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Cloves – The Tiny Flowers that Changed the World
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Cloves – The Tiny Flowers that Changed the World

Cloves – The Tiny Flowers that Changed the World

Clove Flowers
Cloves are one of the famous spices that drove the famous “spice trade” and offered riches for colonials to fight wars over.

Cloves – The Tiny Flowers that Changed the World

One of the most widely used spices in the world and one that wars and kingdoms fought and fell over is the Clove. The dried buds of a tropical evergreen tree, cloves have an amazing flavor, smell and a utility in our diets and medicine. Here is some of the information we have compiled on cloves. Feel free to check back as the information here is updated and we learn more. 

Cloves and plant botanical drawing

About Cloves

Cloves are an aromatic flower bud of Syzygium aromaticum an evergreen tree in the Myrtaceae family which is native to Indonesia . Despite finding their way into historical usage all over the world from India to Europe, until modern times, clove trees grew only on “the Spice Islands‘ of Maluku. Being native to the Maluku Islands (the Moluccas) cloves have been highly sought after and traded since ancient times and are commonly used as a culinary spice and in medicine. The spice was highly desirable and hard to get making it expensive and highly sought after. Cloves are available throughout the year owing to different harvest seasons in different countries. They are commonly sold in a dried form that can be stored for some time. 

The name clove is derived from the French word “clou” which means nail and likely refers to the shape of the dried clove bud. Cloves are often pressed into foods or fruits like nails when the clove flavor is desired in the food. Cloves are also often associated with protection.

The Spicy History of Cloves

Cloves are truly an ancient spice. Evidence of cloves has been found at Terqa, Syria dating to 1720 BCE. Putting a spice that could only be produced in the Moluccas some 10,000 km (or 6,200 miles) away far before modern trade routes were established.

In the third century BC it was recorded that the Chinese emperors of the Han Dynasty required those who were to address them to chew cloves to freshen their breath. Cloves reached the Roman world in first century AD as described by Pliny the Elder one of the inventors of the encyclopedia. By 176 AD, cloves had reached Egypt.

The first references to cloves are found in Asian literature from the Chinese Han period under the reference “chicken-tongue spice” apparently referring to the way the chemical eugenol reacts in a persons mouth. Starting in the 8th century on, cloves became one of the major spices in European commerce. In the Moluccas parents planted a clove tree when a child was born and judged the health of the child based on the health of it’s clove tree. When the clove forests were first discovered by the europeans, all were enchanted with the fragrance and beauty of this tropical evergreen tree which “must always see the sea” in order to thrive. The difficultly in creating a thriving clove made the Moluccas a very valuable place for much of recorded history.

Cloves were traded by Omani sailors and merchants trading goods from India to the mainland and Africa during the Middle Ages in the profitable Indian Ocean trade. Cloves were traded like oil, with an enforced limit on exportation.

Cloves, along with nutmeg and pepper, were highly prized to the Romans, and even 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.

Slowly the Dutch East India Company consolidated control of the spice trade in the 17th century as they sought to gain a monopoly in cloves as they had in nutmeg. However, “unlike nutmeg and mace, which were limited to the minute Bandas, clove trees grew all over the Moluccas, and the trade in cloves was beyond the limited policing powers of the corporation.”

Although they were a private multinational corporation (the first of its kind), they had more power than most nations. In order to keep prices high, they limited the amount of clove available for export to 800-1000 tons per year. The rest of the crop was destroyed. Since clove trees only grew on the Maluku Islands, they had complete control over the clove market, and made huge profits. They used these profits to strengthen and expand their hold on the region.

One of the policies enacted by the Dutch in 1652 was extirpation: the elimination of any clove trees not owned by the company. The Dutch eradicated cloves on all islands except Amboina and Ternate in order to create scarcity and sustain high prices. The natives considered these trees sacred and the destruction of the tree lead to uprisings and the eventual loss of the Dutch Monopoly.

As the Dutch set about uprooting thousands of trees, one tree managed to avoid detection. Likely due to its out-of-the-way position on the side of a mountain, the Afo Clove Tree survived. In 1770, a French missionary stumbled upon the hidden tree, and smuggled some of its precious seeds out of the colony.

From there, the Pierre Poivre (aptly named Peter Pepper) brought these stolen seeds to the French colonies of Seychelles and Zanzibar. Afo’s descendants became the base for new clove plantations, bringing an end to the Dutch monopoly.

Afo grew to be nearly 400 years old, and at its tallest more than 40 meters. Although the soil around its roots belonged to the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Dutch, and later the Japanese, it was a villager that was its ultimate downfall. With few living branches remaining, it was likely mistaken for a long dead tree, and its branches were chopped with machetes for firewood some time in 2014. What remains of Afo is now protected by a brick wall, a symbol of the importance of these small islands in world history.

