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About Nutmeg

Nutmeg, Myristica fragrans, is a tropical evergreen tree in the family Myristicaceae grown for its seeds which are used as spices. The nutmeg tree has natural conical shape with a grey-brown trunk and dark green glossy leaves. The branches of the tree spread in whorls and the leaves are oval or lanceolate in shape. Leaves are arranged alternately on the branches and are 5–15 cm (2–6 in) in length, smooth and lighter in color on the under side. The tree produces a clusters of numerous male flowers whereas the female flowers are produced solitary or in a maximum cluster of 3. The flowers are pale yellow and fragrant. The fruit of the nutmeg tree is a rounded fleshy berry which splits into two halves when it ripens. The seed inside is shiny dark brown and oval in shape. The seed coat is covered by lacy red aril which is attached at the base of the seed. Nutmeg trees can reach a height of 20 m (66 ft) and may live for upwards of 80 years. Nutmeg may also be referred to as mace and it is not known in a wild state. It likely originated from the Moluccan Islands, particularly the volcanic island of Banda.


A spice that is commonly used in the preparation of various dishes across various cuisines, nutmeg is valued for its sweet aroma. Said to be a native of Indonesia, found in the Spice Islands, it is the seed of the fruit of an evergreen tree known as Myristica fragrans. It now grows in Malaysia, the Caribbean, and Southern India as well. It is also the only tropical tree in the world which is credited for bearing two distinct spices - nutmeg and mace. Mace is the reddish, lacy aril or covering of the seed, which is known for its mild flavour and the orange tinge it imparts to the dishes it is used in.

Crop Management

Climate and soil

Nutmeg requires a hot, humid climate without pronounced dry season, with an annual rainfall of 150 cm and more. It grows well from sea level up to about 1300 m above sea level. Areas with clay loam, sandy loam and red laterite soils are ideal for its growth. The soil should be rich in organic matter and well drained. The tree prefers partial shade. Sheltered valleys are the best suited. It can be grown up to about 900 m above MSL. Both dry climate and water logged conditions are not suitable for nutmeg cultivation.

Production of quality planting materials

Fully ripened tree-burst fruits are selected for raising seedlings. The fleshy rind and the mace are removed before sowing. The seeds should be sown immediately after collection. If there is any delay in sowing, the seeds should be kept in baskets filled with damp soil. The seedbeds of 100-120 cm width, 15 cm height and of convenient length may be prepared in cool and shady places. A mixture of garden soil and sand in the ratio 3:1 may be used for preparing nursery beds. Over this, sand is spread to a thickness of 2-3 cm and the seeds dibbled 2 cm below the surface at a spacing of about 12 cm on either side. Seeds germinate within 50-80 days after sowing. When the plumule produces two elongated opposite leaves, the seedlings are to be transferred from beds to polybags.

Vegetative propagation of nutmeg through epicotyl grafting is recommended for all nutmeg nurseries.


Since the nutmeg trees require shade, suitable fast growing shade trees like Albizia, Erythrina etc. are planted in advance. Banana can also be grown as a shade crop in the early stages. Pits of 4 x 4 x 4 feet are dug at a spacing of 8 x 8 m with the onset of southwest monsoon. The pits are filled with topsoil and compost or well-decomposed cattle manure and seedlings are planted.As nutmeg is cross-pollinated, considerable variations are observed in the crop. The plants differ not only for all aspects of growth and vigour, but also for sex expression, size and shape of fruit and quantity and quality of mace. An important problem in nutmeg cultivation is the segregation of seedlings into male and female plants resulting in about 50% unproductive male trees. The only alternative is to adopt vegetative propagation either by top-working male plants or using budded or grafted plants.

Cultivation practices Preparation of land and planting

Planting in the main field is done at the beginning of rainy season. Pits of 4 x 4 m x 4 feet size are dug at a spacing of 8 m x 8 m and filled with organic manure and soil about 15 days earlier to planting. For planting plagiotropic grafts, a spacing of 5 m x 5 m has to be adopted. A male plant has to be planted for every 20 female plants in the field if required.

