A clove story

Resembling tiny torches, cloves (derived from the Latin word clavus which means nail) are an ancient and venerable spice that was much sought after for their versatility and medicinal value as far back as 1721 BC.

In fact, during the Han Dynasty (206BC to 220AD), courtiers in the Emperor’s court would put cloves in their mouth to prevent bad breath and the spread of disease. Even visiting dignitaries were obliged to do so in the presence of the Emperor and anyone found to have disregarded this rule were punishable by death.

As a treasured commodity, cloves have spurred expeditions to the east and have been the root cause of many wars at sea. In the early 17th century the Dutch incurred the wrath of natives when they destroyed cloves trees that were not within their colony in order to monopolise the trade.

This caused a lot of rage as it was a native tradition to plant a clove tree upon the birth of a child and the lifespan of the tree was believed to have a direct correlation to the child’s longevity.

In Britain during the 17th and 18th centuries, cloves were even worth their weight in gold. Needless to say, everyone was keen to profit from this valuable spice and before long, clove trees which are native to the Molucca Islands (near Indonesia) were being grown in other parts of the world including Brazil, Mauritius, Tanzania and Zanzibar.

The dried clove stalks that many are familiar with are actually the unopened flower buds of an evergreen tree, a member of the myrtle family. Clusters of the clove buds are handpicked just as they take on a pinkish hue. They are then separated from the stem and carefully dried till they turn brown.

Penang grown cloves are considered to be of superior quality as a hand selection of the biggest and highest quality cloves are sold and exported. These clove stalks are slightly reddish, plump and have a more fragrant, almost fruity scent.

Today cloves are widely used in cooking, though knowledge of their medicinal value has somewhat diminished. They add a unique sweetness and warmth to soups, breads, meat dishes, desserts and even beverages especially tea. But as they have a strong, overpowering flavour, it’s best to use them sparingly in any particular dish.

In terms of health value, cloves can be used for respiratory infections, upset stomachs, diarrhea , nausea and vomiting. Its analgesic properties are also recommended for toothache and as a counterirritant for skin and throat inflammation. It is also reported that when taken with tea, clove buds can help to eliminate intestinal parasites such as roundworms.

The oil that is extracted from cloves are widely used in mouthwashes, toothpaste, acne creams and in aromatherapy products. Its aphrodisiac nature makes clove oil one of the best stress reliever and stimulant for reducing mental exhaustion and fatigue.

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