Called ‘Ehuru ofia’ in Igbo language, ‘Gujiya dan miya’ in Hausa and ‘Ariwo’ in Yoruba, African nutmeg (Monodora myristica) is a perennial plant that belongs to the family of Annonaceae and its seeds are an aromatic spice that acts as a local nutmeg substitute.
The origin of the African nutmeg can be traced to African countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Liberia, Cameroon, Angola, and Tanzania. It was later introduced to the Caribbean and other places.
Different countries have different names for the African nutmeg such as calabash nutmeg, ‘awerewa’, Jamaican nutmeg, ‘ehiri’, ‘airama’, ‘lubushi’, Ghana seeds or orchid nutmeg.
Ehuru seeds tree can attain a height of 35m and 2m in diameter with horizontal branches, the leaves are oblong in shape with a size of approximately 44 x 20cm. The leaves of African nutmeg are firstly purplish in colour before changing into greenish colour. The leaves are characteristically veined in nature.
The sepals are crisply red-spotted in appearance and the corolla comprises of six petals with curled margins and yellowish/reddish/green spots.
On maturation, the fruits are collected from the trees for the seeds to be dried and stored before usage. No part of the African nutmeg is a waste, while the aromatic fragrance of the seeds makes it suitable for spicing assorted food types such as vegetables, confections, sausages, sauces, meats and puddings etc, the leaves can serve as manure when decayed while the tree can be cut and used as firewood or for carpentry.
The seeds have an aromatic taste and odour that is similar to that of nutmeg, which makes it a popular West African spice. The aroma and taste tend to be stronger if the ehuru seeds are moderately roasted before usage.
Asides using African nutmeg spicing meals and preparing dishes such as goat meat pepper soup, goat meat stew, ‘Isi Ewu’, ‘Abacha ‘ (African salad), etc, it is used to relieve constipation, mild fever and control passive bleeding from the womb immediately after childbirth.
African nutmeg is rich in potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, zinc, copper, magnesium and vital B-complex vitamins, including vitamin C, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A and many flavonoid anti-oxidants that are essential for optimum health.
Studies have also shown that intake of African nutmeg helps in better intellectual performance (brain booster), controls heartbeat and blood pressure, treats kidney infections and dissolves kidney stones, increases sexual desire, treats insomnia (sleeplessness) and removes bad breath.
In traditional medicine practice, especially in many African countries, the African nutmeg is widely used to relieve a toothache, dysentery, dermatitis, headache and also serve as worm expeller.
So, when next you develop diarrhoea, that age-long cooking spice may be the way out. In fact, a new study titled, In vitro anti-sickling effects of nutmeg, has added African nutmeg to the list of food items that can help alleviate problems associated with sickle cell disease.
Other uses of African nutmeg include the treatment of body aches, chest pains and rashes due to river blindness and leprosy.
The pulp of the ehuru seeds contains essential oil such as; dipentene, pinene and camphene. These types of oil can be used industrially for manufacturing perfumes, soaps and washing detergents. The oil can also be used as cooking oil.
Having considered all the health benefits, it is pertinent to point out that African nutmeg should be taken in moderation because excessive intake can be harmful to the body.