Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), a common kitchen spice with a warming, spicy energy, is used to add flavor to desserts and hot drinks. Called jaiphala in Ayurveda and rou dou kou in TCM, nutmeg is a well-known remedy for diarrhea in both these herbal systems, but lesser known is its usefulness in cases of insomnia. In fact, it is one of the best – if not the best – treatment for insomnia I’ve ever seen.
Nutmeg for Insomnia
Nowadays, perhaps because of late-night TV, social upheaval, and stress of keeping afloat, it is estimated that 1 out of 4, or about 60 million people suffer from lack of sleep due to insomnia. Many times simple popular herbal remedies such as valerian, passion flower, skullcap, or Zizyphus seed (suan zao ren) are used for insomnia and are often effective. But when these herbs do not work, many turn to over-the-counter or doctor-prescribed sleeping pills, which can cause serious problems. Before going that route, the sleepless might first try nutmeg.
Nutmeg is especially useful for people who tend to awaken too early or in the middle of the night. There are various ways it can be taken. The simplest is to take a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg powder before retiring. Better yet, add it to a small glass of warm milk and honey.
The sedating action of nutmeg begins after a predictable delay of three and a half to five hours depending on the individual. Those who take it at a dose of a quarter to a half teaspoon will generally get eight hours sleep.
In Pakistan, nutmeg is combined with poppy seeds for insomnia. The poppy is well known for its sedative properties, and Western herbalists have recently taken to using California poppy which has mild sedative effects for insomnia.
Important Safety Considerations for Dosage of Nutmeg
Like all herbs, nutmeg is safe when used in appropriate dosage. The safe dosage of the powder ranges from a pinch (literally as much as you can grab of the powder between your first three fingers) to a teaspoon (about 2g). Nutmeg contains myristicin which strengthens the effect of tryptamine and moderately inhibits monoamine oxidases. Overdose can cause emesis, headache, tachycardia and dry mouth. Five tablespoons can be lethal. In an appropriate dose and a balanced formula, however, it is very safe.
Nutmeg for Anxiety
Nutmeg is also very useful for anxiety. Insomnia and anxiety are both Vata, or nervous system, imbalances in Ayurveda. Ayurveda teaches that cold and dry natured foods and herbs aggravate Vata. Nutmeg is hot and works very well for individuals who suffer from insomnia, anxiety and cold, deficiency conditions. While its calming and sedative properties will be effective for all, it might be a good idea to balance it in a formula combined synergistically with jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi), brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), and ashwagandha.
Herbalist K.P. Khalsa recommends taking 500-1000 mg of nutmeg three times daily with the last dose being before bed. This is effective both for anxiety and insomnia.
Nutmeg for Intimacy
Once more relaxed, the mind can turn to intimate leisure activity. Perhaps nutmeg’s sedative quality played a part in why it was supposedly taken by kings as an aphrodisiac. Nutmeg can be an equally beneficial aphrodisiac for women especially when combined with shatavari (Asparagus racemosus). Men looking to reap its aprhodisiac qualities can combine it with another Ayurvedic herb, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).
Herbalists tend to limit themselves to a small range of sedative herbs for nervousness and insomnia. Nutmeg is a step stronger and may be just what needed for in these anxious, troubled times.
For more information on nutmeg, see The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs which I co-authored with Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Published by Lotus Press.