Faced with the bucket and hose offcut-based toilet facilities of her tiny ferry cabin, Joanna Lumley smiled where most people would baulk. “It’s enchanting,” she said.

It was the first of many horrors covered in Joanna Lumley’s Spice Trail Adventure (ITV1, 5 June, 9pm), but the only one the national treasure could so readily gloss over.

Because the story of the spice trade is really the story of colonisation and European empire building. First traded in the sixth century, nutmeg – the focus of the first episode of this four-parter – was considered a “wonder drug”, a “fabled cure for the Black Death”, an aphrodisiac, and mild hallucinogenic. It carried a 60,000% mark-up in the west – so little wonder the English, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch all sought claim to the tiny Indonesian islands of Banda, where it was exclusively grown. By the 17th century, the “world revolved around these tiny islands” Lumley explained.

Soon the Dutch wanted the islands for itself. Ninety per cent of the local population were killed in the attack. “It was genocide and all in the name of greed,” Lumley said.

As well as dipping into the bloody history of nutmeg, the Ab Fab star also visited the island’s growers, picked some for herself – “looks like something from Alien” – and observed the drying process.

Although little of the spice’s onward journey to supermarket shelves was covered, Lumley confessed a newfound respect for the ingredient – one viewers couldn’t help but share. As she said: “This little thing changed the history of the world.”