Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Nutmeg Folklore & Magical Uses

It’s the time of year when Trader Joes brings out their Wassail Punch. I don’t really drink fruit juices straight, but I like ’em for flavoring water kefir. This one’s blend of fruit and spices makes the end result taste like cola, which is pretty neat.

(Cola is one of those flavors that isn’t really meant to taste like anything in particular. It’s spices. It’s citrus. It’s all kinds of things that add up to one immediately recognizable taste.)

Anyhow, one of the key flavors in Wassail Punch (and probably cola, to be honest), is nutmeg. It’s one of those things that I can immediately recognize when I taste it but am completely unable to remember on its own. It’s like… a clove- and cinnamon-less pumpkin pie? I guess?

It was also one of those most precious substances in the world for a while, and a nearly invaluable magical ingredient.

Nutmeg Magical Properties and Folklore

Nutmeg is a spice that comes from an evergreen tree, Myristica fragrans, native to Indonesia. It’s a weird seed, too — it grows inside of a fruit similar to an apricot, surrounded by an aril that looks kind of like a flat, fleshy spider or extremely underachieving facehugger. The dried aril is the source of the spice mace. The seed itself is the nutmeg.

An image of a ripe nutmeg fruit. The outside resembles an apricot, which has split to reveal the mace-covered nutmeg inside.

It takes a long time for nutmeg trees to bear fruit, though they can do so for several decades after that. Since the spice is native to such a small geographic area, an absolutely horrific amount of bloodshed happened in the name of obtaining it, farming it, and keeping anyone else from getting a hold of it. The Dutch tortured and killed the native people of Indonesia in order to control the nutmeg trade. They also tried their damnedest to keep the English and French from sneaking any viable seeds out of the country, by dipping the nutmegs in lime to keep them from sprouting.

People used to joke (inaccurately) about Manhattan being traded for glass beads. The Dutch really did trade Manhattan to the English for some sugar and nutmeg. For real, nutmegs were so valuable that traders would mix a handful of wooden replica nutmegs in with the real ones in order to dupe their customers.

A whole nutmeg, hollowed and filled with mercury, sealed with wax, and wrapped in a green cloth, is considered a powerful charm for luck in games of chance. (You can skip the mercury poisoning by just carrying a whole nutmeg. It’s fine. Really.)

Wrap a whole nutmeg in purple cloth, and it’s said to help you win court cases.

All forms of nutmeg are considered useful for money magic. Nutmeg oil is a common ingredient in money oils, while the powdered stuff is helpful in sachet and sprinkling powders.

Money and luck aren’t nutmeg’s only properties, however. An old spell from Louisiana involves sprinkling nutmeg in a woman’s shoe to get her to fall for you. Food and drinks flavored with nutmeg were also used as love potions.

Whole nutmegs covered in mace.

Ground nutmeg was used as incense in ancient Rome.

One old remedy for rheumatism involved boiling nutmegs and cooling the resulting liquid. The nutmegs’ natural fats rise to the surface and cool, forming a solid layer. This is skimmed off and used as a topical balm. Nutmeg is a warming spice, so this would help encourage circulation and relieve some of the pain caused by cold weather aches.

Nutmeg can make you trip balls. This is not code language.
This spice is a hallucinogen, courtesy of a compound known as myristicin. Unfortunately, you have to consume a lot to feel the effects, at which point you’re putting yourself at risk of nutmeg poisoning. “A lot” is relative here — about 10 grams (two or so teaspoons) of ground nutmeg is about to trigger symptoms of toxicity. It’s not that much, but still way more than you’d typically use in cooking. Nutmeg poisoning is pretty awful, too. While I wasn’t able to find any stories of nutmeg-based fatalities, the cases I did find mentioned nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations, fatigue, confusion, and seizures. Yikes.

Nutmeg is associated with the element of Air, the suit of Swords in tarot, and the planets Jupiter and Mercury.

Using Nutmeg

The easiest way to use nutmeg is to make your favorite autumn or winter recipe that uses this spice for flavoring. Use a wooden or metal spoon to prepare it and stir it with your dominant hand. As you do this, picture energy coming up from the Earth, down from the sky, and running through your arm, down your hand, into the spoon, and finally into the food or beverage itself. Ask the nutmeg for help with whatever you want it to do, whether that’s getting laid or making some money. Pretty easy, bog-standard kitchen witchery, really.

Whole nutmeg seeds, a nutmeg grater, and a little pile of ground nutmeg.

You can also use nutmeg by just… carrying it. As mentioned previously, whole nutmegs are a charm for luck and money. Wrap them in an appropriately colored cloth, anoint them with a suitable magical oil, ask them for their assistance, then keep them on you. When they get old and lose their potency, retire them by burying them in the soil and make a new charm with a fresh nutmeg.

You can also use nutmeg for meditation. I wouldn’t rely on it to induce a trance state, but drinking some warm milk flavored with honey and nutmeg can be a pleasant way to begin some meditative or journeying work. Just don’t use too much — the vast majority of nutmeg poisonings are from kids who eat it to get high and end up spending the night dizzy and throwing up instead.

Nutmegs are also good additions to charm bags or jar spells for money or luck. They’re very nice, potent, self-contained magical ingredients. If you have an assemblage of herbs, curios, and other tools, why not throw in a nutmeg? If you can’t afford a whole one, sprinkle in some of the ground stuff instead.

Nutmeg is a spice with a dark history (I mean, most of them have dark histories. Thanks, colonialism!). It’s preciousness as an incense and culinary ingredient has tied it to the concepts of luck and money, so you’ll most commonly see it in spells for financial abundance and good fortune. If you’re not a kitchen witch, a sprinkle of nutmeg can be a good place to start. If you need to practice magic discreetly, you really can’t go wrong with tucking a whole nutmeg in your bag or pocket.

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