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Ancient Wisdom Part 9: Nutmeg can treat cold and cough; the right way to consume | Health

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Note to readers: Ancient Wisdom is a series of guides that shines a light on age-old wisdom that has helped people for generations with time-honoured wellness solutions to everyday fitness problems, persistent health issues and stress management, among others. Through this series, we try to provide contemporary solutions to your health worries with traditional insights.

Nutmeg can be used to flavour both sweet and savoury dishes
Nutmeg can be used to flavour both sweet and savoury dishes

Nutmeg, a warming spice, with a strong flavour and aroma has been used since Middle Ages for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Known as Jaiphal in India, the spice is prominently mentioned in its ancient scriptures Vedas and evidence of carbonized nutmeg has been found in an archaeological site dating back to 400-200 BCE. Nutmeg can be used to flavour both sweet and savoury dishes such as puddings, pulao, baked goods, potatoes, meats, sausages, sauces, and vegetables. Nutmeg has been used medicinally to treat intestinal disorders, menstrual issues, cold and cough, rheumatism, cholera, nausea and anxiety.

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Nutmeg seed oil was also used in embalming by Egyptians in ancient times and to cure plague by Italians. In ancient times, nutmeg seeds were used in medicines as an aphrodisiac, abortifacient, and anti-flatulent, a narcotic, and as a means to induce menses. Nutmeg seeds were also used to treat haemorrhoids, vomiting, rheumatism, cholera, psychosis, stomach cramps etc.

Ayurveda expert Dr Zeel Gandhi says Jaiphal or nutmeg stimulates digestion, kindles metabolism, strengthens immunity, is good for throat, heals dark patches on skin, useful in abdominal worms, cough and rhinitis.

“Jaiphala or nutmeg has a strong Vata and Kapha balancing profile meaning, it is excellent for congestions, and sluggishness. Cold, cough, indigestion generally arise from the imbalance of Kapha and Vata and hence nutmeg is a popular remedy to get relief and heal the disease quickly,” says Dr Zeel.

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“It is given for Colic in babies and for them to get restful sleep. It is rubbed in water and applied on head to cure aches, discolouration of skin, parotits and other glandular swellings,” she adds.

Nutmeg, a warmly aromatic spice, is a versatile addition that can elevate the taste of both sweet and savoury dishes.

“Beyond its flavour-enhancing properties, nutmeg boasts a wealth of nutrients, including fibre, manganese, magnesium, copper, calcium, iron, and essential vitamins like thiamine, vitamin B6, and folate. In addition to these nutrients, nutmeg is rich in antioxidants, encompassing plant pigments such as cyanidins, essential oils like phenylpropanoids and terpenes, and phenolic compounds like protocatechuic, ferulic, and caffeic acids,” says Akhila S, Dietitian, Dept of clinical nutrition, Amrita Hospital, Kochi.

“Nutmeg a world-renowned spice commonly known as jaiphal has been used in Indian kitchens since ancient times. It has many uses ranging from culinary to medicinal. This sweet, pungent and nutty flavoured spice contains antioxidants, health promoting and disease preventing properties. Nutmeg originated in Indonesia and was discovered by Portuguese and used by Romans as incense. It has been cultivated throughout the world and used for food flavouring, essential oil applications and in traditional medicines,” says Priya Palan, Dietician, Zen Multispeciality Hospital.

Benefits of Jaiphal

Jaiphal powder, derived from nutmeg, offers a range of benefits, including aiding digestion, enhancing cognitive function, regulating blood pressure, supporting liver health, and alleviating pain, says Akhila S.

“Nutmeg’s antibacterial properties contribute to its role in strengthening the immune system. It can be particularly useful in addressing colds and coughs by aiding in the dissolution of congestion. This is attributed to eugenol, a component known for its anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce airway swelling, facilitating easier breathing and mucus clearance,” says Akhila S.

“Nutmeg is known for its antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. It is good for digestion, stomach aches, relieving vomiting, diarrhoea, and flatulence. It acts as a nerve stimulant, has a calming effect and helps to deal with insomnia. It consists of volatile oil compounds that acts as a mild sedative and helps to fight depression and anxiety. It’s a good source of Vitamin A, C, E and flavonoids that helps to boost immunity and reduces inflammation. It thus helps to deal with respiratory problems such as a cough and common cold. Nutmeg is helpful in clearing up the congestion resulting from cold,” says Priya Palan.

Dr Zeel says one must avoid overdosing nutmeg as it can cause giddiness and other serious health complications.

The safe dose is 0.25 – 1 gm (powder), 2-5 drops (oil).

How nutmeg was used in ancient times

Nutmeg or jaiphal found mention in Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism in India, between 1500 and 1000 BCE.
Nutmeg or jaiphal found mention in Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism in India, between 1500 and 1000 BCE.

Grated nutmeg holds a historical significance, serving as both a sachet and incense in ancient times.

“By the 1600s, it had become a prized and costly spice in the Western world, leading to Dutch efforts to maintain high prices and English and French attempts to secure fertile seeds for cultivation,” says Akhila S.

How to add nutmeg to your diet

Nutmeg can enhance a variety of dishes, including baked goods, confections, puddings, potatoes, meats, sausages, sauces, and vegetables.

Nutmeg or jaiphal found mention in Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism in India, between 1500 and 1000 BCE.
Nutmeg or jaiphal found mention in Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism in India, between 1500 and 1000 BCE.

“It has higher essential oils, which gives a rich flavour and freshness to recipes. Due to its warm sweet flavour, it is commonly added to many kinds of baked goods, puddings, sauces, vegetables. It can be added to warm and cold beverages such as milk, coffee, smoothies,” says Priya Palan.

Here are creative ways to include nutmeg in your diet, suggested by Akhila S:

  • Elevate the flavour of homemade bakery items like cookies and cakes with nutmeg powder.
  • Combine nutmeg powder with other spice blends, creating popular and flavourful mixes like garam masala.
  • Sprinkle nutmeg over oatmeal or various breakfast cereals.
  • Incorporate it into yoghurts or smoothies.
  • Utilize nutmeg as a seasoning for both meat and vegetable dishes.

Who shouldn’t consume nutmeg

“Avoid consuming large quantities during pregnancy, as it may lead to miscarriages or birth defects. In excessive amounts, nutmeg can have psychoactive effects, acting as a deliriant and hallucinogen. While rarely fatal, it can cause convulsions, palpitations, and discomfort,” says Akhila S.

“It is unlikely to cause harm when consumed in small quantities however consumption of larger doses can cause adverse side effects. It can cause lack of concentration, sweating, palpitations, body pain and in severe cases hallucination and delirium. It may not be safe to consume nutmeg in higher doses in pregnancy and lactation as it can cause palpitation,” says Palan.

Fascinating nutmeg facts

Nutmeg trees take five years to bloom, reaching full bearing capacity after 15 years and continuing to yield fruit for approximately 50 years.

In substantial quantities, nutmeg can induce hallucinogenic effects.

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