Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) is one of the most loved and well-utilized spices in the entire world. Its distinct sweet and spicy aroma lends dishes and pastries a unique depth in flavor that you can pinpoint once you take a bite.
But while cloves are usually relished for their taste and fragrance, they are also packed with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are absolutely essential for the body. Learn more about this spice — its history, health benefits and the various uses it has in the culinary and medicinal world.
What Are Cloves and Where Do They Come From?
Cloves are the dried flower buds of the Syzygium aromaticum tree, an evergreen that grows up to about 30 feet. Its name originates from the Latin word "clavus," which means "nail," because of the shaft and head that it closely resembles.1 Syzygium aromaticum trees usually grow in warm and humid climates, typically in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Brazil. In the current trade of cloves, Tanzania leads the market, producing about 80 percent of the world's clove supply.2
Like other spices, the story of how cloves were distributed throughout the world spans over hundreds of years, starting with the establishment of the trade routes. Together with pepper, cinnamon and hazelnut, cloves were among the spices that were highly sought-after in both Europe and the Americas, especially by noblemen. These four spices were known to be the "Big Four" because of their rarity and value.3
In the Moluccas, or the Spice Islands, clove spice trees were used to represent the lives of each child born into a family, an important symbolism that reflected their children's survival. When the Portuguese and the Dutch learned of the existence of spices, they sought to control the monopoly of the trade. This led to the Dutch burning down clove trees to raise its price, which then triggered numerous wars and battles against the locals.4
However, the high demand for the spice eventually died down once the spices were successfully cultivated in other parts of the world.5 While cloves are now easily available in the market and don't require the 1,000-mile journey to reach our shores, the spice remains as one of the most expensive spices in the world, placing fourth behind saffron, vanilla and cardamom. Because of its numerous health benefits and medicinal uses, it's a wise decision to invest in a small container of cloves to use for your food and in your home.6
Gain These Clove Health Benefits the Flavorful Way
Cloves are used in the culinary world as a spice for different dishes and pastries. They add a sweet and earthy taste to desserts, stews and meats. But aside from their use in the culinary world, they can be utilized as a treatment for numerous conditions and ailments as well. Some of the health benefits you can get include:
• Anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. The high amounts of eugenol, a compound with both anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, can help your body deal with infections and inflammation. Cloves also contain kaempferol and rhamnetin, flavonoids that share the same properties as eugenol.
• Aids in treating colds. As an expectorant, cloves can help reduce inflammation and expel mucus. They help reduce coughing fits by soothing the throat.7
• Boosts immune system function. Cloves contain high amounts of antioxidants, which aid the immune system in fighting off oxidative damage and free radicals. Eugenol also has the ability to help ease infections and fight disease-causing bacteria in the body.8
• Treats oral diseases. Aside from freshening your breath, cloves can help treat oral conditions like gingivitis and periodontitis. The antibacterial property of cloves helps minimize the spread of bacteria inside the mouth.
• Promotes digestion. Cloves promote the production of gastric acids, which help in better digestion of food. They minimize indigestion and dyspepsia, as well as reduce gas pressure in the stomach, lessening discomfort.9
Alternative Ways You Can Use Cloves
The importance of clove as a spice transcends its flavor and aroma. Some of the alternative uses for cloves include the following:
• Acne buster. Because of the eugenol found in cloves, cloves can be used to help prevent acne breakouts. You can make a mask with ground cloves, honey and a few drops of lemon juice. Keep it on your face for around 20 minutes and then rinse.10
• Mouthwash. If you're tired of the chemical aftertaste that mouthwashes leave in your mouth, you can switch to cloves as an all-natural alternative. Cloves not only will freshen your breath, but will give you anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits as well. Natural clove mouthwashes usually consist of a mixture of equal amounts of water, cloves and other herbs like rosemary and mint.11
• Toothache remedy. Clove oil can be used as a natural painkiller for toothaches. This is because of its natural anesthetic property that helps alleviate pain and discomfort that arise from cavities and other dental and gum problems.
• Altitude sickness relief. Mountaineers, climbers and other sportsmen usually suffer from altitude sickness because of the sudden change in atmospheric pressure. Taking 2 cups of a clove infusion can help relieve altitude sickness by thinning the blood and improving the oxygen supply to the brain.12
• Air freshener. For a more natural and safer alternative to chemical-based fresheners, you can make your own all-natural air deodorizer with oranges and cloves. Boil orange peels with a few pieces of cloves in water and let it simmer. The scent will get rid of uninvited smells and pungent odors in your home.13
You can also put a few pieces of cloves inside a clean sock and use it to freshen up musty closets and drawers. It will leave your clothes smelling sweet and fresh.14
Grow Your Own Clove Tree in Your Backyard
Cloves are extremely specific when it comes to the temperature they need to thrive, requiring a humid tropical or subtropical climate. If you live in temperate regions, you can even grow it indoors. Just remember that proper care is essential to help the clove tree survive. Patience is also required in growing cloves, as it takes about 10 to 15 years before you get to harvest from the tree.15 If you're planning on growing your own clove tree, here is a guide to help you:
1. Soak clove fruits overnight to separate the flesh from the seed. Make sure that the seeds you acquire are moist, as cloves cannot grow from dry seeds.
