Cloves are the dried spike-like flower buds from an evergreen tree native to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, historically known as the Spice Islands. Along with nutmeg, also exclusive to this region, clove was one of the commodities exchanged along famous trade routes of early civilizations.
Clove was once a very lucrative spice to grow commercially and thus the subject of much rivalry between sultans and other merchant countries in an attempt to secure private rights to clove growing locations, such as the island of Ternate.
Whole clove and clove powder are now utilized in many parts of the world for its penetrating aroma and unique pungent spicy flavorful taste profile. Its versatility as a spice ingredient in both sweet and savory foods make it popular in the cuisine and desserts of many cultures.
Cloves, also called "clove buds", are actually the dried unopened flower bud of the Syzygium aromaticum evergreen tree species that grows in warm humid tropical climate zones.
Growing in clusters at the end of the tree’s branches, they are harvested when green or after they turn a rosy peach to crimson color. Clove buds are then dried in the sun for about 3 days when they will harden and turn a dark reddish-brown color.
The anatomy of a dried clove bud includes a stem that separates into four sepals. These surround four unopened overlapping petals which form a central light-brown ball.
Dried clove buds have a very concentrated amount of oil content with ovoid oil glands running up the calyx to the pod. This gives ground clove a slightly oily texture, similar to cumin powder.
The main oil-derived compound is known as EUGENOL. This is a substance present in other herbs and spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, basil and bay leaf. Clove bud oil is estimated to contain a concentration of 70–90% eugenol, which is far higher than any other spice.
This is mostly what accounts for clove's intensely aromatic fragrance and distinct flavor. It is considered the major medicinal constituent.
The health-enhancing attributes of eugenol and other chemical compounds found in clove buds have been studied for their potent antioxidant and antimicrobial actions, potentially helpful for boosting immune response and warding off disease-causing microbes.
Clove is believed to support healthy respiration with properties as an expectorant and decongestant. Also useful for assisting immune functions when on the verge of a cold or flu, chewing on a clove is likewise a popular folk remedy for a sore throat.
It can be consumed as a tea, tincture, encapsulated powder or in an herbal preparation such as a syrup or throat spray.
Historically speaking, cloves and clove oil have long been
utilized for their immune protecting influence. An ingredient in the
famed herbal concoction called "Four Thieves Vinegar", which was originally
developed in Marseille, France during the medieval period to offer
protection against the plague.
Likewise, clove was one of the strongly scented herbs, along with juniper berry, mint, camphor and rosemary, stuffed into beak-like masks worn by plague doctors when treating patients.
Clove also has a long-standing use as a natural food preservative for its antimicrobial qualities.
Clove, when burned as a type of incense, is believed to ward off evil spirits in many Indonesian traditions.
In a similar fashion, clove powders are frequently used today in herbal formulations to help expel intestinal parasites and reduce candida yeast overgrowth in the gut microbiome. As a dietary supplement, it has been reported to inhibit worms, food-borne pathogens, viruses and bacterial infections.
Clove powders are often used in herbal supplements with other antiparasitic herbs like wormwood and black walnut hulls to increase overall effectiveness.
When used for a common parasite or candida infection, it is often recommended to simultaneously take a good quality probiotic supplement to replenish healthy intestinal microbiota and of course adhere to a low-sugar dietary protocol.
One of the lesser-known uses of clove powder is as a warming herbal stimulant due to its energizing effects on the circulatory system. This impact also goes hand in hand with its influence as a mild libido-enhancing aphrodisiac. Used for centuries in folk traditions for encouraging sexual vitality, there has been some evidence that extracts of Syzygium aromaticum can increase sexual behavior in rats tested.
In Ayurveda, clove or "laung" is considered a digestive aid for increasing digestive fire and improving digestion of meals. As a carminative, it can assist with common disorders like bloating, nausea and gas. This is especially the case for pacifying Kapha and Vata constitutions or conditions when cold or stagnant issues persist. Commonly, powdered clove with honey is taken after meals or as a tea infusion.
Probably one of the most well-known uses of clove is as an emergency home remedy to relieve a toothache. This is because the eugenol compound in cloves provides analgesic and anti-inflammatory attributes. (*)
Topical application of clove powder or clove essential oil temporarily numbs the pain and is a good one to have handy in your medicinal first aid arsenal in such instances if immediate dental assistance is not available.
Eugenol, as an antimicrobial with powerful antiseptic properties, is great for general oral hygiene and healthy gums and teeth. Chewing on a whole clove can be used to clean the mouth and freshen the breath. Clove powder is likewise often added to homemade tooth powders for the same reason.
For Culinary Uses:
Clove powder and whole cloves are a staple spice used in the cuisines on almost every continent. In Indian cooking, clove is popular in garam masala, curries, chutneys and chai tea.
Because of their very intense taste, they are used sparingly as a flavor enhancer in many dishes and desserts.
They are frequently used with other East Indian spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cumin, turmeric and ginger. In the Chinese five spice powder blend, clove powder is mixed with cinnamon, fennel seeds, star anise and peppercorn.
Clove is a popular spice ingredient traditionally used during the U.S. holiday season in eggnog, pumpkin pie spice, mulled wine, gingerbread, applesauce and baked into hams.
It is also utilized in preserves and when pickling or fermented vegetables. Whole cloves have a hard unpleasant to eat texture, so when used in recipes they are usually picked out or used in a muslin bag for easy removal.
For Medicinal Purposes:
Clove can be used in small amounts as a dietary supplement or as tea infusion. It is also a popular ingredient in homemade tooth powders, throat sprays and cough syrups. It is best to use clove periodically not on a regular basis when using it in therapeutic doses.
Clove essential oil is always mixed with a carrier oil for topical application and should never be used internally unless guided by a qualified health professional.