Cloves have been used in Southeast Asia for thousands of years and their powerful health benefits are still regarded as a panacea for countless ills.
Underutilized in the West, cloves have been used in Southeast Asia for thousands of years, and their powerful antiviral and antiseptic qualities are still regarded as a panacea for countless ills, including malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, and parasites such as scabies.
Traditional Chinese medicine has used cloves to treat indigestion, diarrhea, hernia, ringworm, athlete’s foot, and other fungal infections. In Ayurvedic medicine, the herb is used to cure respiratory and digestive problems. St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098 to 1179), a medieval German abbess, composer, and herbalist, recommended cloves as a remedy for gout.
In both Eastern and Western cultures, toothache is still effectively treated with cloves, as the active ingredient in the herb–eugenol–has both analgesic and antiseptic qualities. A bruised clove, or cotton wool doused with one drop of clove oil diluted in one drop of carrier oil such as olive, sesame, or grapeseed oil, can be applied directly to the tooth. Some dentists still use cloves to disinfect ailing root canals and mix clove oil with zinc oxide for temporary fillings.
Cloves are warm and invigorating to the mind and body, memory stimulating, and beneficial for people with cold extremities. They will promote sweating with fevers, colds, and flu, and are often used in remedies for whooping cough. A sore throat can be effectively relieved by simply sucking on one or two cloves for about an hour, biting on them once or twice to release the oil.
Cloves and pregnancy
An infusion of clove tea provides safe and effective relief for vomiting and nausea during pregnancy. Steep two to three cloves in 1 cup (250 mL) boiling water and drink hot or cold, three times daily. During pregnancy, however, avoid use of clove oil and all essential oils.
Clove oil in particular is very strong and should only be taken internally at other stages of life, while under the supervision of a health professional. When applied topically, it and all essential oils should be diluted in carrier oil. Generally, the ratio should not exceed 1 drop clove oil to 30 drops carrier oil.
As a testimony to the powerful scent of cloves, the clove-studded orange or lemon pomander is a perennial favourite as a room or closet freshener, and moth, mosquito, and fly repellent.
Spiced Honey Lemon and Clove Pickles
Here’s a great lemon and ginger pickle to serve with a curry or other spicy dish. It’s also wonderful on cheese sandwiches!
1 cup plus 1 Tbsp (265 mL) honey
1 cup (250 mL) apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
1/2 tsp (2 mL) whole allspice
5 whole cloves
10 medium lemons, peel on, seeded, cut into 1/4 in (0.5 cm) slices
3 Tbsp (45 mL) fresh ginger, finely chopped
Discard as many lemon seeds as possible, as they will make syrup bitter.
Combine honey, vinegar, and salt in a non-reactive (glass, porcelain, or stainless steel) saucepan. Tie cinnamon, allspice, and cloves in a cheesecloth bag and add to pan. Boil 5 minutes. Add lemons and ginger, and bring back to boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Discard herbs and pack lemons into hot, sterilized jars. Cover with syrup, seal immediately, and keep refrigerated. Use within 3 months.
Makes 6 – 2 cup (500 mL) jars.
Cloves, which symbolize dignity, are the unopened flower buds of a tropical tree that is native to the Moluccan Islands off Indonesia. The Syzygium aromaticum tree is a member of the allspice and guava family that is now cultivated throughout the tropics and used around the world for culinary and medicinal purposes.
In Moluccan folklore, villagers treated blossoming clove trees like a pregnant woman. No man could approach them wearing a hat, no noise could be made near them, and no light or fire could be carried past them at night for fear they would not bear fruit. Some Moluccans still plant a clove tree at the birth of a child, with the belief that if the tree flourishes, then so will the child.
Cloves in the kitchen
Cloves remained a rare luxury in European kitchens until about 1500, when increased sea trade with the Orient brought cloves in quantity. Cloves make a useful contribution to both sweet and savoury dishes. Generally, whole cloves are removed from the dish before serving.
Cloves have an affinity for green beans, pea soup, root vegetables, fruit compotes and salads, spiced teas, mulled beverages, and pickles of all types. People on a bland diet should avoid cloves as the herb can be irritating to the intestinal tract. However, ground cloves, made without the clove head, are milder than the whole herb.