One of the legendary and historically desirable spices of the South Seas, Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) is a seed wrapped in red lacy Mace – another important spice. Unlike Mace, however, Nutmeg can be poisonous if ingested in large quantities. The reason is Myristicin, a natural insecticide that has both psychoactive and toxic properties. The problem with the former is that they go hand in hand with the latter.
(image via: Wikipedia/TheBrockenInaGlory)
Only two fatalities have been ascribed to Nutmeg in the modern age – an 8-year-old child and a 55-year-old-man – though the spice has a long and enduring history as a “semi-drug” in both the East and West. Those who have experienced nutmeg intoxication report a host of very unpleasant effects including loss of coordination and extreme paranoia. Nutmeg can also be toxic to animals; one reason why one should avoid including their pets when toasting the season with mugs of traditionally-prepared eggnog.
Brazil Nuts are at once a boon to human health and a threat to it on multiple levels, though an extreme amount of nuts (seeds, actually) must be ingested to produce harmful effects. The nuts are one of the richest natural sources of Selenium, associated with a reduced risk of both breast cancer and prostate cancer. Six to eight nuts provides 10 times the adult U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance for this essential trace element, however.
(image via: The Straight Dope)
Brazil Nuts also contain high concentrations (2 to 6% of dry weight) of Phytic Acid, which has been shown to prevent the absorption of nutrients including iron. They also naturally contain small amounts of radioactive Radium, and by “small” we mean approximately 1,000 times higher than other foods. This is a result of mature Brazil Nut trees being 500 to 1,000 years old and having enormously extensive root systems. But hey, there are benefits in moderation and if you enjoy Brazil Nuts go ahead and knock yourself out… not literally, of course, though there HAS been one death attributable to a large Brazil Nut fruit falling from a tree and striking a 68-year-old pedestrian on the head. That’s just nuts.