Afo’s seeds were spread all over the world, ending the cycle of destructive exploitation. 

Folklore and Customs

Moluccan natives planted a clove tree for each child in the tribe and they believed that the health of the clove tree was directly related to the health of the child they had planted the tree for. When the European colonizers decided to control the trade by killing trees in certain areas the tribes began to revolt leading the eventual decline of the monopolies.

Clove is thought to be endowed with powers of protection, love, exorcism, and money.

Some people burn clove as an incense to attract money, drive away hostility and negativity, produce spiritual vibrations, and purify an area.  It is said to be able to stop people from gossiping about you.  When carried upon a person, it is believed to attract romance and bring comfort to a bereaved heart.

Cloves are thought to enhance psychic abilities, especially when burned.

Sucking on two full cloves without chewing them is rumored to help control the desire for drinking alcohol.

Clove is thought to be endowed with powers of protection, love, exorcism, and money.

Some people burn clove as an incense to attract money, drive away hostility and negativity, produce spiritual vibrations, and purify an area.  It is said to be able to stop people from gossiping about you.  When carried upon a person, it is believed to attract romance and bring comfort to a bereaved heart.

Cloves are thought to enhance psychic abilities, especially when burned.

Sucking on two full cloves without chewing them is rumored to help control the desire for drinking alcohol.

Culinary Uses

The clove bud aroma is widely used. This combined with it’s antiseptic powers makes it highly desirable in toothpaste, detergents, creams, perfumes, and mouthwashes. It is also a preservative and so the aroma is often cooked into meats, sauces and other foods as well as alcohol and soda recipes. It is popular in holiday dishes for it’s spicy yet sweet flavor. Used sparingly in a huge variety of culinary applications you might be surprised to learn that cloves are even used in ketchup.

Whole love are often used to stud hams and other animals and proteins by pushing the pointed meat into a nail. Once can also stud onions and cook the food with the onion to create a more elusive flavors. Cloves can be strong so don’t use to many in your food. They particularly improve game meats like venison, wild boar and hare. 

Many traditional spice mixtures use clove including Ras el hangout, curry powders, ponder spices and pickling spices. Cloves outline the flavor of Worcester sauce and can even be used in rices. 

Flavors that go with clove include Cumin, Cinnamon, Garlic, Black Pepper, and Nutmeg.

Clove Spice Rub

This spice rub is great for all kinds of dishes and is especially enjoyed in the fall. Use it on meat and vegetable dishes and even roll your favorite candies in it or add it to holiday cookies!


1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

You will also need:

Small Bowl


Mixing Spoon


Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl and then transfer to your favorite spice container.

Add to your favorite meals!

Bread and Butter Pickles

This pickling brine is great for making your best bread and butter pickles or even for marinating meats overnight before a special meal.

The Brine:

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1 teaspoon dry mustard

3-4 whole cloves1 teaspoon celery seed

½ teaspoon turmeric

Sliced red chili (optional)

½ cup white vinegar

½ apple cider vinegar

¼ cup water

The Vegetables:

Use Pickling Cucumber slices for best results (about 3 cucumbers sliced ¼-inch thick)*
*You can also use any other pickling vegetables that you like!

You will also need:

Large Stock Pot

Mason Jars

Medium Saucepan


  1. Fill your large stock-pot with water and bring it to a boil.
  2. Carefully submerge the mason jars with their tops in the boiling water and keep them submerged for at least 5 minutes until ready to use.
  3. Combine brine ingredients in the medium-sized saucepan and bring them to a boil.
  4. Reduce to a simmer and allow your brine to simmer for 2-4 minutes before removing from heat.
  5. Thoroughly wash all herbs and vegetables (cucumbers in this case) you intend to pickle before cutting them into the desired shape and size.
  6. Carefully place and arrange the herbs and vegetables inside of the mason jar.
  7. Pour the warm brine over the vegetables until the mason jar is just about full, making sure to completely submerge the items you want to get pickled. Seal the jar while the brine is still warm and allow to cool completely before placing in the fridge.
  8. The pickles will reach their peak readiness in 2 weeks and can be stored for much longer. Put them in the refrigerator after a few months when you are ready to eat and keep them refrigerated as you eat them. 
Eartha Astrya Pure Clove Bud Oil


The clove bud aroma is widely used. This combined with it’s antiseptic powers makes it highly desirable in toothpaste, detergents, creams, perfumes, and mouthwashes. It is also a preservative and so the aroma is often cooked into meats, sauces and other foods as well as alcohol and soda recipes. 

