Nutmeg is endemic to the Maluku Province of Indonesia, historically called the Spice Islands, and is derived from the fruit of the Myristica fragrans tree. During the middles ages, Arabs collected nutmeg and traded it at very high prices, never divulging where they procured it. Because of this, it became a very valued and much sought after commodity for both culinary and medicinal uses.
More recently, a group of researchers from the Department of Botany and Range Science, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, found that its use for medicinal purposes is still prominent in the area today. Gathering information from herbal remedy vendors, healers, and midwives, the researchers discovered that this culture continues to use nutmeg for diarrhea, mouth sores, and insomnia. [Journal of Ethnopharmacology]
Herbal folk remedies aside, there is little clinical evidence that nutmeg is effective as a sleep aid or has any medicinal uses. A 1978 study, published in the journal Experientia, concluded that the whole oil of nutmeg increased the duration of sleep in young chickens. Though not approved by the FDA, there is at least one homeopathic sleep aide on the market with nutmeg that claims to relieve restless sleep and restless sleep associated with nervousness, worries and exhaustion.
Nutmeg can interact adversely with some medications. Nutmeg increases how quickly some medications are broken down by liver. Nutmeg should not be taken without consulting your physician.
A Pinch May Do You Good
Though there is little clinical evidence to support nutmeg’s use as a sleep aide, many physicians suggest it as a sleep curative.
As early as 1904, in his book, Insomnia: Its Causes and Cure, Dr. James Sawyer, Senior Consulting Physician to the Queen’s Hospital, Birmingham suggested to his fellow physicians the homeopathic remedy of nutmeg tea for insomnia before resorting to powerful hypnotics.
In an article on The Dr. Oz Show website, Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary gives advice on sleep and longevity and suggests that if after following his advice you still can’t sleep, to make a drink of warm milk with the addition of a pinch of turmeric powder, nutmeg powder, and cardamom powder.
In his book, Indian Spices & Condiments as Natural Healers, Dr. H.K. Bakhru, suggests that the powder of nutmeg, mixed with alma juice, is an effective medicine for insomnia, irritability, and depression.
High Doses of Nutmeg Can Be Dangerous
It is important to note that though a dash of the ground nutmeg that you purchase at the supermarket added to warm milk may have calming effects, it is extremely dangerous taken in high doses.
There have been many reported cases of nutmeg causing temporary psychosis requiring emergency medical care. Several compounds in nutmeg have structural similarities to amphetamine-like compounds, which are known to affect the central nervous system. Nutmeg’s active agent myristicin may cause atropine-like hallucinatory experiences.
Common side effects can include dry mouth, thirst, dizziness, stomach pains, nausea, and vomiting. More serious side effects include hallucinations, seizures, and death. For pregnant women, large amounts of nutmeg may cause miscarriage or birth defects. [Toxicology Data Network]
Van Gils C, Journal of Ethnopharmacology
Ethnobotany of nutmeg in the Spice Islands
1994; Volume: 42; No: 2; Pages: 117-124
Sherry CJ; Experientia
Enhancement of ethanol-induced sleep by whole oil of nutmeg
1978; Volume: 34; No: 4; Pages: 492-493
Chaudhary, Kulreet; The Dr. Oz Show
Sleep and Longevity
Bakhru, H. K..
India Spices and Condiments as Natural Healers
Mumbai: Jaico, 2001. Print.
Insomnia; Its Causes and Cure
Birmingham: Cornish, 1904. Print.
Toxicology Data Network
Oil of Nutmeg
Glossary of Terms
Endemic: growing or existing in a certain place of region.