After cultivation

The plants should be shaded to protect them from sun scorch during early stages. Permanent shade trees are to be planted when the site is on hilly slopes and when nutmeg is grown as a monocrop.

Inter cropping

Nutmeg can best be grown as an intercrop in coconut gardens that are more than 15 years old where shade conditions are ideal. Coconut gardens along river beds and adjoining areas are best suited for nutmeg cultivation. Irrigation is essential during summer months.

Nutrient management

Apply 10 kg cattle manure or compost per seedling during the first year. Increase the quantity gradually till a well-grown tree of 15 years and above receives 50 kg of organic manures per year. Apply N:P2O5:K2O @ 20:18:50 g/plant during the first year. This may be doubled in the next year. Gradually increase the N:P2O5:K2O dose to 500:250:1000 g/plant/year to obtain full dose from 15th year onwards.

Plant protection Pests

Black scale (Saissetia nigra)

The black scale infests tender stems and leaves especially in the nursery and sometimes-young plants in the field. The scales are clustered together and are black, oval and dome shaped. Black scales feed on plant sap and severe infestations cause the shoots to wilt and dry. It can be controlled by spot spraying with quinalphos 0.025%.

White scale (Pseudaulacaspis cockerelli)

The white scale is greyish white, flat and shaped like a fish scale and occurs clustered together on the lower surface of leaves especially in nursery seedlings. The pest infestation results in yellow streaks and spots on affected leaves and in severe infestations the leaves wilt and dry.

Shield scale (Protopulvinaria mangiferae)

The shield scale is creamy brown and oval and occurs on tender leaves and stems especially in nursery seedlings. The pest infestation results in wilting of leaves and shoots.


The scale insects mentioned above and other species that may also occur sporadically on nutmeg can be controlled by spraying dimethoate 0.05% or quinalphos 0.025%.


Leaf spot and shot hole (Colletotrichum gloeosporioides)

Sunken spots surrounded by a yellow halo are the initial symptoms. Subsequently the central portion of the necrotic region drops off resulting in shot hole symptoms. Dieback symptoms are also observed in some of the mature branches. On young seedlings drying of the leaves and subsequent defoliation are seen. The disease can be controlled by spraying 1% Bordeaux mixture two or three times during rainy season.

Thread blight

Two types of blights are noticed in nutmeg. The first one is a white thread blight wherein fine white hyphae aggregate to form fungal threads that traverse along the stem underneath the leaves in a fan shaped or irregular manner causing blight in the affected portions. The disease is caused by Marasmius pulcherima. The dried up leaves with mycelium form a major source of inoculum for the spread of the disease.The second type of blight is called horse hair blight. Fine black silky threads of the fungus form an irregular, loose network on the stems and leaves. These strands cause blight of leaves and stems. However, these threads hold up the detached, dried leaves on the tree, giving the appearance of a bird’s nest, when viewed from a distance. This disease is caused by Marasmius equicrinus. Both the diseases are severe under heavy shade.


These diseases can be managed by adopting phytosanitation and shade regulation. In severely affected gardens, Bordeaux mixture 1% spraying may be undertaken in addition to cultural practices.

Fruit rot

Immature fruit split, fruit rot and fruit drop are serious in a majority of nutmeg gardens in Kerala. Immature fruit splitting and shedding are noticed in some trees without any apparent infection. In the case of fruit rot, the infection starts from the pedicel as dark lesions and gradually spreads to the fruit, causing brown discolouration of the rind resulting in rotting. In advanced stages, the mace also rots emitting a foul smell. Phytophthora sp. and Diplodia natalensis have been isolated from affected fruits. However, the reasons for fruit rot could be both pathological and physiological.


Bordeaux mixture 1% may be sprayed when the fruits are half mature to reduce the incidence of the disease.


Fruits are available throughout the year, but the peak period of harvest is fromJune to July . When fruits are fully ripe, the nuts split open. These are either plucked from the tree or allowed to drop. The two major products are nutmeg and mace. Dried nutmeg and mace are directly used as spice and also for the preparation of their derivatives. After de-rinding the nutmeg fruit, red feathery aril (mace) is separated from pericarp. The mace is detached, flattened and dried under sun on mats for 3-5 days. The nuts are dried in the sun for six to eight days till they rattle in their shell. They are stored in warm dry place prior to shelling.

