Cloves: An Ultimate Guide on Everything You Have to Know

Cloves are amongst the most popular herbs since the ancient times. It has a strong flavor and aroma, which is a popular ingredient in Asian cuisines. Scientifically, it is known as Syzygium aromaticum. In Latin, on the other hand, it is called Eugenia caryophyllus. It is derived from the Latin word clavus, which literally means nail in English.

It is from an evergreen clove tree and the clove itself is derived from the unopened bud of its flower. It is handpicked once the flower turns ripe, and after which, they will be dried until they become brown. They have a tapered stem and usually, they have a length of half an inch and a diameter of ¼ inch. The essential oil is often extracted, which is believed to have medicinal value.

In the rest of this post, we will tackle more about cloves, including their history and applications, not only in culinary, but also in the field of traditional medicine. You will also know how it can be successfully planted, including how it is harvested.

History of Cloves

History of ClovesSimilar to other herbs and spices, cloves have a rich history. It came from the Malucca Islands. There are several pieces of evidence proving that trading cloves have started in 1721 BC. In 1522, Ferdinand Magellan’s ship returned to Spain after he was killed in a battle in the Philippines. It is believed that the Spaniards have been delighted to see the ship filled with cloves and nutmegs, among other spices that they have gathered during their bloody expeditions.

The Dutch were aggressive to monopolize the trading of cloves. Their heightened interest with the latter is proof that it is a priced herb. In fact, during the peak of clove, it even became a rival of oil as a commodity being traded. They tried to destroy all other clove trees that grew in areas outside their territory. Nonetheless, they did not succeed in their monopoly for a long time. It was in the 18th century when clove planting became rampant in Tanzania, Mauritius, Brazil, Zanzibar, Madagascar, and India, among other countries. From an economic perspective, the dissolution of monopoly in trading cloves made it more widely available, and hence, prices went down. This is when it became one of the favorite herbs not only for the elite but for people from all economic classes.

Looking at other historical data about cloves, you will also find accounts of their existence in 200 BC in ancient China. It is said that during such time, courtiers would be seen chewing cloves, which is a way to freshen their breath every time they would have to face the emperor.

Popular Types of Cloves

There are no specific varieties or species of clove that are identified. With this, we will differentiate this herb on the basis of where they are from. The following are some of the most popular options that are available:

They are known to be the ones with the highest quality from all cloves. They are hand-picked and undergoes a thorough selection process. They have reddish stalks, which are also plump. They have a fruity scent.

Penang Cloves

This is an archipelago located in Tanzania, referred to as the Spice Islands. At one point, it has been the largest source of clove in the world.

Zanzibar Cloves

Compared to most of the types of cloves that are available, this one is blacker and smaller. It is also scarce, which can basically explain its expensive price.

Health Benefits of Cloves

There are many reasons why cloves are popular in ancient traditional medicine. Among others, the following are some of their most significant benefits for the health:

  • Anti-Inflammation: This is perhaps the most popular from its abundance of health benefits. This is basically because of eugenol, which is found in the volatile oils of cloves. In fact, it is believed that it can reduce the symptoms of inflammation by as much as 30%.
  • Improves Digestion: As a nutrient-dense spice, cloves are also known for improving the digestive enzymes. Also, it makes you less prone to a number of digestive problems, such as flatulence, dyspepsia, and gastric irritability.
  • Protects the Liver: If you are afraid of liver failure, cloves can be impressive. It is filled with antioxidants that will lessen the damage caused by free radicals, specifically in the liver. It has hepatoprotective properties that will be beneficial for the liver.
  • Dental Health: Since the ancient times, cloves are also popularly used for oral health. It can help in the prevention of gingivitis and other gum problems. It also has biochemical that will help in providing relief from toothache. Plus, it can be a natural breath freshener.
  • Prevention of Cancer: As one of the leading causes of death globally, there is a continuous search for the best ways to prevent cancer. With this, you will benefit from clove as they have anticarcinogenic compounds. It is believed to be helpful in treating lung cancer, specifically during the early stage. It also has chemo-preventive properties.
  • Regulates Sugar: Diabetics will also benefit from cloves as they have the reputation for controlling sugar. There are studies in the past claiming that cloves have the ability to mimic the insulin the human body.
  • Preservation of the Bones: With cloves, you can also expect to have stronger bones, even as you age. It comes with hydro-alcoholic extracts, which will be beneficial in preserving bone density. It will improve its tensile strength, and hence, will make you less prone to osteoporosis.
  • Boost the Immune System: It should also be noted that cloves are significantly helpful in boosting the defense of the body from common health problems, such as cold and cough. It also enhances the white blood cells in the body, which lessens your hypersensitivity.
  • Skin Health: Clove is also a natural cure for acne, blemishes, pimples, and other common skin problems. It has antimicrobial properties that will make you less prone to breakouts. It will get rid of bacteria that can possibly lead to a variety of skin conditions.

