Herbs & Plants Herbs & Plants (Spices)

Mace or Indian Javatri

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Other Names:
French: macis
German: Muskatlute
Italian: mace, macis
Spanish: macía
Indian: jaffatry, javatri, jawatrie

Mace is the aril (the bright red, lacy covering) of the nutmeg seed shell. The mace is removed from the shell and its broken parts are known as blades.

Click to see the picture
The history of mace is closely tied to the history of nutmeg for obvious reasons, though the two items have been treated seperately . Because the yield of mace is much less than nutmeg’s it has had greater value. A pile of fruit large enough to make one hundred pounds of nutmeg produces a single pound of mace. When the Dutch controlled the Moluccas (the Spice Islands), one colonial administator sent orders that the colonists should plant fewer nutmeg trees and more mace trees.

Spice Description:
In its natural state, mace is a bright crimson lace up to 35 mm (1-1/2 in) long, encasing the brown nutmeg in irregular, fleshy lobes. As it is dried, it develops its charcteristic aroma but loses its bright red colour. Mace from the West Indies is a yellowish brown colour and with fewer holes than mace from East Indian nutmegs which are more orange when dried. The mace from either locale can become brittle and horny, though the best quality mace will retain some pliability and release a little oil when squeezed. It is flattened and sometimes roughly broken into ‘blades’. It is also sold ground and sometimes still enclosing the nutmeg.
Bouquet: sweet and fragrant, similar to nutmeg, but stronger.
Flavour: warm. sharp and aromatic, more intense and slightly sweeter than nutmeg
Hotness Scale: 1

The nutmegs Myristica are a genus of evergreen trees indigenous to tropical southeast Asia and Australasia. They are important for two spices derived from the fruit, nutmeg and mace.

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Mace within nutmeg fruitNutmeg is the actual seed of the tree, roughly egg-shaped and about 20–30 mm long and 15–18 mm wide, and weighing between 5 and 10 grams dried, while mace is the dried “lacy” reddish covering or arillus of the seed.

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Several other commercial products are also produced from the trees, including essential oils, extracted oleoresins, and nutmeg butter (see below).

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The pericarp (fruit/pod) is used in Grenada to make a jam called Morne Delice. In Indonesia, the fruit is sliced finely, cooked and crystallised to make a fragrant candy called manisan pala (“nutmeg sweets”).

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The most important species commercially is the Common or Fragrant Nutmeg Myristica fragrans, native to the Banda Islands of Indonesia; it is also grown in the Caribbean, especially in Grenada. Other species include Papuan Nutmeg M. argentea from New Guinea, and Bombay Nutmeg M. malabarica from India; both are used as adulterants of M. fragrans products.

Culinary Uses
Mace and nutmeg are very similar, though mace is somewhat more powerful. Mace is a lighter colour and can be used in light-coloured dishes where the darker flecks of nutmeg would be undesirable. A small amount will enchance many recipes, adding fragrance without imposing too much flavour. Mace works especially well with milk dishes like custards and cream sauces. It contributes to flavouring light-coloured cakes and pastries, especially donuts. It can enhance clear and creamed soups and casseroles, chicken pies and sauces. Adding some to mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes creates a more interesting side dish. Some beverages improve with a little mace, especially chocolate drinks and tropical punches.

In Indian cuisine, nutmeg is used almost exclusively in sweets. It is known as jaiphal in most parts of India. It is also used in small quantities in garam masala.

In other European cuisine, nutmeg and mace are used especially in potato dishes and in processed meat products; they are also used in soups, sauces and baked goods.

Japanese varieties of curry powder include nutmeg as an ingredient.

Nutmeg is a traditional ingredient in mulled cider, mulled wine, and eggnog.

Other uses:

Essential oils:

The essential oil is obtained by the steam distillation of ground nutmeg and is used heavily in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries. The oil is colourless or light yellow and smells and tastes of nutmeg. It contains numerous components of interest to the oleochemical industry, and is used as a natural food flavouring in baked goods, syrups (e.g. Coca Cola), beverages, sweets etc. It replaces ground nutmeg as it leaves no particles in the food. The essential oil is also used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries for instance in tooth paste and as major ingredient in some cough syrups. In traditional medicine nutmeg and nutmeg oil were used for illnesses related to the nervous and digestive systems. Myristicin and elemicin are believed to be the chemical constituents responsible for the subtle hallucinogenic properties of nutmeg oil. Other known chemical ingredients of the oil are α-pinene, sabinene, γ-terpinene and safrole.

Nutmeg butter
Nutmeg butter is obtained from the nut by expression. It is semi solid and reddish brown in colour and tastes and smells of nutmeg. Approximately 75% (by weight) of nutmeg butter is trimyristin which can be turned into myristic acid, a 14-carbon fatty acid which can be used as replacement for cocoa butter, can be mixed with other fats like cottonseed oil or palm oil, and has applications as an industrial lubricant.

