Derived from the word species, the name spice was applied to groups of exotic food products in the Middle Ages. Prized since antiquity, spices are coveted as culinary seasoning and for their medicinal properties by cultures around the world. Spices have a long history of being used as not only medicinal drugs but also as pleasure drugs. Ancient cultures, such as the Greeks, Chinese, Egyptians and Persians, believed that certain spices had hallucinogenic and aphrodisiac effects.
Nutmeg is an aromatic spice used in cooking and for medicinal purposes. The spice is made from the seed of an apricot-like fruit that grows on nutmeg, or Myristica fragrans, trees cultivated in the Spice Islands. Nutmeg reached the height of its popularity as a spice between the 15th and 17th centuries in Europe. The essential oils myristicin and elemicin in nutmeg give the spice minor hallucinogenic properties. Nutmeg can only induce a hallucinogenic effect when taken in large amounts. Medicinally, nutmeg is used to aid digestion and to treat nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Taken in too large of quantities, the essential oils in nutmeg are toxic and possibly fatal. In smaller quantities, nutmeg is a traditional aphrodisiac.
The spice mace has a similar flavour to nutmeg and is made from the outer covering of the nutmeg shell. Although the spices come from the same plant, mace is more expensive due to lower-yield volume. Mace is more potent then nutmeg and is often used as a nutmeg substitute in lesser quantities. Like nutmeg, mace contains the essential oils myristicin and elemicin and are mildly hallucinogenic in large quantities. Historically, mace was used to aid digestion, stimulate appetite, relieve nausea and treat aches and pains.
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world by weight. Handpicked from the dried stigmas of the saffron flower, it takes about 150,000 to 200,000 flowers to yield one kilogram of saffron spice. Saffron has seasoned food, flavoured wine, coloured dye and infused perfume since ancient times. The spice also was widely used for medicinal purposes. Ancient cultures believed saffron had healing and hallucinogenic effects on humans. Also an alleged mood elevator, saffron is thought to cause euphoria and act as an aphrodisiac.
- UCLA History and Special Collections Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library: What is a Spice?
- UCLA History and Special Collections Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library: Nutmeg and Mace
- Spiceskerala.com: Uses of Nutmeg
- UCLA History and Special Collections Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library: Spices as Aphrodisiacs
- GreekProducts.com: About Saffron
- Plant-Talk.org: Spain: Crocus -- Banking the World's Most Expensive Spice