The Health Benefits and Potential Harms of Nutmeg

Nutmeg annotated

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

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Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) is a spice that is commonly used in baked goods, holiday treats, ethnic cuisine, and beverages. The spice is produced by grinding nutmeg seeds that come from a flowering plant of the Myristicaceae family (sometimes called the nutmeg family)—native to Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. The spice has a sweet taste and is often paired with other sweet spices including cinnamon, clove, and allspice.

While nutmeg is commonly used in cooking and baking, some also use the spice or its essential oil to gain a nutmeg high. Using the ingredient in this way can have serious side effects.

Nutmeg Benefits

Nutmeg has also been praised for its antioxidant, antibacterial, antidiabetic, pain-relieving, liver-protecting, and cancer-preventative properties. In addition to its use as a flavoring spice in Asian, European, Middle Eastern, and African cuisines and traditional American baked goods, nutmeg has a history of medicinal use.

Some sources credit nutmeg with having an effect on the nervous system and the imagination, even going as far as to say that nutmeg essential oil can have a hypnotic or hallucinogenic effect. In fact, there are published reports of nutmeg being used as a psychotropic drug with harmful consequences.

There is also a long history of using nutmeg to relieve chronic pain. Rat studies have suggested that nutmeg oil may have potential as a chronic pain reliever, but research in humans is lacking.

The safety and effectiveness of using nutmeg in humans for any of these health benefits have not been confirmed.

Nutrition Facts

One serving (approximately 1 teaspoon or 2.2 grams) of ground nutmeg provides approximately 12 calories, according to USDA data. Calories come from carbohydrate (1.08 grams), protein (0.13 grams), and fat (0.8 grams).

Nutmeg also provides a small amount of vitamin A, folate, choline, and vitamin C, but not in amounts that will impact your daily recommended intake of those vitamins.

Minerals in nutmeg include calcium (3.7 mg), phosphorus (4.3 mg), magnesium (3.7 mg), potassium (7.0 mg), and small amounts of sodium and manganese.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Nutmeg can be purchased in whole or ground form. The ground spice is commonly found in almost every grocery store. If you choose to purchase whole nutmeg seeds to grind yourself, you may need to visit a specialty market or purchase it online.

Ground nutmeg is known to lose its flavor quickly. For that reason, some cooks choose to buy it whole. Whole nutmegs seeds stay fresh indefinitely, so you can simply grind what you need and save the rest for later.

Nutmeg can be used to flavor sweet baked goods such as apple pie, cookies, and other treats. But the spice is also used to flavor meats (such as lamb) or starchy vegetables.

Example Recipes

Possible Side Effects

According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, nutmeg is probably safe when consumed in amounts typically found in food. But overconsumption of nutmeg may be risky, causing nausea, vomiting, and hallucination.

There are reports of nutmeg poisoning dating back to the early 1900s, with symptoms including burning pain in the stomach, precordial anxiety, or giddiness.

Researchers write that the toxic effects of nutmeg are due to the presence of myristicin oil, a natural organic compound found in the spice. According to one published report, nutmeg poisoning is rare but probably underreported and should be considered in recreational substance users with acute psychotic symptoms as well as central nervous system symptoms.

Additionally, the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database advises that long-term use of nutmeg in doses of 120 mg or more daily has been linked to hallucinations and other mental side effects. "People who have taken larger doses of nutmeg have experienced nausea, dry mouth, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, agitation, and hallucinations. Other serious side effects have included death."

Common Questions

What is the best nutmeg substitute?

There are four sweet spices that are commonly used together: nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, and allspice. When you are short on one you can substitute another.

What is a nutmeg nut?

A nutmeg nut is the same as a nutmeg seed. The seeds have a shape/look that more closely resembles a nut, so some people use the term "nut" to describe them. But technically, they are dried seeds.

9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Zhang WK, Tao SS, Li TT, et al. Nutmeg oil alleviates chronic inflammatory pain through inhibition of COX-2 expression and substance P release in vivo. Food Nutr Res. 2016;60:30849. DOI: 10.3402/fnr.v60.30849

  4. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release

  5. Zhang WK, Tao SS, Li TT, et al. Nutmeg oil alleviates chronic inflammatory pain through inhibition of COX-2 expression and substance P release in vivo. Food Nutr Res. 2016;60:30849. doi:10.3402/fnr.v60.30849

  6. Cushny AR. Nutmeg poisoning. Proc R Soc Med. 1908;1(Ther Pharmacol Sect):39-44.

  7. Ehrenpreis JE, Deslauriers C, Lank P, Armstrong PK, Leikin JB. Nutmeg poisonings: a retrospective review of 10 years experience from the Illinois Poison Center, 2001-2011. J Med Toxicol. 2014;10(2):148-51. DOI: 10.1007/s13181-013-0379-7

  8. Demetriades AK, Wallman PD, Mcguiness A, Gavalas MC. Low cost, high risk: accidental nutmeg intoxication. Emerg Med J. 2005;22(3):223-5. DOI: 10.1136/emj.2002.004168

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Additional Reading
  • Cardamom. Professional Monograph and Patient Handout. Natural Medicines Database. 08/14/2018 .

  • Demetriades, A. K. (2005). Low cost, high risk: accidental nutmeg intoxication. Emergency Medicine Journal, 22(3), 223–225. DOI: 10.1136/emj.2002.004168.

  • Zhang, W. K., Tao, S.-S., Li, T.-T., Li, Y.-S., Li, X.-J., Tang, H.-B., … Wan, C.-J. (2016). Nutmeg oil alleviates chronic inflammatory pain through inhibition of COX-2 expression and substance P release in vivo. Food & Nutrition Research, 60(1), 30849. DOI: 10.3402/fnr.v60.30849.

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.