The Spice Pantry: Clove

Eugenia carpophyll Ata syn. Syzygium aromaticum

Also, Known As:

  • Clove

The association of the clove with human society is old indeed. The ancient Chinese Han dynasty – lasting from 207 B.C. to A.D. 220, gives us our first clue to the uses of the fragrant clove. Chinese physicians of that era wrote that the court visitors to the emperor were required to hold cloves in their mouths while they addressed the emperor, it would be reasonable to believe that this was to save the ruler from the bad breath of the visitors. The clove is a pungent and aromatic floral bud, and its use as a spice reached Europe around the 4th century A.D. when commercial trading really started with the Arabs who in turn acquired these dried and fragrant buds from the cultures to the east in Asia. The spice trade leading to great competition among European seafaring nations would also include trade in cloves, regarded as a precious spice aside from other equally prized spices such as peppers.

Two major naval European powers in the 17th and 18th centuries, namely the Dutch and the Portuguese were involved in a long tussle over competition for cloves; this trade war was one of the many that would be fought by different Europeans colonizers involving spices. The Spice Islands, or more properly the Moluccas in present-day Indonesia are the original lands from which the clove tree originated. The clove plant is native to many of the Moluccas islands beside other southeastern Asian islands. One of the ways in which the Dutch eventually gained a complete monopoly on the trade in cloves was the destruction of every viable clove tree population in all the islands, saving only the Dutch colonized island of Ambon on which vast acreage was devoted to clove plantations, the Dutch benefited from controlling much of the Southeast Asian islands. This monopoly of the Dutch lasted until the 19th century, when the plant was cultivated in many different places with a tropical climate around the world; the Dutch monopoly of the spice was broken when the French managed to cultivate the tree on their colonized islands in Asia – such plantations would soon dot the colonized world and prove to be another way in which European power was maintained. As cloves were grown in different geographical regions, other areas of the world also began to produce huge quantities of the spice, the island of Zanzibar, which belong to present day Tanzania, in eastern Africa has been a major producer of cloves for many decades now – in fact, this exported plant grows so well in Zanzibar that the moniker given to the island of Zanzibar is “island of cloves”. Tropical belt countries which are also major production centers for the clove the Caribbean island of Jamaica, the South Asian island of Sri Lanka, and the countries of Malaysia and of course, Indonesia, including the Moluccas. Roughly half the commercial supply of cloves in the world is consumed by the Indonesians, this spice is even smoked in the country – cloves are mixed with tobacco to produce a special cigarette, which is a ubiquitous sight in Indonesia.

Morphological, the clove tree has a pyramidal shape. It is a pretty and broad-leaved evergreen plant growing only in tropical climes. The clove tree when fully grown can often go up to thirty or forty feet in height. The characteristic strong aromatic fragrance produced by the living tree is mainly from as a result of the glands dotting the smooth and shiny leaves. Though rarely permitted to bloom in a plantation, the most fragrant part of the tree are the tiny yellow flowers, which grow in loose clusters at the tips of the branches – the spice is made only from the plucked floral buds. The clove buds are an initial pink in color as they grow out, however, they turn a fiery red color at the base over a period of time – this is the point at which they are plucked to be sun-dried and turned into the deep reddish brown and familiar spice called cloves. The majority of pharmacists and all the gourmet chefs across the world are familiar with the sweet and delicious smelling dried floral buds – cloves are one of the most important spices around.

The major part of the world’s consumption of the clove spice is in the home kitchens, the domestic consumption of this spice makes up the largest chunk of the demand for cloves. However, commercial uses of the clove for the production of clove oil also form a large percentage of the world’s clove produce. Processing plants, extract clove oil by subjecting the small, and hard buds to distillation – the clove oil is also used in cuisine as well as in medicine. The medicinal abilities and the culinary uses of the clove to a great extent on the nature of the essential oil present in the plant; the oil is a complex of organic chemicals such as eugenol and eugenol acetate – these two compounds being the major active constituents of the spice. Dentists make use of the clove oil during post-extraction treatment as well as in dental fillings and in making cement. Soaps, lotions, and toothpaste, as well as different topical products, make wide use of the clove to impart a warm and pungent smell to the product.

Plant Part Used:

Flower buds.

Medicinal Use:

Since very ancient times, cultures in southeastern Asia have been using cloves for the preparation of many herbal remedies; tradition in these parts holds the cloves as almost a panacea for many illnesses. The tradition of using cloves in remedies goes back thousands of years in these parts of the world.

