Thursday, April 10, 2014


CLOVES-Caryophyllus Aromaticus, Eugenia Caryophyllata, Eugenia Aromatic, Syzgium Aromaticum

Parts used:  the flower bud

Meridians/Organs affected:  spleen, kidneys, stomach, oral/dental

Properties:  stimulant, anti-nausea, astringent, carminative, expectorant, stomachic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, rubefacient, digestive, condiment, sedative, tonic

Clove is a member of the Myrtaceae family along with allspice and eucalyptus.  This evergreen tree originated in the Spice Islands but is now grown in most tropical countries including Zanzibar, Madagascar and Tanzania.  The trees are considered small (even thought they get up to 30 feet in height) and are somewhat conical shaped.  They have laurel like leaves that are long and shiny with visible dots that when brushed or bruised give off the heady scent of clove.  The trunk is covered with a smooth gray bark that develops branches which are situated quite low on the tree.  The flowers are a beautiful crimson color (if allowed to get to that stage).  They appear at the end of the rainy season.  The flower buds themselves (the cloves) are the unopened, yellowish-green, long, nail-shaped projections.  When they turn pink just before they open or bloom, they are picked from the tree.  They are then dried in the sun for a few days until they become dark brown (this can also be done through gentle heat in an oven).

Below is a 1521 excerpt from a sailor from one of Magellan's voyages.  His description is truly wonderful and very observant. He said,
"On that day of Sunday I went ashore to see how the cloves grow. The tree is tall and as thick as a man.  Its branches in the center spread out widely, but at the top they grow into a kind of peak.  The leaf is like that of a laurel, and the bark of the color of brown tan.  The cloves come at the tip of the branches, ten or twenty together.  These trees almost always bear more of them on one side than on the other, according to the season.  When the cloves sprout, they are white; when ripe. red; and when dried, black.  They gather them twice a year, at Christmas and again on the feast of St. John the Baptist, because at these two seasons the air is most temperate, but more so at Christmas.  And when the year is hotter, and there is less rain, they gather three  or four hundred bahar* of cloves in each of the islands, and they grow only in the mountains....Nowhere in the world do good cloves grow except on five mountains of those five islands...."

*A bahar is a unit of weight approximating 400 pounds.

Clove trees don't produce spice until they are five years old and they then will produce consistently until much older-increasing the yield every year until the tree reaches about 20 years of age.  The average yield for a mature tree is 6 1/2 to 8 3/4 lbs of the fresh buds.  However, when dried it is only about 2 1/4 lbs. which roughly yields about 20% essential oil.  So basically 1/4 pint would be representative of one tree.  Clove oil is distilled from the leaves and unripe fruit (buds).  This oil is often adulterated with palm oil, balsam oil or oil from pimento berries and leaves.  The therapeutic value of clove however is ONLY present in pure clove essential oil.

The isle of Amboina is where it is believed the clove tree began or at least our first record of it.  The scent of clove wafting over the ocean waters would tell sailors they were close to the Spice Islands (the Moluccas).  Clove was one of those spices that were highly sought after and many wars were fought and many lives were lost to acquire it.  The English desparately sought after it because it had the ability to make their food more palatable during the winter months and helped cut down on spoilage.  Most of the time it was only the rich who could afford to pay the ghastly fee to obtain the small amount of cloves they would get.  Clove, along with the other three of the "Big Four" (pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon) were literally worth more than their weight in gold.

The lack of epidemics in Penang (in Malaysia) was attributed to the scent of clove being so prevalent as it is highly antiseptic.  When the Dutch came in and destroyed all the clove trees in the early 17th century, the islanders began to suffer from all kinds of diseases and many of them died.  The scent of cloves was believed to have kept the bulk of illnesses at bay.  The Dutch eradicated all the clove trees from the islands except for those on Amboina (and a few tiny adjacent islands) in order to ensure the spice's scarcity, thereby also ensuring that the prices would continue to be high.

The isle of Amboina and a few small islands nearby together make up the 'clove garden'.  It is part of the Moluccas, which is part of the Australasian island group.  It is east of the Celebes and separate from New Guinea.  Even today it is still considered the clove center of the world.

Cloves were first mentioned in China around 266 BC, when they were required by courtiers to keep their breath fresh in the presence of the Emperor.  They have been used by the Persians, Romans and Greeks as part of their "love" remedies.  Pliny often praised it as did Alexander Trallianus, one of the great Roman doctors.  In 'Morborun Causae et Curae' Hildegarde of Bingen said clove was effective for migraines, dropsy, headaches and deafness brought on by colds.  She stated that clove helps to cool the hot and heat the cold.  The Arabs in North Africa have used the spicy pink petals of clove for thousands of years to give a more pleasing taste to their bitter tonics for fever.

Clove helps allay nausea and vomiting, aid digestion, increase energy, stop hiccups, and treat kidney issues and impotence.  It helps with poor appetite and flatulence and is considered to be a general tonic for weakness (both mental and physical) and frigidity.  Due to its high amount of eugenol (75-80%), it is one of the strongest antiseptic herbs in nature.  It is used to prevent viral infections and to eliminate intestinal parasites.  Perhaps its most well-known used is as a dental aid.  Putting a drop or two of clove oil on a cotton ball for a toothache is a common remedy for tooth pain-and it WORKS!  Even sucking on a whole clove will numb your tongue which speaks of its minor anesthetic capabilities.  Eugenol is also a common addition to mouthwashes  and in some toothpastes.  Clove oil diluted with other essential oils is also a useful aid for rheumatic issues.  It was used in pomanders in the Middle Ages to prevent plague and keep insects at bay.  It also was commonly used in potpourris, soaps, bath salts, perfumes, and to scent tobacco.  Now it is used as a part of the Chinese 5 spice blend, in many garam masalas (Indian cuisine), in curry and rice dishes and in sauerkraut.  Clove is also used in many drinks and sauces, desserts and confections.  This is a very powerful herb and should be used in small increments rather than large ones.  

As is customary with my posts I am including some links here for your perusal.  Stay well and healthy!

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