Processing and value addition


Nutmeg and mace oleoresins are prepared by extracting the ground spice with organic solvents. Yield of oleoresin is 10-12 per cent for nutmeg and 10-13 per cent for mace. Mace oleoresin possesses a fine, fresh fruity character.

Nutmeg butter

Nutmeg contains 25-40 per cent of fixed oil that can be obtained by pressing the crushed nuts between plates in the presence of steam or by extracting with solvents. The product, known as nutmeg butter, is a highly aromatic, orange coloured fat with the consistency of butter at ambient temperature.

Nutmeg oil

This is obtained as pale yellow to white volatile liquid possessing a fresh warm aromatic odour. The yield ranges from 7 to 16 %. The unshelled nuts are coarsely crushed in a mechanical cracker and steam distilled.

Mace oil

The mace yields 4-17 % colourless to pale yellow liquid possessing organoleptic properties similar to nutmeg oil. Nutmeg and mace oil are also used for flavouring.

Incredible Nutmeg Benefits:

A spice that is commonly used in the preparation of various dishes across various cuisines, nutmeg is valued for its sweet aroma. Said to be a native of Indonesia, found in the Spice Islands, it is the seed of the fruit of an evergreen tree known as Myristica fragrans. It now grows in Malaysia, the Caribbean, and Southern India as well. It is also the only tropical tree in the world which is credited for bearing two distinct spices - nutmeg and mace. Mace is the reddish, lacy aril or covering of the seed, which is known for its mild flavour and the orange tinge it imparts to the dishes it is used in.

Besides being an exotic spice, nutmeg is grouped under the category of aphrodisiacs, and in cooking, only small quantities - such as a little grating or a pinch of the ground powder - are used to make soups, meat gravies, beef stew, steaks, roulades, and even desserts. In India, it is more commonly seen in Kerala, probably being brought in during the ancient spice trade. The locals use it to flavour meat curries and desserts, while the flesh of the fruit goes into the making of pickles, chutneys and other condiments. The spice is also a regular feature in Mughlai cuisine, being used as part of the various masala mixes for the meat preparations. In Hindi, it is known as Jaiphal.

The nutmeg tree is also valued for its medicinal properties. The leaves and other parts of the tree are used in extracting essential oil as well as nutmeg butter, which are used for the purpose of beauty and have other health benefits. Nutmeg is packed with nutrients: minerals such as magnesium, manganese and copper; and vitamins such as B1, B6, etc.

Curious to know more? Here's listing out the many benefits of nutmeg -

Relives Pain

Nutmeg contains many essential volatile oils such as myristicin, elemicin, eugenol and safrole. According to the book DK Healing Foods, "Its (nutmeg) volatile oils have anti-inflammatory properties that make it useful for treating joint and muscle pain." Just a few drops of the essential oil on the affected area can treat inflammation, swelling, joint pain, muscle pain and sores.

Helps Treat Insomnia

Nutmeg has a calming effect when consumed in smaller doses. Various ancient medicinal practices credit it for its sleep inducing and de-stressing effects. According to Ayurveda, you should add a pinch of nutmeg to a glass of warm milk and have it before sleeping. You can also add in some almonds and a pinch of cardamom for added benefits.

Helps Digestion

Nutmeg contains essential oils which have a carminative effect on our system. So if you are suffering from digestive issues such as diarrhoea, constipation, bloating or gas, a home remedy is to grate a pinch of nutmeg in your soups and stews, and have it. It will help in the secretion of digestive enzymes, bringing about relief, whereas the fiber content in nutmeg will help in bowel movement. It also helps in removing excessive gas from the system.(Looking for products to help boost your digestive health? Shop now!)

