Pharmacognosy and Benefits of Nutmeg and Mace


Nutmeg and Mace both are widely used in Indian and Indonesian cooking and folk medicine. Nutmeg is commonly known as nux moschata or Jaiphal in Hindi. They were earlier used for the treatment of rheumatism and gastric disorder as well as a hypnotic and an aphrodisiac. The aromatic oils present in nutmeg have made nutmeg useful as a flavoring agent. Mace has a slightly stronger flavor (sweet, very spicy and warm) compared to nutmeg. Myristicin which is present in 4-8% concentrations in nutmeg is responsible for the hallucinogenic properties of the drug.

Nutmeg and Mace

Biological Source Nutmeg: Dried kernels of the seeds of Myristica fragrans
Mace: Dried aril of Myristica fragrans
Family Myristicaceae
Geographical Source Just like Clove, Nutmeg is also native to Molucca Islands of Indonesia, but is now cultivated in  India, Ceylon,Malaysia and Grenada (West Indies). Indonesia has the major share market for production and export of nutmeg.
Morphology/Macroscopical Characters
  • Nutmeg and mace both are obtained from the evergreen nutmeg tree which is about 10-20 m high.
  • Nutmegs are obtained from the nutmeg apple fruit produced by the tree. On ripening, the fruit splits to expose a red, fleshy net like aril wrapped around a shell containing the nut. This nut is removed and dried to obtain nutmeg and the dried aril yields the spice mace having a similar flavor as nutmeg.
  • Ground nutmeg is tan in color where as mace has an orange hue.
  • Nutmeg are ovular in shape with a length of 2-3 cm and around 2 cm broad.
  • It is brown-greyish brown in color with a strong aromatic odor and a bitter pungent taste.
  • Microscopic Characters
  • The outer perisperm is made from radially flattened cells containing brownish contents
  • Prismatic or disc-shaped crystals of potassium tartarate may be observed.
  • Inner perisperm exihibits extensive lamellae made of parenchymatous cells (thin brown walled) and oval oil cells. The outer part of the lamellae is composed lignified spiral vessels.
  • Endosperm is made of thin brown cell walled parenchymatous cells containing 2-10 starch grains. These starch grains can be up to 22μm in diameter, irregular or globular in shape and sometimes with a slit-like hilum.
  • Aleurone grains can also be observed within the endosperm- sometimes large enough to have a well-defined crystalloid shape or feathery crystals of fat.
  • The endosperm may also contain a few tannins.
  • Chemistry Nutmeg contains the following:

  • Fixed oils (20-40%) also called as Nutmeg Butter– contains myristic acid and glycerides of lauric, tridecanoic, stearic and plamitic acids.
  • Volatile oil or Essential oils (5-15%) containing d-camphene, dipentene, myristicin, elemicin, isoelimicin, safrole, eugenol, isoeugenol and small amounts of others. The color of this oil varies from colorless to slight yellow. Myristicin present is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor and thus has pyschoactive properties.
  • Starch, protein, saponin, catechins are also present.
  • Mace and mace oil have the same constituents as nutmeg and nutmeg oil but with a higher concentration of myristicin and less amount of fixed oil.
  • Structure of Eugenol and Myristicin

    Structures of Eugenol and Myristicin

    Chemical Tests Thin layer chromatography (TLC) has been used to identify nutmeg constituents. Also to determine safrole and myristicin in the nut and aril high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) has been performed. Active constituents (Eugenol and Isoeugenol) have been quantitatively determined.

    The outer perisperm cells have brownish contents which are insoluble in potassium hydroxide and chloral hydrate.

    The plant will also be positive for the test for tannins.

    Adulterants/Allied drugs/ Substitutes Allied drugs:

  • Papua nutmeg derived from Myristica argentea which are longer than Myristica fragrans with a uniform and scurfy surface and have a faint odour and unpleasant taste.
  • Bombay nutmegs derived from Myristica malabarica which are very narrow and long as well as the characteristic odour is missing from the drug.
  • Uses
  • Nutmeg and mace have various uses like flavoring agents and as carminatives. They are used as flavoring agents in many cuisines all over the world.
  • Also useful in infantile diarrhea, other gastric disorders and mouth sores.
  • They have also gained usefulness as a larvicidal agent.
  • The fat (Nutmeg butter) present in nutmeg has commercial use in soaps and perfumes.
  • Eugenol present in nutmeg makes it a good constituent for toothache relief.
  • Other Notes (life cycle, extraction etc.) _
    Adverse reactions Myristicin present in nutmeg may be responsible for the hallucinogenic effects seen. In higher doses, it is harmful to humans and may even cause convulsions.


    1. Trease and Evans’ Pharmacognosy, 16e (Evans, Trease and Evans Pharmacognosy)
      Elsevier: New York, 2009.
    2. Ara DerMarderosian, et. al. The Review of Natural Products 4th Edition.
    3. Kokate, C. K.; Gokhale, S. B.; Purohit, A. P. A textbook of Pharmacognosy, 29th ed.; Nirali Prakashan: Pune, 2009.

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