Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Herbs and Spices - Nutmeg

Part four of my Christmas Herbs and Spices series is about nutmeg. Where does this little nut come from? Sometimes we just use different plants, trees, and herbs in our gardens and kitchen and never give a thought to how it got to us. Well, nutmeg has quite a story.

We know that as early as the 700's monks were sprinkling this aromatic spice on their pease pudding. The Elizabethans thought it could ward off the plague, and since that was a major problem of the times, it was very popular.

But how did they get it in the first place? The Banda Islands were the only known source of nutmeg in the world. Later it was discovered also on Run Island. Traded by the Arabs and sold to the Venetians, like cinnamon, the location of the crop was kept a secret and no European was able to discover it.
Finally, in the 17th century The Dutch were able to control the trade on Run Island, struggling regularly with the British and after giving the British New Amsterdam (New York) in exchange for peace.

The Dutch continued their control over the Banda Islands with a military campaign that ended in a massacre of the inhabitants in 1621. But once again the British took temporary control and succeeded in planting trees on their holdings of Zanzibar and Grenada. Today, Grenada's flag shows a spit-open nutmeg fruit.

So that's only a small part of the history of nutmeg. Enjoy it and use it freely but the next time you sprinkle some of that fantastic nutmeg on your eggnog, or mulled cider, or mulled wine, pies and cookies, remember the struggle it took to get to this point in history where we can now easily acquire nutmeg whenever we wish.

Don't forget to visit An Herbal Bedfellow for healthy recipes made with herbs, and also my newest blog:
Happenstance House -- A journal about my Victorian home and all of it's contents.


The Quintessential Magpie said...

Amazing facts, Jane Marie! I love nutmeg. It is an amazing spice.


Sheila :-)

Nell Jean said...

One of the big box stores had a display the other day of little boxes containing a small shaker of nutmeg and ginger, a larger shaker of cinnamon and a small bottle of vanila flavoring. Later I thought of what a lovely little present those would make, now that I'm 60 miles from the store! Fresh spices and some real vanilla -- what a treat!