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 used as a spice in cuisine all over the world. The name derives from French clou, a nail, as the buds vaguely resemble small irregular nails in shape. Cloves are harvested primarily in Zanzibar, Indonesia and Madagascar; it is also grown in India called Lavang , Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
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.
According to FAO, Indonesia produced almost 80% of the world's clove output in 2005 followed at a distance by Madagascar and Tanzania.
Cloves can be used in cooking either whole or in a ground form, but as they are extremely strong, they are used sparingly. The spice is used throughout Europe and Asia and is smoked in a type of cigarettes locally known as kretek in Indonesia. The largest brand of kreteks in the United States is Djarum, who sells the iconic Djarum Black. Cloves are also an important incense material in Chinese and Japanese culture.
Cloves have historically been used in Indian cuisine (both North Indian and South Indian)as well as Mexican cuisine, where it is often paired together with cumin and cinnamon. In the north Indian cuisine, it is used in almost every sauce or side dish made, mostly ground up along with other spices. They are also a key ingredient in tea along with green cardamoms. In the south Indian cuisine, it finds extensive use in the biryani dish (similar to the pilaf, but with the addition of local spice taste), and is normally added whole to enhance the presentation and flavor of the rice.
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.
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. 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 diarrhoea.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.
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 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, where the majority of cloves are grown today.
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.