The folk and traditional medicine of many Asian cultures gave a high value to the clove, the herb is believed to have strong antiseptic and analgesic qualities, and it is treated as a herbal anodyne for all manner of illnesses in many cultures around the world. The clove oil especially has been used by traditional folk healers down the ages, as well as by modern pharmacists and dentists in alleviating the symptoms associated with a toothache and dental decay. Clove herbal tea is another remedy which is recorded in the herbal literature of many Asian cultures, this tea is seen as a cure for problems such as nausea and as an aid to eliminating excess gas in the stomach and the intestines, and the clove herbal tea is prepared by boiling and steeping the dried clove buds in water. Disorders such as diarrhea and a hernia are treated in the Chinese system of medicine by giving the patient clove oil. All pathogenic fungi and other troublesome fungal infections such as athlete’s foot can be treated using the tincture of clove oil, which is strongly fungicidal.

Some types of viral infections can be treated with the potent and effective antiseptic ability possessed by the cloves; the plant is also strongly bactericidal. The cloves are often used in the treatment of all sorts of diseases caused by infections – thus in tropical areas of Asia the clove is used extensively as a remedy for treating a water-borne disease such as cholera and insect-borne diseases such as malaria, it is used in the treatment of tuberculosis, as well as in ridding the body of external disease caused by parasites such as scabies.

Cloves can also be used to alleviate very uncomfortable symptoms in the digestive system, including excess abdominal gas, problems such as colic, and bloating in the abdominal region. Muscle spasms can be relieved if the cloves are applied as a topical ointment, at the same time, the anti-spasmodic action of the clove also aids in the alleviation of coughs and other problems of the respiratory system.

The stimulating property of the cloves has made it famous as an aphrodisiac in the west as well as in India. The clove is believed to aid in stimulating the body as well as the mind by boosting a flagging memory. In some Asian cultures, women about to go into labor are sometimes given the cloves to prepare them for the rigors and physical demands of a childbirth, it is believed that the uterine muscle contractions during labor are strengthened and stimulated by the cloves.

The remedy made from cloves is also used in the treatment of acne, in treating the symptoms of Bell’s palsy, in the treatment of skin ulcers, various types of sores, and sty’s affecting the eyes – in addition to many other uses already mentioned. Cloves have a potent odor and are a very good insecticide, repelling both mosquitoes and other insects such as moths. In the Moluccas, a natural insect repellent is traditionally made by studding the skin of oranges with cloves; this is kept in different areas of the house to ward off insects.

The western Pharmacopoeia continues to underrate the potential of cloves as a herbal remedy; this is quite contrary to the variety of therapeutic uses the cloves are put to in so many Asian countries. Cloves are used in some common products even in the western world, namely in some products such as fragrant mouthwashes, and as a local anesthetic, product to aid in alleviating the symptoms of a toothache in patients with dental problems.

CloveOil_Graphic1 (1)


  • Altitude sickness
  • Strep throat
  • Stomach cancer

Growing Clove:

The clove is an indigenous plant species of the former Spice Islands – the Molucca Islands, which are now in Indonesia as well as the southern parts of the Philippines islands. Due to the commercial value and high sale potential of this spice, large plantations devoted to cloves exist in the tropical countries such as Tanzania and Madagascar in East Africa and, this is also a plantation plant to a lesser extent in the new world tropical countries of Brazil and the West Indies in the Caribbean. Semi-ripe cutting of the plant is used in the summer to propagate the plant while seeds are used in the spring to propagate the tree. The young floral buds are plucked and harvested for the sun drying and processing two times every year in most plantations.


The very potent bactericidal action of the volatile oil of clove was established in an Argentinean research completed in the year 1994 – the study tested various properties of the clove oil. The most important and the major compound constituent which is present in the volatile clove oil is the compound called eugenol – chemically identified as a phenol. This chemical compound displays very strong antiseptic as well as a potent anesthetic ability by virtue of being a phenolic compound. For this reason, isolated eugenol from clove oil is often used as general antiseptic oil as well as an analgesic pain relief agent for a toothache and other dental problems. A strong anti-spasmodic action is displayed by acetyl eugenol, which is another chemical component of the volatile clove oil.


Clove contains volatile oil; eugenol (up to 85%), acetyl eugenol, methyl salicylate, pinene, vanillin. Gum and tannins.

Remedial Use:

There are many ways to use cloves aside from its culinary uses. The medicinal uses of the cloves include putting clove as a spice in the daily meals or in using it to enhance herbal teas. This can be done by using some cloves and steeping them in boiling water and allowing to infuse the cloves in the water for ten minutes. The tea can then be strained and drunk whenever necessary. A single clove bud can be used in relieving a toothache; the clove can be placed next to the troublesome tooth and kept in this way in the mouth for some time. Clove oil can be used instead of a whole clove bud, the clove oil can be soaked in some cotton and the cotton can then be placed next to the problematic tooth for relief from pain.

The time for the harvest of cloves occurs when the lower parts of the clove flower turn from green to purple, at this ripened stage, all the flower buds are collected and they are then sun-dried into the familiar deep reddish-brown spice. All the regions surrounding the Indian Ocean are good areas for growing clove as they enjoy the optimal tropical conditions.

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