Medical Use
Externally, the oil is used for rheumatic pain and, like clove oil, can be applied as an emergency treatment to dull toothache. Put 1–2 drops on a cotton swab, and apply to the gums around an aching tooth until dental treatment can be obtained. In France, it is given in drop doses in honey for digestive upsets and used for bad breath. Use 3–5 drops on a sugar lump or in a teaspoon of honey for nausea, gastroenteritis, chronic diarrhea, and indigestion.

Alternatively a massage oil can be created by diluting 10 drops in 10 ml almond oil. This can be used for muscular pains associated with rheumatism or overexertion. It can also be combined with thyme or rosemary essential oils. To prepare for childbirth, massaging the abdomen daily in the three weeks before the baby is due with a mixture of 5 drops nutmeg oil and no more than 5 drops sage oil in 25 ml almond oil has been suggested.

History of nutmeg as a medicinal agent:
In Arabian medicine:

Arab physicians seem to have used nutmeg as a drug from the first centuries A.D., although just how they used it is not known. Warburg wrote that Myristica was recommended for a variety of disorders in this early period but was taken mainly for diseases of “the digestive organs, from the mouth to the stomach to the intestines, to the liver and spleen, as well as for freckles and skin blotches “.

Later Arab physicians referred nutmeg to the class of “warm and dry drugs” and elaborated on its applications. By the 11th century, for instance, the spice was praised for its effect on the kidneys, was used to combat pain, vomiting, and lymphatic ailments, and was even considered aphrodisiac . According to Ainslie , Vol. I, though, the Arabs were using nutmeg almost solely as a hepatic and tonic by the 19th century. Oddly enough, physicians of the Near East took little notice of mace until the early 1800s when they began to prescribe it as an aphrodisiac and carminative .

At the present time, nutmeg is still important in this part of the world. A pharmacologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem writes :

“The nutmeg is used by Arabs of Israel and people of its oriental Jewish communities, especially Yemenites, as a drug of their folk medicine, as well as a spice and as an important ingredient in love-potions. It is used against vomiting and to regulate the movements of the bowels; it is good for the liver and for the spleen. It is used in the treatment of tuberculosis, against colds, fever, and, in general, respiratory ailments. It is said to be an antihelminthic and is used for that purpose. It is used against skin diseases like eczema and scabies. It is said to be effective for removing blotches from the face. To increase potentia virilis it is pounded well and added to various foods.”

In Indian medicine
Frequent references in the Vedas to nutmeg indicate that the ancient Hindus knew of the spice from early times. They described it as warmth-producing, stimulating, and good for digestion and also used it in their medicinal preparations. Martius [9] said that Hindu physicians prescribed it for headache, nerve fevers, cold fevers, foul breath, and intestinal weakness.

In his Materia Indica of 1826, Ainslie wrote that nutmeg “is considered by the natives of India as one of their most valuable medicines ….” Dymock, in 1883, noted that the Moslems of western India used nutmeg as an aphrodisiac. Burkill, in 1935, stressed nutmeg’s importance in Indian tonics for dysentery. According to an adviser in the Indian Ministry of Health, nutmeg is still used medicinally in India :

“It is prescribed as an analgesic in neuritic pains, as a sedative in highly tense nervous states, and as a sedative and anti-spasmodic in asthma. In view of its reaction resembling opium, it is used to give relief in the cough and hemoptysis of tuberculosis. In traditional Indian folk and domestic medicine, nutmeg is used in small quantities to induce hypnotic effect in irritable children. It is also administered as an hypnotic and sedative in epileptic convulsions.”

In Western medicine
Medieval European physicians followed exactly the precepts of Arabian medicine. Consequently, they called nutmeg a warm, dry drug and recommended it for all the maladies listed earlier. Warburg wrote :

“The importance of nutmeg as a medicine grew hand in hand with the increase in Indian trade during the middle ages; its use spread from the Arabian Empire over Greece and Italy and soon reached central Europe. Nutmeg gradually became a genuine folk remedy, although it was most important as a major ingredient in medicines prepared according to guild rules.”

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Western physicians compiled the writings of earlier authorities on nutmeg. This was the great period of the herbalists, and nearly every herbal contained a summary of nutmeg’s virtues .

Doctors continued for some time to prescribe Myristica for intestinal illnesses, but by 1800 they realized that any of its effects were the same as those of other aromatics. Then, as modern pharmacy developed, older remedies, nutmeg among them, were relegated to positions of lower and lower priority. In summarizing the medicinal uses of the spice in 1897, Warburg wrote :

“Today the employment of nutmeg and mace in medicine is relatively minor. Nutmeg is now used as a stomachic, stimulant, and carminative, especially in

cases of dyspepsia, intestinal catarrh and colic, and as an appetite stimulant, as well as for its ability to control flatulence….”

There is an important omission in the above catalogue of nutmeg uses: sometime later in its history-perhaps as late as the 19th century––nutmeg became known as an emmenagogue and abortifacient. This use has persisted among women into the present century; in fact, Green in 1959 reported the case of 28-year-old Virginia woman who ate “18.3 g of finely ground nutmeg in an attempt to induce the menses, which had been delayed two days”. Some of the older uses of the drug may also be alive in contemporary European and American folk beliefs: McCord [15] , for example, cited a 1962 incident in which a 41-year-old South Carolina man, on the advice of a friend, took two whole nutmegs to relieve a skin infection.