Brain Health

Nutmeg is an aphrodisiac, stimulating the nerves in the brain. It was commonly used as a brain tonic by the Greek and Romans during the ancient times. It is known to be an effective ingredient for treating depression and anxiety as its essential oil tend to ease fatigue and stress. "As an adaptogen, it can be both a stimulant and a sedative, according to the body's needs. In times of stress, it can help lower blood pressure. Conversely, it can lift your mood and acts as a tonic and stimulant, making it beneficial if you are recovering from an illness or are overtired," as mentioned in the book DK Healing Food. It is also known to help in concentration.

Treat Bad Breath

Bad breath could be a sign of toxicity in your system. Unhealthy lifestyle and improper diet can build up toxins in your organs. Nutmeg is touted to help in detoxifying the body, clearing out toxins from the liver and kidneys. Since its essential oils have anti-bacterial properties, it helps in removing bacteria from the mouth which are responsible for causing bad breath. It is commonly used as an ingredient for Ayurvedic toothpastes and gum pastes. The essential oil eugenol helps in reliving toothaches as well.

Gorgeous Skin

Nutmeg is a good ingredient for skincare because of its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties as well as its ability to remove blackheads, treat acne and clogged pores. A common home remedy is to mix equal parts of ground nutmeg and honey, make a paste and apply it on pimples. Leave it for 20 minutes, and then wash with cold warm. You can also make a paste using nutmeg powder and a few drop of milk, and massage it into your skin before rinsing clean. It can be used in scrubs along with oatmeal, orange peel, etc.(For chemical-free beauty products, shop on SmartCooky!)

Blood Pressure and Circulation

Its high mineral content makes nutmeg a good ingredient for regulating blood circulation and pressure. It contains calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, etc., which are all essential for various functions in the body. Its stress reducing properties help in relaxing the blood vessels while keeping the heart functioning efficiently.


Basic requirements Nutmeg is a tropical plant and requires dry periods to flower. It will grow best at temperatures between 20 and 30°C (68–86°F) and can tolerate a range of soils provided that the are well draining. Trees will grow optimally in a deep loamy sand rich in organic matter with a pH between 5.5 and 7.5. The trees love heat but should be protected from strong afternoon sun and also require some shelter from wind. Propagation Seeds Trees grown from seed do not flower until they are between 6 and 8 years old and sex cannot be determined until this time. For this reason, 2–3 seedlings are planted in one place in commercial production and excess male trees are removed or replanted when they can be identified as they will not produce fruit. Seeds should be planted immediately harvest. They should not be allowed to dry out prior to planting. Seeds are commonly planted 8 × 8 m (25 × 25 ft) apart and thinned when required. A spacing of 10 × 10 m (33 × 33 ft) is desirable for fully grown trees. In the home garden a male and female tree are required for fruit production and they should be spaced at least 10 m (33 ft) apart. The tree will reach full size after about 20 years. Marcotting Nutmeg trees can also be grown from marcotted material. Vigorous branches are selected from female trees. The branches should be 1.2–1.5 cm in diameter. The branch is then split longitudinally in an area that is approximately 90 cm (35 in) from the end of the branch. Each split should be approximately 5 cm (2 in) in length. A bamboo splint is positioned along the area of the split to secure the branch and prevent it from breaking. A small piece of the split branch is then removed on the bottom side of the branch. This piece is approximately 6–12 mm (02–0.4 in) long. The remainder of the split is held open by placing a piece of hardwood to act as a wedge. Finally, the exposed piece of branch is dusted with rooting powder and wrapped in moistened peat moss, coconut coir or similar and sealed in polyethylene sheeting. Marcotted branches usually develop roots in 4–12 months. once an adequate root system has developed, the branches are severed from the tree and potted. Planting Nutmeg trees should be planted in an area with adequate shade to protect the young trees while they establish. Shading is commonly achieved by intercropping with other crops such as cocoa or banana. Marcots are planted in holes which are approximately 60 × 60 cm (24 × 24 in). Composted manure is worked into the soil and the trees are set in the holes. Stakes are used to protect the newly planted trees. Harvesting Fruits are harvested when they are open by using a blade attached to the end of a long pole. A basket is also attached to the end of the pole such that when the fruit is cut from the tree with the blade, it drops into the basket. Seeds may also be collected from the ground after they have dropped from the tree but this encourages crop losses through disease.