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Common Name

Latin Name Family Country/Origin
Eugenia caryophyllus Myrtaceae The Spice Islands

Known as Laung in India, and so referenced in ethnic Indian recipes.

In the era of colonialism, the distinct spicy taste and warm aroma of cloves led to bloodshed throughout the Spice Islands. The Dutch held a monopoly over the clove trade and would often burn trees in order to raise prices. Island natives, who traditionally planted a clove tree at the birth of each child, retaliated, leading to violence throughout the islands.

Inevitably, clove trees became an expensive commodity. As cloves grew in popularity as a preservative and flavoring, demand and tensions grew within the spice trade. The monopoly held by the Dutch lasted until the 19th century when the French planted stolen seeds on the islands of Zanzibar and Pembas, starting their own clove market.

Although, cloves came into the height of their popularity in the Middle Ages, they had been used before that for thousands of years. The name cloves comes from the Latin 'clavus' and French 'clous' words for 'nail'.

Cloves were used as a culinary spice throughout Asia for the past two millennia. Legend has it that when courtiers were in the presence of the emperor they would suck on cloves in order to prevent bad breath. Cloves were spread throughout Europe by Arab traders during Roman rule. Today, more than half of the world's supply of cloves stays in Indonesia to make "kreteks," clove flavored cigarettes. Their essential oils are also added as a flavoring to toothpastes and some perfumes.

A member of the myrtle family, cloves have a strong, sweet, smell with an intense spicy-sweet flavor. The long-living tropical evergreen eugenia caryophyllus, that produces cloves can grow up to 14 meters and produces small red flowers. Individual cloves come from the still-closed buds of these flowers which look like small nails. Picked by hand and dried out in the sun for many days, cloves turn a dark reddish brown color. Once the flowers bloom, they cannot be harvested as cloves.

Purported Medicinal Qualities*

Cloves have several healthful properties, including a substance called eugenol. Eugenol provides cloves' anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anesthetic qualities. Contemporary dentists have been known to use pharmaceutical grade clove oil to disinfect root canals. Cloves and clove oil have been a fixture in many traditional medicine protocols and still enjoys widespread use today.

Historically cloves have been used to:

  • Aid digestion
  • Treat minor fungas
  • Relieve nausea and vomiting
  • Relief tooth and gum pain (oil).
  • As an anti-oxidants
  • As a source of Vitamin C, calcium and fiber

*Always check with your healthcare provider before consuming, inhaling, applying or otherwise ingesting any non-prescription of prescription natural or homeopathic substance of pharmaceutical. is not recommending, suggesting, inferring or otherwise endorsing the use of any herb or spice as a medicine or therapeutic remedy.

Culinary/Suggested Use

Cloves are another one of those versatile spices that go well with both sweet and savory dishes. Complementing most meat, cloves also add a kick to many baked goods. Christmas hams are often covered in cloves and they make other holiday appearances in gingerbread and mulling spices.

Try to purchase whole cloves and grind them fresh before use for a more intense flavor. Use sparingly, as a little goes a long way and their flavor tends to dominate dishes. Food for thought:

  • Add a single, whole clove to an onion when making meat or vegetable stock.
  • Saute green beans with a dash of ground cloves
  • Sprinkle ground cloves over fruit salad
  • Add a couple whole cloves to re-heating soups; remove before serving
  • Use ground cloves on beef and pork roasts - sprinkle with salt and pepper before cooking
  • Stir a few grinds of cloves into stir fries and stews immediately before serving
  • Add a pinch of ground cloves to curries
  • Sprinkle ground cloves over squash, yams or sweet potatoes

view other A-Z Spices