Myristica remained official in the United States Pharmacopeia through U. S. P. XIII (1947). Myristica oil was kept on for several more editions, principally as a flavouring agent, but was finally dropped from U. S. P. XVII (1965).

The relevance of medicinal uses of nutmeg to the present discussion of nutmeg as a narcotic is that the toxic properties of Myristica must first have been noticed when patients accidentally took overdoses.

Pharmacology of nutmeg:
Early studies
The first pharmacological experiments on nutmeg were performed by van Leeuwenhoek, the Dutch microscopist, around 1676.

As late as 1900, little was known about the action of Myristica, largely because researchers could not agree on which component of the seed contained the active principle.

Reviewing the findings of earlier workers, Shulgin in 1963 [22] wrote that the myristicin fraction of nutmeg oil “is strongly suspect of representing the effective toxic factor for cats …. “but that it appears “ineffective in duplicating the psychological effects of total nutmeg in man “. He then speculated on possible pharmacological activity of other components of the oil:

“The minor aromatic ethers, eugenol and safrol, have been suggested as possible active components. This seems unlikely, as the amounts ingested from a 5 g nutmeg (0.001 g and 0.003 g respectively) are much below the usual therapeutic levels of these substances (3.0 ml and 0.5 ml respectively). The only component, aside from the myristicin fraction, of the volatile oil from nutmeg that deserves serious consideration as an active agent is the pinenedipentene fraction. Many descriptions of the toxic syndromes of representative terpene medicines parallel the common toxic manifestations of nutmeg (i.e., nausea, cyanosis, stupor, cold extremities, often delirium). [However] actual toxic dosages of oils that are of make-up similar to the hydrocarbon fraction of nutmeg (such as oil of turpentine) are as a rule 20 to 60 times higher than that which would be encountered in nutmeg intoxication.”

Shulgin’s conclusion is the best summary of our present knowledge of Myristica; “As yet, no known pharmacology of any known component of oil of nutmeg can explain the syndrome of the whole nutmeg.”

Risks and toxicity:
In low doses, nutmeg produces no noticeable physiological or neurological response. Large doses of 30 g or more are dangerous, potentially inducing convulsions, palpitations, nausea, eventual dehydration, and generalized body pain. In amounts of 5–20 g it is a mild to medium hallucinogen, producing visual distortions and a mild euphoria. It is a common misconception that nutmeg contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). This is untrue; nutmeg should not be taken in combination with MAOIs but it does not contain them . A test was carried out on the substance which showed that, when ingested in large amounts, nutmeg takes on a similar chemical make-up to MDMA (ecstasy). However, use of nutmeg as a recreational drug is unpopular due to its unpleasant taste and its side effects, including dizziness, flushes, dry mouth, accelerated heartbeat, temporary constipation, difficulty in urination, nausea, and panic. A user will not experience a peak until approximately six hours after ingestion, and effects can linger for up to three days afterwards.

A risk in any large-quantity (over 25 g) ingestion of nutmeg is the onset of ‘nutmeg poisoning’, an acute psychiatric disorder marked by thought disorder, a sense of impending death, and agitation. Some cases have resulted in hospitalization.

The use of nutmeg as a psychotropic agent:
Since all aromatic spices contain volatile compounds that affect the central nervous system, these alleged properties of familar substances are plausible. It is interesting that the narcotics-user believes different spices capable of providing different experiences- nutmeg can be “horrible” or ginger “dangerously potent “. Pharmacologists agree that psychological expectations largely determine the form of a narcotic intoxication. Consequently, a person expecting horrible effects from nutmeg may well experience them. This may explain why women poisoned accidentally by nutmeg merely become stuporous, while prisoners have predominantly pleasant times under Myristica; prisoners take the spice to escape reality, and they expect it to be much like Cannabis.

A growing problem in the United States is the use of hallucinogenic drugs like LSD and marihuana by young persons, especially students in secondary schools and universities . There is some evidence that these people also try self-experiments with nutmeg.

Callaway maintains that jazz musicians “have known about nutmeg for some time but will not discuss it except with friends “. Most bohemians, addicts and students who try the spice probably are equally secretive.

Experimentation with nutmeg may be widespread on American university campuses. In the summer 1964 issue of a University of Mississippi student magazine, an article titled “Nutmeg Jag” described a nutmeg party attended by eight persons.

Like prisoners, students who use marihuana may often turn to nutmeg when cut off from supplies of Cannabis. But it would seem that marihuana is obtainable with minimum difficulty around most US universities today, and there is no doubt students (like prisoners) prefer Cannabis to Myristica.

As a final word on the uses of nutmeg, there is the report that the practice of taking this spice to produce “a syndrome comparable to alcoholic inebriety” is “not uncommon among alcoholics who are deprived of alcohol.

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