleep. The de-stressing effect is from the myristicin compound.
Nutmeg contains natural compounds that stimulate the digestive tract in a good way. It has been studied and found to help with bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, indigestion, and constipation. Nutmeg is listed as a food to eat on a low FODMAP diet if you follow that. For anyone though, just add a pinch to your chamomile or favorite blend of “tummy” tea.
Nutmeg has been studied and found to be a potent anti-inflammatory. It reduces pain-causing cytokines galore! For example, one study found that it could tamp down the production of nitric oxide (NO), IL-6, IL-10, interferon-inducible protein-10 or IP-10 (which by the way inhibits angiogenesis!), MCP-3, and other chemokines. And that’s not the half of it! My point is to say that nutmeg is a potent anti-inflammatory and works on some important cancer and pain-causing pathways in the body. Nutmeg supports healthy DNA.
Brain health is an area of study when it comes to myristicin. It can stimulate your brain if you add a little bit (like a pinch) to your coffee, latte or hot tea. It may sharpen memory.
Does this want to make you use nutmeg more? Probably so, and I would highly recommend the spice, but again, I want to caution you on proper usage. Follow recipe directions and use it in moderation. More is dangerous.
How to Use Nutmeg.
Sometimes a pinch or two of nutmeg goes in my cranberry sauce recipe. It’s perfect for pumpkin pies, and SPICE CAKE, as well as soups and marinades. Dal is a delicious lentil soup popular in Indian cuisine that employs the warm flavor of nutmeg; so does halwa, a delicious dessert. Many recipes can benefit from a pinch of nutmeg.
As for usage, most of the time it is a very small amount such as one-quarter of a teaspoon for example, or even half a teaspoon depending on the recipe. But people take higher doses all by itself, not mixed into pie batter if you know what I mean! Doing so is taking too much! People who get into serious health trouble do so because they’re either fooling around trying to get high on the nutmeg, or accidentally putting too much in their recipes (for example, measuring out 1 tablespoon when the recipe only calls for a teaspoon!) The adults and children intentionally doing this (and again risking their life!) are using one or two full tablespoons! I cannot emphasize enough that this is super dangerous and can lead to life-threatening symptoms. Keep an eye on your kids during this time of year when you’re cooking more, and using more nutmeg in the fall/winter recipes which often call for it.
People all over the world have used nutmeg in cooking, and it has also played a role in traditional remedies. In Asia, it has served as a traditional medicine for treating stomach cramps, diarrhea, and rheumatism.
What causes a nutmeg high?
Myristicin and elimicin are two of the psychoactive compounds that naturally occur in nutmeg, but again, this is also found in many other spices you commonly use. The thing is, nutmeg has a lot of this compound whereas other herbs do not have very much of it.
The myristicin gets metabolized in your body and produces norepinephrine which activates your flight or fight pathway, known as the sympathetic nervous system. It’s a funny name actually because your “sympathetic” nervous system actually has no sympathy for you, and it will make your heart beat like crazy and crank up your blood pressure and give you that jolt of energy you need to “flight or fight” your way out of danger!
Furthermore, nutmeg has anticholinergic side effects too. When a person tries to get high off nutmeg, they may experience dry mouth, blurred vision, dizziness, confusion and heart rhythm abnormalities. If there is a pre-existing heart condition, even a teaspoon or two can be fatal!
Many prescription drugs have this side effect profile as an anticholinergic. It means that myristicin blocks the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (a memory molecule) from binding to receptors on nerve cells and in doing so block the parasympathetic nervous system temporarily.
If you’d like to understand more about anticholinergic side effects, read my article entitled, How Medications Inadvertently Cause Memory Problems.
Excessive amounts of nutmeg like those promoted on TikTok videos that have gone viral can lead to fatalities. Don’t be stupid. Even though the challenge started in 2020, there are people still tripping off of nutmeg! It so disturbs me. The effect of epinephrine on anyone’s nervous system can be very dangerous to youngsters, especially in combination with antidepressants and other psychoactive medications!
A brain can only handle so much, and the nutmeg high isn’t even pleasant like you might imagine euphoria to be. Eventually one may experience toxic effects such as dizziness, vertigo, tachycardia, hallucinations, disorientation to time and space, depersonalization, dysphoria, nausea/vomiting, and more.
The difficulty is that the LSD-like effects don’t occur right away, the spice is fully ingested and absorbed into the bloodstream before the dreadful situation presents itself symptomatically. This presents a challenge for parents (and emergency room doctors) in diagnosing a child who experiences mind-altering symptoms from too much nutmeg that they took hours ago.
About 2 to maybe 6 hours after consumption, one might experience all the stupor mentioned above. A few people have died trying to trip off of it! I just don’t understand why someone would attempt a challenge that could cause so much harm! Nutmeg is a spice for cooking, and was never meant for individual consumption in drug-like doses.
This season please be really alert. Keep an eye on your kids. Do not fear nutmeg, it is one of the most incredible spices you will ever cook with. Use it frequently, and properly and your health will realize the benefits, but do not overuse it.
Don’t worry about overdosing if you’re making a pumpkin pie or EGGNOG; let’s keep this in perspective! Nutmeg is easily a superfood, with tremendous health benefits and there’s a difference between that and nutmeg intoxications. Please read your recipes carefully. Most importantly, keep a close eye on what your adolescents are watching on social media. This is where the problem of abusing nutmeg has started, and the results can be devastating.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.