Culinary and Other Applications of Cloves

Now that you know about the different uses of clove in the field of alternative medicine, we will also provide a stipulation of its numerous applications in the kitchen and beyond:

Clove Cooking Ingredients

Culinary and Other Applications of Cloves

  • Flavoring for Food: Like in the case of other herbs and spices, cloves have a distinct aroma and flavor, making it useful for culinary. It has a spicy taste that will perfectly complement a number of warm dishes. Among others, cloves are usually used in hams, pickles, chutneys, and relishes. The zesty flavor also makes it a common ingredient in Indian dishes, such as curry and biryani.
  • Preparing Spiced Drinks: From teas to cocktails, cloves can be integrated in a wide array of beverages. For instance, you can use it for preparing a nutritious and flavorful tea. It can also be mixed with cider, orange, and cinnamon, among others. When using it for alcoholic drinks, on the other hand, go easy as it has a dominant flavor.
  • Natural Deodorizer: Placing whole cloves in the cabinet is one of the easiest and practical ways to prevent odor. This is especially the case if the clothes are left untouched for an extended period. It has a spicy scent that will help in effectively masking the odor. Make sure to change the cloves at least once in a month to retain its distinct scent.
  • Homemade Cleaner: You do not have to rely on toxic-laden cleaners if you need to clean some spots within the household. Cloves are excellent alternatives because they are free from harsh chemicals. It is a natural antiseptic, which is why it can be used to prevent the appearance of mold, especially in the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Cigarettes: In countries where cloves are abundant, especially in Indonesia, they are also used as a main ingredient for cigarettes, locally known as Kretek. It is combined with loose-leaf tobacco and believed by many to be more dangerous than a regular cigarette.

Growing Cloves: Tips and Tricks

One of the first things that you have to note is that growing clove will not be easy, especially because of the geographical restrictions. While it is originally from Indonesia, it can also grow in other countries, provided that the external environment will make the tree thrive. Tropical climate is best for their growth. In the rest of this section, we will discuss some of the most important things that you have to know about growing a clove tree.

Planting Cloves

This is the most crucial part. If you start at the wrong foot, you will end up in frustration. There are two different ways by which you can plant cloves: cuttings or seeds. Planting seed is easier and often the preferred choice. If you will opt for this, be sure to use fresh and not dried seed. Once you get hold of the seeds, plant them as soon as possible. You just need to put them on the top of the soil and there is no need for covering. A plastic sheet, meanwhile, can be used if you want the soil to be more humid.

When it comes to proper positioning, partial shade is highly-recommended. Also, it will grow only in tropical climate. It can grow in subtropical areas, but the problem is that its flower will not appear if the temperature is below 10 degrees Celsius.

Harvesting Cloves

When is the best time to harvest cloves? Unfortunately, there is a need to have patience. It will grow fully and flowers will appear only after about 20 years. Spring and winter are the best seasons to harvest cloves. Usually, the flowers will be green. Once they turn to purple, this is an indication that they have already ripened and ready for harvest. Collect the ripe flower buds and dry them under the heat of the sun. One healthy and mature tree will yield an average of 7 to 40 pounds of cloves in a single harvest.

Harvesting Cloves

Spring and Winter are the Best Seasons to Harvest Cloves

Be sure to time the harvest perfectly. They should be done while the cloves are not yet open. Usually, at such point, they will have a length of two centimeters. Proper handling is also necessary, so as not to damage the buds. Drying time will usually take four to six days.

Once the buds are dried, they can now be used, especially in the kitchen. You have to keep it in a container that comes with an airtight seal, which will prevent damages that can be caused by external elements. You also have to make sure that the container is completely dry before putting the cloves. If it is wet, mold can develop and this will affect the quality of the buds. Keep the container in a cool and dry place to preserve its full flavor and aroma.

Care and Maintenance for Cloves

It is also critical to be responsible enough to ensure the healthy growth and maximum yield of cloves. With this, one thing that should be done is to pay attention to regular watering. This is basically because they survive in climates that are usually hot. Watering is especially important during the first four years of the plant. Nonetheless, you should prevent overwatering.

Also, during the younger years of the plant, you should protect it from strong wind. Especially during the typhoon season, they can be easily blown away. Provide the protection that is needed by this delicate tree.

Like in the case of other plants, however, it can also be prone to infestation from pests and diseases. Among others, an organic manure is one of the best choices for a natural fertilizer. This should be applied before the rainy season starts.

If not given proper care, one of the most common problems that can be experienced is seedling wilt. The leaves will tend to look pale and will eventually die. Leaf rot is also common. Once you have noticed any sign of disease infestation, make sure to deal with the affected part as soon as possible. This will prevent the disease from spreading to the undamaged part of the tree.


For centuries, cloves have gained reputation as amongst the most important herbs in history, not only for their culinary uses, but also for their medicinal applications. They might be underappreciated in traditional medicine these days, but its extensive history of use proves that it can indeed do wonders for the human body. With all of its benefits, it is no longer surprising that many people are interested in planting cloves, although they can only thrive in tropical climates.

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