Written by Allison Prater |
Syzygium aromaticum is a dense evergreen, affectionately nicknamed “Zanzibar Red Head,” better known as the Clove tree. Growing up to 65 feet in height, the tree’s cream-colored flower heads turn red when the stamens drop before becoming purple berries. The spice clove comes from the unopened flower buds, which are picked twice a year and sun-dried. They are native to the Maluku islands in Indonesia, where clove is still cultivated. It is harvested in India, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as well. Clove is partial to tropical maritime climates.
Clove’s strong, spicy flavor is used in both savory and sweet recipes. The buds can be used either whole or ground. Generally, whole buds are removed from food before serving. Cloves compliment beets, green beans, carrots, squash, split pea soup, fruit compotes, rhubarb, prunes, cranberries, pickling brines, strong meat stews, cakes, puddings, marinades, spiced teas and mulled beverages. Cloves are prominent in the cuisines of Russia, Greece, India and China. They are also used in many regions of Africa and the Middle East.
In Mexican cuisine, cloves are known as “clavos de olor,” and are often combined with cumin and cinnamon. Cloves pair well with allspice, vanilla, red wine, basil, onion, citrus peel, star anise and peppercorns.
The use of cloves can be found in Indian Ayurvedic Medicine, Chinese Medicine and Western Herbalism. They are used as a carminative, which reduces gas by increasing the hydrochloric acid in the stomach. It improves peristalsis, the wave contraction and relaxation of smooth muscles, which propels contents through the digestive tract.
In Chinese medicine cloves are known as ding xiang, and are considered acrid, warm and aromatic. They enter the kidney, spleen and stomach meridians and are used to direct the chi downward, warm the middle, treat hiccough and fortify kidney yang. It is used in formulas for impotence and digestive troubles that stem from coldness in the stomach, such as diarrhea.
The essential oil is used in aromatherapy where stimulation and warming are called for, especially in relation to digestive problems. Topical application of clove oil, diluted with a carrier oil over the stomach and abdomen, are said to warm the digestive tracts. Clove oil is used as a painkiller to relieve toothaches, and is still used by dentists as a topical anesthetic. As always, consult a trusted health practitioner who is well versed in herbs before working with this or any herbal remedy.
Below is a recipe for some old-timey air freshener that features cloves, known as a pomander. It has been used since ancient times to freshen stale rooms, ward off disease and repel moths.
1 medium size orange (1 apple, lemon, or lime can also be used)
2 ounces whole clove buds
Orris root powder
Press the pointy ends of the cloves into the orange until it is completely covered. If you like, you can roll the pomander in other aromatic powdered spices such as cinnamon and ginger to give it additional aroma. Dust with Orris root powder, which acts as a fixative, and then set in a dark airy spot for at least four weeks to dry. Then, the pomander can be decorated with ribbon, strung on thread and hung, or displayed in glass bowls. Enjoy!
1. Kowalchik, Claire and Hylton, William H. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Rodale Press. Emmaus, Pennsylvania, 1987.
2. Bremness, Lesley. Dorling Kindersley Handbooks: Herbs. Dorling Kindersley. New York, 1994.