Nutmeg is the seed or ground spice of several species of the genus Myristica. Myristica fragrans (fragrant nutmeg or true nutmeg) is a dark-leaved evergreen tree that is cultivated for two spices—nutmeg and mace—derived from its fruit. The spice has a distinctive, pungent fragrance and a warm, slightly sweet taste that is used to flavor many types of sweet and spicy food all over the world. Today nutmeg is found in baked goods, confections, puddings, potatoes, meats, sausages, vegetables and beverages such as eggnog. In Indonesian cuisine, nutmeg is used in mostly spicy soups and gravies. In Indian cuisine, it is used in many sweet and savory dishes including meats and desserts. In European cuisine, nutmeg is used in potato and meat dishes, in addition to soups, sauces and baked goods. In the Caribbean, it is often used in drinks such as the Bushwacker, the Painkiller and in Barbados rum punch.
Until the mid-19th century, the Spice Islands of Indonesia was the only location of the production of nutmeg in the world. It is known to have been a prized and costly spice used in European medieval cuisine as a flavoring, medicinal and preservative agent. Nutmeg was known as a valuable commodity by Muslim sailors from the port of Basra and was traded by Arabs during the Middle Ages.
In the 19th century, nutmeg was thought to be a substance that induces abortion, and this led to numerous recorded cases of nutmeg poisoning. Historically, grated nutmeg was used as a sachet, and the Romans used it as incense. Although it was used as a folk treatment for some ailments, nutmeg has no proven medicinal value. In large doses, raw nutmeg does have psychoactive effects.