Home >> Cyclopedia Of India, Volume 2 >> Number to Or New Guinea >> Nutmeg


mace, banda, wild, nut, fruit, tree, nutmegs, islands, lime and seed


The nutmeg of commerce is from the Myristica moschata, a tree from 20 to 25 feet high, but other species produce aromatic fruits, supposed to be mixed with the true nutmeg ; amongst which may be named the M. tomentosa, Thunb., M. parviflora, M. peltata, and M. spicata, Roxb. M. moschata is the only one of which the nut or mace is of any value, and its geographical limits are compre hended between long. 126° and 135° E., and lat. 3° N. and 7° S. It is, or has been, found wild in the proper Moluccas, in Gilolo, Ceram, Amboyna, Boeroe, Damma, the N. and S. sides of the Western Peninsula of New Guinea, and in all its adjacent islands. It certainly does not exist in its wild state in any of the islands W. of these, nor in any of the Philippines. Wherever the soil and climate are suitable for its growth, the aromatic nutmeg is raised with great facility. It is even transported to remote parts, and two species of pigeon, Columba perspicillata and C. senea, which prey on the nut meg (as the wood-pigeons on the acorn), feed on mace, and drop the nut, have spread it from the 11Zitrogas to New Guinea.

The has been spread over Asia, Africa, and the West Indies, but the nutmeg tree rarely flourishes out of the Malay Archipelago, except as an exotic, all attempts to introduce it largely into other tropical countries having de cidedly failed. The island of Ternate, which is in about the same latitude as Singapore, is said to have been the spot where it was truly indigenous, but no doubt the tree is to be found on most of the Moluccas. The Dutch, in 1632, removed the plantations from Ternate to the Banda Isles for better surveillance, where they still remain and flourish. It was cultivated in Penang with little success, and is to be found in Ceylon and the west coast of India. In the Banda Isles no further attention is paid to its cultivation than setting out the plants in parks, under the shade of large forest trees, with long horizontal branches, called Canari by the natives. There it attains a height of 50 feet and upwards.

In its native country the nutmeg tree comes into full bearing in its ninth year, and lives to 75. In shape and size, the ripe fruit resembles a nectarine. It consists, first, of an outer fleshy covering called the pericarp, which, when mature, separates into nearly equal longitudinal parts or valves ; secondly, of the aril' or mace, which, when recent, is of a bright scarlet colour ; and, thirdly, of the seed proper or nutmeg. This is enclosed in a shell, which is made of two coats ; the outer is hard and smooth, the inner, thin, closely invests the seed, sending off prolongations which enter the substance of the seed, and which, being coloured, impart the marbled or mottled appearance characteristic of nutmeg.

The mace amounts to about one-fifth part of the weight of the whole dried fruit. These two articles, the nut and mace, constitute the spices which for so many ages have been in request among the nations of Europe and Asia, although never used as a condiment by the inhabitants of the countries that produce it. It is a dicecious

plant, having the male pale yellow flowers upon one tree, and female or fertile flowers upon another.

In the Banda Islands the principal gathering is in July or August, the second in November, and the third in March or April. The fruit is gathered by means of a barb attached to a long stick ; the mace is separated from the nut, and separately cured. On account of their liability to the attacks of the nutmeg insect, they should be dried in their shells, as they are then secure from the insect. They are placed on hurdles, and smoke-dried over a slow wood fire for about two months. In the Banda Islands they are first dried in the sun for a few days. When the operation of drying is com plete, the nuts rattle in their shells ; these 'are cracked with mallets, and the damaged, shrivelled, or worm-eaten nuts removed. To prevent the attacks of the insect, the nuts are frequently limed. The Dutch lime them by dipping them into a thick mixture of lime and water, but this process is considered to injure their flavour. Others lime them by rubbing them with recently prepared, well-sifted lime. This process is some times practised in London. For the British mar ket, however, the brown or unlimed nutmegs are preferred.

The extremely limited consumption of nutmegs and mace, and of the latter especially, over the world, perhaps ever will check any permanently large progressive increase of these spices. The Dutch confined the cultivation of the nutmeg, when they got possession of the Moluccas from the Portuguese in the end of 1598, to Lonthoir or Great Banda, Banda Neira, and Pulo Aye. The produce has ever been subject to great fluctua tions, owing to various causes, the most prominent of which were the eruptions of volcanoes and earthquakes. In 1772 a hurricane nearly annihi lated the plantations, and in 1811 a.severe storm destroyed much fruit. High winds frequently diminish the crops greatly, and sulphureous vapours sometimes blast the trees.

The wild nutmeg from the M. tomentosa has scarcely any flavour or odour. The seeds of M. fatua are about half as long again as the true or round nutmeg ; they are paler and less aromatic. At the Madras Exhibition of 1855 fine samples of nutmegs were sent by General Cullen from his gardens, Velley Malay, near Oodagherry, south of Travancore, 1890 feet above the sea. Two sorts of nutmegs were exhibited by C. S. Vernede, Esq., commercial agent to the Cochin Government. A wild or spurious nutmeg was also forwarded from the Baba Booden Hills, Mysore, and from Canara ; it is much used as a substitute for the true spice, but is almost wholly devoid of aroma, and of no interest. A wild nutmeg grows in Damma, Am boyna, Ceram, Obi, New Guinea, Gilolo, of an elliptical shape, 1 inch or 1+ inch long. Acrodi clidium camara, Schomb., yields a fruit known as the Camara, also Aekani nutmeg of Guiana ; the clove nutmeg and the Brazil nutmeg. The calabash nutmeg is from the Moreodora my ristica. Pyrrhosis. Horsfieldii, Blume, also yields a wild nutmeg.