At one time it was considered as the best of spices. Bloody wars have been fought over it, particularly by the Dutch and the British. A person who had a few of these in his possession was acknowledged as a rich man. It was an accepted ingredient in cuisine from Penang to Europe. Some men consumed it on the sly because of its reputation as an aphrodisiac.
That is nutmeg, Myristica fragrans.
The original home of nutmeg was the Banda Islands of Indonesia. That was under Dutch control. In fact the Dutch almost monopolized the nutmeg trade till WW II. But the English East India Company had its share. They propagated the plant in British possessions like Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka and the West Indies. Nutmeg is Granada’s national symbol. That country’s flag has an image of the fruit on it.
There is not much seasonal variation in the yield. The flowers have an appealing smell. The fruit is almost pear shaped. It has a fleshy covering outside. As the fruit matures, the flesh turns yellow, sometimes with a touch of red. It would break open if not plucked in time.
When the outer flesh is removed you can see the nut covered by lacy aril or mace. In India it is called jathipatri. The colour may be red or light brown depending on the area where the plant grows.
The aril is gently removed by hand and dried. The nut is also dried. Both should be stored preferably in airtight containers and kept away from sunlight and heat. Do not keep in freezer. Incidentally, the flesh can be candied or pickled. Once, in a Planters Club bar in Kerala I found it served fresh as a snack with drinks!
In cooking, the aril and the nut go well with several meats, vegetables and cheese. They are also used in pastries and cocktails. For recipes, see http://www.food.com/library/nutmeg-333?oc=linkback
Now, about the medicinal uses, apart from the aphrodisiac aspect. But do consult your doctor before trying any of these treatments.
There are four distinct areas where nutmeg is used for treatment from ancient times to this day. The first is for stomach ailments like loose motion, nausea, gastritis, and indigestion. It is said that for this, a nut should be grated, mixed with honey and a quarter of that taken twice or thrice a day.
Nutmeg contains myristicin and elemicin which are considered to be brain stimulants. Eugenol in nutmeg oil gives toothache relief and prevents bad breath. For joint and muscular pains also the oil is suppose to be good remedy.
Nutmeg may not be a king of spices anymore, but is there any kitchen which does not keep a few of them?
(All images fare from Wikimedia Commons under GNU License.)