Do It Yourself Incense

Cinnamon Nutmeg Clove Incense Cones Recipe! This is a great way to start making your own incense recipes. We enjoy using these cone molds to make homemade incense because you can control all of the ingredients you use and alter them depending on your mood or intent. Make sure to learn about other ingredients or even add a few essential oils or other herbs to customize yours!


3 tsp. ground cinnamon

1.5 tsp. ground nutmeg

1.5 tsp. ground cloves

1 tsp. marshmallow root

1 tsp. honey

1 tbsp. water

You will also need:

Mortar and Pestle

Incense Cone Making Mold



  1. Grind all of the spices cinnamon, nutmeg. Marshmallow root, and cloves with a mortar and pestle. 
  2. Add water and Honey. 
  3. Put the mixture into your mold. 
  4. Poke a hole with a toothpick in the center of the incense mixture as it dries. 
  5. Let the mixture sit until dry. 
  6. Lift off the mold and burn the incense during ceremony or meditation. 

Homemade Stovetop Potpourri

This homemade potpourri is easy to make, smells amazing and adds a festive scent to holiday parties and celebrations. Perfect for any occasion!


1 whole orange or orange peel

1/2 cup cranberries

1 tbs whole cloves

3 Cinnamon sticks

Orris Root Powder

You will also need:

A Small Saucepan

A little water each time you boil


  1. Quarter the orange and add to a small saucepan.
  2. Add cranberries, cloves and cinnamon sticks.
  3. Fill pan with water and and set on lowest burner setting.
  4. As the potpourri simmers, add water as necessary.

Medicinal Benefits

Chinese physicians have used cloves to take care of indigestion, diarrhea, hernia, ringworm, athlete’s foot and other fungal infections. India’s ancient aruyvedic heather use cloves to take care of respiratory and digestive disorders. German herbalists in the middle age used cloves  to create a potent anti-gout mixture. Even American herbalists have been using it to bitter herbal medicines to make them taste better and digest easier. They also started extracting clove oil from the cloves to treat tooth ailments. A few drops can help prevent vomiting, and a mixture is used to ease nausea. 

Essential Oil of clove is effective against strep, staph and pneumocci bacterias but always ask your doctor about your use of clove and don’t use it as an excuse to avoid reputable doctors advice. 

Today herbalists use it fo so many things digestive complaints, ulcers, vomiting, flatulence, and to encourage the digestive systems. It is an influential local antiseptic and makes meek anesthetic actions. Cloves also contain antioxidants. The chemical eugenol found in cloves has been instituted to be a feeble tumor promoter making clove one of the many therapuetic herbs with both pro-effect and anti-cancer effects. 


Laboratory studies have shown cloves to be high in anti-oxidants.

Improving Digestion

All over the world cloves are often used to help treat indigestion. this includes helping with abdominal pain, bloating, and dyspepsia.


Both Clove OIl and Eugenol have strong antiseptic properties.


Clove will help slow the process of food fermentation in a jar AND in your gut.

Great Source of Manganese

One Teaspoon of ground clove buds has 55% of your daily allowance of Manganese.

Used for Bone Health

Some studies have suggested that ingesting cloves will improve your bone health.

Regulate Blood Sugar

There is very strong evidence to suggest that both cloves and eugenol are good for regulating blood sugar and can be a benefit to those suffering from diabetes.

Improve Liver Health

There are some studys that suggest a diet that includes cloves will help your liver to function better.

Toxicity – Important Warning!

Oil of cloves is considered safe in very small quantities (less than 1500 parts per million) as a food additive (Bruneton 1995). However, clove oil is toxic to human cells (Prashar et al. 2006). If ingested in sufficient quantity or injected, it has been shown to cause life-threatening complications, including Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Fulminant Hepatic (Liver) Failure, and Central Nervous System Depression; the lethal oral dose is 3.752 g per kg body weight (PTCL 2005; Hartnoll et al. 1993; Brown et al. 1992; Lane et al. 1991; Kirsch et al. 1990). The internal use of the essential oil should be restricted to three drops per day for an adult as excessive use can cause severe kidney damage.

Large amounts of cloves should be avoided in pregnancy. Cloves can be irritating to the gastrointestinal tract, and should be avoided by people with gastric ulcers, colitis, or irritable bowel syndrome. In overdoses, cloves can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage. Severe cases can lead to changes in liver function, dyspnea, loss of consciousness, hallucination, and even death (Bensky et al. 2004).

Making Clove Oil

Clove Oil has all kinds of wonderful uses. It is widely popular to use cloves to ease swelling and pain from tooth infections in the mouth.


