Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum, syn. Eugenia aromaticum or Eugenia caryophyllata) are the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae. Cloves are native to Indonesia and India and used as a spice in cuisine all over the world. The English name derives from Latin clavus 'nail' (also origin of French clou 'nail') as the buds vaguely resemble small irregular nails in shape. Cloves are harvested primarily in Indonesia, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka; it is also grown in India under the name Lavang, called "lavanga".
The clove tree is an evergreen which grows to a height ranging from 10-20 m, having large oval leaves and crimson flowers in numerous groups of terminal clusters. The flower buds are at first of a pale color and gradually become green, after which they develop into a bright red, when they are ready for collecting. Cloves are harvested when 1.5-2 cm long, and consist of a long calyx, terminating in four spreading sepals, and four unopened petals which form a small ball in the centre.
Cloves are used in Ayurveda called Lavang in India, Chinese medicine and western herbalism and dentistry where the essential oil is used as an anodyne (painkiller) for dental emergencies. Cloves are used as a carminative, to increase hydrochloric acid in the stomach and to improve peristalsis. Cloves are also said to be a natural antihelmintic.
The essential oil is used in aromatherapy when stimulation and warming are needed, especially for digestive problems. Clove properties: Analgesic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic, antiviral, disinfectant, and immune stimulant. Topical application over the stomach or abdomen are said to warm the digestive tract.
In Chinese medicine cloves or ding xiang are considered acrid, warm and aromatic, entering the kidney, spleen and stomach meridians, and are notable in their ability to warm the middle, direct stomach qi downward, to treat hiccough and to fortify the kidney yang. Because the herb is so warming it is contraindicated in any persons with fire symptoms and according to classical sources should not be used for anything except cold from yang deficiency. As such it is used in formulas for impotence or clear vaginal discharge from yang deficiency, for morning sickness together with ginseng and patchouli, or for vomiting and diarrhea due to spleen and stomach coldness. This would translate to hypochlorhydria. Clove oil is used in various skin disorders like acne, pimples etc. It is also used in severe burns, skin irritations and to reduce the sensitiveness of skin.
Until modern times, cloves grew only on a few islands in the Maluku Islands (historically called the Spice Islands), including Bacan, Makian, Moti, Ternate, and Tidore. Nevertheless, they found their way west to the Middle East and Europe well before the first century AD. Archeologists found cloves within a ceramic vessel in Syria along with evidence dating the find to within a few years of 1721 BC.
Cloves, along with nutmeg and pepper, were highly prized in Roman times, and Pliny the Elder once famously complained that "there is no year in which India does not drain the Roman Empire of fifty million sesterces." Cloves were traded by Arabs during the Middle Ages in the profitable Indian Ocean trade. In the late fifteenth century, Portugal took over the Indian Ocean trade, including cloves, due to the Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain and a separate treaty with the sultan of Ternate. The Portuguese brought large quantities of cloves to Europe, mainly from the Maluku Islands. Clove was then one of the most valuable spices, a kg costing around 7 g of gold.
The high value of cloves and other spices drove Spain to seek new routes to the Maluku Islands, which would not be seen as trespassing on the Portuguese domain in the Indian Ocean. Fernando e Isabela sponsored the unsuccessful voyages of Cristobal Colon (Columbus), and their grandson Carlos I sponsored the voyage of Hernando de Magallanes (Magellan). The fleet led by Magallanes reached the Maluku Islands after his death, and the Spanish were successful in briefly capturing this trade from the Portuguese. The trade later became dominated by the Dutch in the seventeenth century. With great difficulty the French succeeded in introducing the clove tree into Mauritius in the year 1770. Subsequently, their cultivation was introduced into Guiana, Brazil, most of the West Indies, and Zanzibar.
In Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, cloves were worth at least their weight in gold, due to the high price of importing them.
Ayurvedic herbalist K.P. Khalsa, RH (AHG), uses cloves internally as a tea and topically as an oil for hypotonic muscles, including for multiple sclerosis. This is also found in Tibetan medicine. s Ayurvedic herbalist Alan Tilotson, RH (AHG) suggests avoiding more than occasional use of cloves internally in the presence of pitta inflammation such as is found in acute flares of autoimmune diseases.
In West Africa, the Yorubas use cloves infused in water as a treatment for stomach upsets, vomiting and diarrhea. The infusion is called Ogun Jedi-jedi.
Western studies have supported the use of cloves and clove oil for dental pain, and to a lesser extent for fever reduction, as a mosquito repellent and to prevent premature ejaculation. Clove may reduce blood sugar levels.