2. Put the clove seed on top of rich and loamy soil with good drainage. The seeds do not need to be covered entirely.
3. Cover the pot or seed tray with a plastic sheet to increase humidity. Clove seeds need a lot of water, so make sure you provide them with just enough. Be careful not to overwater.
4. Before transplanting the clove seedling, make sure that it is hardly enough to survive on outdoor soil. This takes about six months.
5. Transplant the seedling in an area where it is protected from the wind.
Store Your Cloves Correctly to Maximize Their Shelf Life
Cloves are available in either whole or powder form, but note that whole cloves maintain their freshness longer. Spices don't usually spoil easily as long as they are stored in a cool, dark and dry place. Unfortunately, cloves can lose their aroma and flavor when stored incorrectly.16
While you can store them in glass containers, make sure that cloves do not get exposed to direct light or intense heat. Direct light and heat can make the cloves lose their flavor and color, while steam can make them moist and cake together. Place cloves, as well as other spices, in drawers or storage cabinets that are far from the stove but close enough to be accessible.17
When measuring out cloves, make sure your measuring instruments are dry to keep the containers free of moisture, which may lead to a faster rate of decay.18
Here Are Some Flavorsome and Savory Cloves Recipes You Should Try
If you are not familiar with the use of cloves in recipes and you're curious how they can be added to dishes, here are some easy and healthy recipes you can try:19,20
Clove and Cinnamon Tea
• 1 1/2 cups water
• 1 clove, crushed
• 1 pinch cinnamon
• 3/4 teaspoon tea leaves
• 1 teaspoon honey
• 1 teaspoon raw milk, optional
1. Boil water, cloves and cinnamon powder.
2. Cover the pot with a tight lid to retain flavors.
3. Boil for about two minutes.
4. Lower the heat and add the tea leaves.
5. Remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes or until it is drinkable.
6. Add the honey and milk. Serve.
(Adapted from Food)
World's Greatest Vegetable Broth
• 1 pound celery
• 1 1/2 pounds sweet onions
• 1 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
• 1 pound tomatoes, cored
• 1 pound green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
• 1/2 pound turnips, cubed
• 2 tablespoons coconut oil
• 3 cloves garlic
• 3 whole cloves
• 1 bay leaf
• 6 whole black peppercorns
• 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
• 1 gallon water
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Remove leaves and tender inner parts of celery. Set aside.
3. Toss onions, carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers and turnips with coconut oil. Place vegetables in a roasting pan and place them in the oven. Stir the vegetable every 15 minutes. Cook until all of the vegetables have browned and the onions start to caramelize. This takes about an hour.
4. Put the browned vegetables, celery, garlic, cloves, bay leaf, peppercorns, parsley and water into a stockpot. Bring to a full boil. Reduce the heat to simmer. Cook uncovered until liquid is reduced in half.
5. Pour the broth through a colander, catching the broth in a large bowl or pot. The broth can be use immediately in other dishes or frozen for future use.
(Adapted from AllRecipes)
If you can't find cloves in your local market or grocery store, you can use allspice as a substitute for cloves. You can also use a 1-to-1 mixture of nutmeg and cinnamon for the same sweet taste with the slight hint of spice.21
Clove Bud Oil Uses and How You Can Make Your Own
Clove bud oil is generally utilized for oral health due to its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, which help against bad breath and other mouth problems. It also has potential benefits as a digestive aid, skin care product and an aromatherapy oil. Topically applying clove bud oil can address warts, acne, sagging skin and wrinkles, too. However, make sure that you dilute this essential oil with a carrier oil to avoid allergic reactions.
Clove bud essential oil is available in stores nationwide. Meanwhile, you can make an infusion oil at home. Here is the step-by-step procedure on how to make infused clove oil:
How to Make Infused Clove Oil
• 4 fresh clove buds, crushed
• Carrier oil, such as coconut oil
• Glass container with spout
• Airtight bottleneck jar
1. Take the airtight jar and place the four crushed cloves at the bottom. Crush them thoroughly so that they can fit into the container.
2. Fill the jar with the carrier oil until the cloves are submerged, but not too much to overfill the container.
3. Seal the container tightly. Exposure to air can affect the oil's potency.
4. Set aside the mixture for a week in an area where it can be exposed to sunlight.
5. Transfer the mixture into the glass container with a spout. Use the strainer to remove any sediment. Do not hesitate to strain the oil a couple of times to make sure particles are completely removed.
6. Dispose of the cloves from the strainer and do not reuse these cloves, as doing so can impact the effectiveness of the oil.
7. The strained mixture should be poured back into the airtight bottleneck container.
8. When storing, make sure the oil of is sealed tight. Shelf life can last from four to five years. Color may darken as time progresses.
Note These Contraindications for the Use of Clove Oil
Keep in mind that the oil of cloves should be used moderately. Because of the high content of eugenol, excessive use may cause nausea, vomiting and blood clotting problems. Other contraindications for this essential oil include the following:
• Phototoxicity. Do not use this oil before going out into direct sunlight, as it can lead to severe burns and other skin problems.
• Aspirin or anticoagulant medications. Clove bud oil can slow down platelet activity, which can interfere with these medications and cause adverse effects.
• Allergic reactions. Topically applying clove bud oil on damaged skin may cause severe allergic reactions and can further damage the skin.
To make sure that you're using this oil correctly and you have the right dose, consult a health practitioner first. This is so you don't unknowingly harm yourself in your pursuit of improving your health.