Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum)

The clove is an dense evergreen tree native to the Philippines and Indonesia, but found in the Caribbean, Brazil, Eastern Africa, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and all around the Indian Ocean. It can grow up to 60 feet tall and is in the Myrtaceae family. It’s recognizable by it’s opposite, ovate dark green waxy leaves that grow longer than 5 inches in length and it’s bell shaped flowers. The flowers consist of a long calyx that terminates in four spreading sepals, and four unopened petals that form a small central ball. They fade from greenish white to red as they mature, growing in terminal clusters. Flower buds are collected from the clove tree when their lower parts turn from green to red and are about 2 cm long, before they’ve matured and drop their stamens, and then dried for culinary and medicinal use. Tanzania produces 80 percent of the world’s clove supply.

Medicinal Uses
Cloves are a stimulant, carminative, and aromatic. They can be used to treat nausea, vomiting, and flatulence, and to stimulate the digestive system. A few drops of clove oil in water is said to stop vomiting. Clove oil also has strong antiseptic and milder anesthetic actions due to it’s eugenol content, making it useful for external treatments of toothaches and mouth sores, as well as skin conditions such as ringworm and fungus. In Aryuveda, it is considered a pungent, energizing, heating aphrodisiac herb not to be used with existing inflammatory conditions. Cloves are used to dispel chill and disinfect the lymphatic system, and effective at treating colds and coughs as well as indigestion and lung congestion. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, cloves are used similarly. They are also indicated for vomiting caused by stomach coldness, nausea, and also for kidney and yang deficiencies.

Folk Uses
Cloves have been use throughout Asia for centuries to freshen the breath and treat digestive complaints. Cloves arrived in Europe around the 4th century as a luxury item, and became a major factor in spice trade and European exploration. 19th century eclectic American physicians recommended cloves for digestive complaints as well as for treating tooth aches – they were the first to extract clove oil from the cloves, rubbing it directly onto the gums. Cloves are commonly used in perfumes, cigarettes, and cosmetics. Clove oil can be used to anesthetize fish, and prolonged exposure to higher doses is considered a humane means of euthanasia for them. Cloves are also commonly used to make Pomanders, an early form of aromatherapy, by inserting the clove buds into fruit such as an orange, and hanging it by a string to dry. A version of the pomander with oranges, cloves, oils and a golden ribbon can be used as a recovery charm in witchcraft.

Cloves can be taken as an infusion of a few cloves (or as many as you’d like, to taste) per cup of boiling water for ten minutes, or added liberally to taste in foods both sweet and savory. For toothaches, place a clove near the tooth and keep it in your mouth for about 20-30 minutes, or put clove oil on a cotton ball and hold on and near the tooth. Some individuals find clove oil irritating to the skin.

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Young flowers of the clove tree.

Young flowers of the clove tree.