Chinese physicians knew about the health benefits of cloves as far back as the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.). They mentioned the tree’s many properties in their writings, especially its ability to sweeten the breath. However, until the time of great journeys in the 16th century, the clove tree, like many other spices, came to Europe from India in minimal amounts. This fact made spices more expensive and precious. Thus, one of the main reasons Christopher Columbus started his sea journey was to look for a shorter route to the spice-producing countries, and clove was one of these spices.
Tropical spices were highly appreciated in Europe. According to the theory of signs, the clove was perhaps the most precious because it was regarded as a powerful aphrodisiac. Herbalists and apothecaries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance saw in cloves the representation of an erect penis, with the testicles at its base. Therefore, it was supposed to act on the male genitalia.
Did Columbus know this before sailing west with his caravels? He probably did. Nevertheless, the discoverer never found the land where clove trees grew. The Portuguese seafarer Ferdinand Magellan, along with the Basque Juan Sebastian Elcano, the first to travel around the world, sailed on an expedition which, in 1520, arrived at the Moluccas Islands, near China. On these Islands, they loaded cloves, bringing them to Spain as a precious treasure. Since then, the farming of clove trees has spread to all tropical regions.
Health Benefits of Cloves and Healing Properties
Cloves contain 15 to 20 percent of essence, mainly formed by eugenol, along with small amounts of acetyleugenol, caryophyllene, and methyl amilcetone. This essence is what gives cloves their aroma and their properties.
- Oral antiseptic and analgesic. The essence of clove used as an oil is included in toothpaste, orally taken elixirs, and perfumes. Its antiseptic power is three times superior to that of phenol. It is recommended in the case of stomatitis (inflammation of the mouth mucus membrane) or gingivitis (gum inflammation). In local applications, it can temporarily ease toothaches caused by tooth decay.
- General stimulant of the body, though much milder than coffee.
- Appetizer (which stimulates the appetite) and carminative (eliminates intestinal gases).
WARNING! Those suffering from gastroduodenal ulcers or gastritis must abstain from consuming cloves, both as a medicinal plant and spice. It acts as an irritant on the digestive system in high doses, which is shown by nausea, vomiting, and stomach ache.
Clove Tree Scientific Facts
- Scientific synonyms: Syzgium aromaticum (L.) Merr.-Perry. Caryophyllus aromaticus L.
- French: Giroflier, bois a clous.
- Spanish: Clavero, clavo de olor.
- Environment: Native to the Moluccas and the Philippines, at present, it is grown in other tropical areas of Asia and America.
- Description: Tree of the Myrtaceae family, growing from 10 to 20 meters high. The cloves are the flower buds gathered when becoming red. After drying them under the sun, they acquire an ochre color.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: Dried flower buds.
How to use Cloves
- Infusion, with two or three cloves per cup of water, drinking a cup with each meal.
- Essence. One to three drops before each meal.
- Spice. It must be sparingly used since a single clove is enough to spice a whole meal.
- Mouth elixir. Rinses with a glass of water to which some drops of clove essence have been added. It refreshes and disinfects the mouth.
- Toothache. To ease it, apply a piece of clove, or a drop of clove essence, on the aching tooth.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. Vols. 1 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 192, 193. Print. [health benefits of cloves]