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This article is about the spice; for other meanings see clove .

Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum, syn. Eugenia aromaticum or Eugenia caryophyllata) are the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae. Cloves are native to Indonesiamarker and Indiamarker and used as a spice in cuisine all over the world. The English name derives from Latin clavus 'nail' (also origin of French clou 'nail') as the buds vaguely resemble small irregular nails in shape. Cloves are harvested primarily in Indonesiamarker, Madagascarmarker, Zanzibarmarker, Pakistanmarker, and Sri Lankamarker; they are also grown in Indiamarker under the name Lavang. In Vietnammarker, it is called đinh hương.

The clove tree is an evergreen which grows to a height ranging from 8-12 m, having large square leaves and sanguine flowers in numerous groups of terminal clusters. The flower buds are at first of a pale color and gradually become green, after which they develop into a bright red, when they are ready for collecting. Cloves are harvested when 1.5–2 cm long, and consist of a long calyx, terminating in four spreading sepals, and four unopened petals which form a small ball in the centre.

Nomenclature and taxonomy


Dried cloves
Cloves can be used in cooking either whole or in a ground form, but as they are extremely strong, they are used sparingly. The spice is used throughout Europe and Asia and is smoked in a type of cigarettes locally known as kretek in Indonesia. A major brand of kreteks in the United States was Djarum, which sells Djarum Black. Clove cigarettes (as well as fruit and candy flavored cigarettes) have been outlawed in the US. Cloves are also an important incense material in Chinese and Japanese culture.

Dried cloves also play a major role in the production of chai tea, an Indian spiced black tea. The tea is described by many as having a sweet cinnamon taste.

Cloves have historically been used in Indian cuisine (both North Indian and South Indian) as well as Mexican cuisine (best known as "clavos de olor"), where it is often paired together with cumin and cinnamon. In north Indian cuisine, it is used in almost all dishes, along with other spices. It is also a key ingredient in tea along with green cardamom. In south Indian cuisine, it is used extensively in biryani along with "cloves dish" (similar to pilaf, but with the addition of other spices), and it is normally added whole to enhance the presentation and flavor of the rice. In Vietnamese cuisine, cloves are often used to season pho broth.

Due to the Indonesian influence the use of cloves is widespread in the Netherlandsmarker. Cloves are used in cheeses, often in combination with cumin. Cloves are an essential ingredient for making Dutch speculaas. Furthermore cloves are used in traditional Dutch stews like hachee.

Its essence is commonly used in the production of many perfumes.

During Christmas, it is a tradition in some European countries to make a pomander from cloves and oranges to hang around the house. This spreads a nice scent throughout the house and the oranges themselves act as Christmas decorations.

Medicinal and nostrums

Cloves are used in Ayurveda called Lavang in Indiamarker, Chinese medicine and western herbalism and dentistry where the essential oil is used as an anodyne (painkiller) for dental emergencies. Cloves are used as a carminative, to increase hydrochloric acid in the stomach and to improve peristalsis. Cloves are also said to be a natural antihelmintic. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy when stimulation and warming are needed, especially for digestive problems. Topical application over the stomach or abdomen are said to warm the digestive tract.

In Chinese medicine cloves or ding xiang are considered acrid, warm and aromatic, entering the kidney, spleen and stomach meridians, and are notable in their ability to warm the middle, direct stomach qi downward, to treat hiccough and to fortify the kidney yang. Because the herb is so warming it is contraindicated in any persons with fire symptoms and according to classical sources should not be used for anything except cold from yang deficiency. As such it is used in formulas for impotence or clear vaginal discharge from yang deficiency, for morning sickness together with ginseng and patchouli, or for vomiting and diarrhea due to spleen and stomach coldness. This would translate to hypochlorhydria.Clove oil is used in various skin disorders like acne, pimples etc.It is also used in severe burns, skin irritations and to reduce the sensitiveness of skin.

Ayurvedic herbalist K.P. Khalsa, RH (AHG), uses cloves internally as a tea and topically as an oil for hypotonic muscles, including for multiple sclerosis. This is also found in Tibetan medicine. Ayurvedic herbalist Alan Tilotson, RH (AHG) suggests avoiding more than occasional use of cloves internally in the presence of pitta inflammation such as is found in acute flares of autoimmune diseases.

In West Africa, the Yorubas use cloves infused in water as a treatment for stomach upsets, vomiting and diarrhea.The infusion is called Ogun Jedi-jedi.

Western studies have supported the use of cloves and clove oil for dental pain, and to a lesser extent for fever reduction, as a mosquito repellent and to prevent premature ejaculation. Clove may reduce blood sugar levels.


Until modern times, cloves grew only on a few islands in the Maluku Islandsmarker (historically called the Spice Islandsmarker), including Bacanmarker, Makianmarker, Moti, Ternatemarker, and Tidoremarker. Nevertheless, they found their way west to the Middle East and Europe well before the first century AD. Archeologists found cloves within a ceramic vessel in Syriamarker along with evidence dating the find to within a few years of 1721 BC.

Cloves, along with nutmeg and pepper, were highly prized in Roman times, and Pliny the Elder once famously complained that "there is no year in which India does not drain the Roman Empire of fifty million sesterces." Cloves were traded by Arabs during the Middle Ages in the profitable Indian Oceanmarker trade. In the late fifteenth century, Portugalmarker took over the Indian Ocean trade, including cloves, due to the Treaty of Tordesillas with Spainmarker and a separate treaty with the sultan of Ternatemarker. The Portuguese brought large quantities of cloves to Europe, mainly from the Maluku Islandsmarker. Clove was then one of the most valuable spices, a kg costing around 7 g of gold.

The high value of cloves and other spices drove Spain to seek new routes to the Maluku Islands, which would not be seen as trespassing on the Portuguese domain in the Indian Ocean. Fernando e Isabela sponsored the unsuccessful voyages of Cristobal Colon (Columbus), and their grandson Carlos I sponsored the voyage of Hernando de Magallanes (Magellan). The fleet led by Magallanes reached the Maluku Islands after his death, and the Spanish were successful in briefly capturing this trade from the Portuguese. The trade later became dominated by the Dutchmarker in the seventeenth century. With great difficulty the Frenchmarker succeeded in introducing the clove tree into Mauritiusmarker in the year 1770. Subsequently, their cultivation was introduced into Guiana, Brazilmarker, most of the West Indiesmarker, and Zanzibarmarker.

In Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, cloves were worth at least their weight in gold, due to the high price of importing them.

Active compounds

Eugenol comprises 72-90% of the essential oil extracted from cloves, and is the compound most responsible for the cloves' aroma. Other important essential oil constituents of clove oil include acetyl eugenol, beta-caryophyllene and vanillin; crategolic acid; tannins, gallotannic acid, methyl salicylate (painkiller); the flavonoids eugenin, kaempferol, rhamnetin, and eugenitin; triterpenoids like oleanolic acid, stigmasterol and campesterol; and several sesquiterpenes.

Eugenol has pronounced antiseptic and anaesthetic properties. Of the dried buds, 15 - 20 per cent is essential oils, and the majority of this is eugenol. A kilogram of dried buds yields approximately 150 ml (1/4 of pint) of eugenol.

Eugenol can be toxic in relatively small quantities -- as low as 5 ml.

Notes and references

See also

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