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First brought to Europe from the Banda Islands by Portuguese sailors in 1512, nutmeg gained the reputation of a cure-all and was widely eaten as a tonic. It was even taken erroneously to procure abortions and was claimed as a cure for the plague. Known as rou dou kou in China, it has been used there since the 7th century.

The Malays believe that nutmeg trees will not bear unless they can hear the sea and the trees must be fed with animal food. The beliefs are corroborated by the fact that trees grown near the sea and fed with animal food actually do produce the finest fruits.