6 grams of fresh whole cloves

Half Cup of Olive Oil

You will also need:

Mortar and Pestle Or Spice Grinder

Large Coffee Filter

String (cotton or hemp)

Mason Jar

Aluminum Foil

  1. Grind Your Cloves.
  2. Put the ground cloves in the center of the coffee Filter.
  3. Close and Tie the end of the coffee filter closed with the string.
  4. Pour a half cup of Olive oil in a Mason Jar. 
  5. Make a lid on the top of the jar with tin foil and push the top in to make a convex lid. 
  6. Heat water in a large pot and place a second pot inside the first pot to create a double boiler. 
  7. Place your mason jar with cloves and oil in the second pot. 
  8. Allow the cloves to heat in the double boiler for 45 minutes. 
  9. Remove the jar and let sit for one week with the cloves inside the jar.
  10. Remove the coffee filter and cloves from the jar. 
  11. Try a few drops!

Magical Uses of Cloves

Gender: Masculine

Planet: Jupiter

Element: Fire

Powers: Exorcism, Healing, Love, Money, Protection

Magical Uses and History: The name “clove” originates from the Old French world clou and the Latin clavus meaning “nail” for its shape, like that of a nail. For this reason, cloves are often seen as protective. 

Cloves are also historically linked to healing and protection from illness. Clove oil has been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments, especially dental ailments and is naturally antiseptic. However, one of its most famous uses is in the pomander ball or pomme d’ambre which translates to “apple of amber.” Pomanders were balls made from different perfumes that were worn or carried in a vase for protection against infection and bad smells.

They mostly started out as mixtures molded to look like fruit and kept in wooden, metal, or porcelain. This is evidenced in several painting os Queen Elizabeth II. Recent versions of this charm include the popular practice or using oranges covered in cloves and wrapped in ribbon. Beginning in the eighteenth century, many wealthy Europeans ran with the idea of studding oranges with cloves and giving them to loved ones as a gift for Christmas or the New Year, hence why modern pomanders are often associated with Yule and Christmas.

These charms are often hung and then allowed to cure dry and placed in drawers and closets to protect again pests, or as a charm to help the ill recover faster. While cloves were not nearly as expensive as they had been, oranges were definately expensive, making orange and clove pomanders something only the wealthy originally indulged in. Especially in feudal times only the wealthy could afford to use food as an air freshener instead of eating it. As such, modern pomanders are also associated with wealth and prosperity and is said to bring good luck to those that have them.

How to Create Your Own Pomander

Pomanders have been used for centuries to scent and protect rooms and clothing. You can make your own with your family and each can be creative with their own design a little like creating jackolanterns!

Ingredients Needed:

Whole cloves

Small oranges (but not mandarines or tangerines)

Pretty ribbon


1.  One popular tip is to plan out your design before you start adding cloves. So think about it, even make a sketch. Some peopl like to use the end of a knife to cut patterns in the orange peel before adding the cloves. The fun thing about this project is you can get creative so use your imagination.

2. Some people also like to put the ribbons in first so they can hold the pomander by the ribbon and look at it as the design progresses. Tie one or more ribbons around the orange as decoration and to hang the orange with. The ribbon can be held in place with sewing pins if to make sure that the ribbon does not come undone. You can also do this at the end of the project if you prefer.

3. Puncture holes in the skin of the orange with the pointed end of the clove. Often it’s easier if you poke a whole with a small nail or ice pick before to make the clove easier to insert. Depending on the size of your cloves you might have to experiment so that the wholes aren’t too big that the clove may fall out. You want a tight fit.

4.  Press the clove all the way in, until the rounded end of the clove is sticking out of the orange and the rest of the clove is all the way in the skin.

5. Continue to do this all around the orange.  The cloves can be arranged in fun designs or they can blanket the orange.  There all all kinds of patterns you make and we will try to give you some examples below.

6. You can also leave the ribbon off, and instead, put the pomanders in a bowl or on a plate to decorate and scent your holiday table or any time of year.


Syzygium aromaticum is an evergreen tree that can grow more than eight meters high. Usually the cultivated varieties only grow to around 5 meters that is still 2-3 times the height of a human. It is native to Indonesia and as a mature tree is a a smooth blueish bark with a grayish-yellow and green foliage color. The trees blossom twice a year starting in July and then again in November. Clove tress can live over a hundred years and are known to be slow growers.  The clove tree has beautiful blooms and will add color to your garden while also attracting bees and polinators with the amazing aroma. 

Open Clove Flower

Can I Grow My Own Cloves?

The clove tree requires very warm weather which never falls below 50° F (10° C). This is why cloves are grown in humid tropical and subtropical climate zones. The tree will die in a cold climate however it is possible to grow a clove tree in a pot if you take special precautions in the winter time. 

CLove buds on their tree


When growing cloves from seed be sure to get moist pollinated seeds and plant them before they dry out as dried out seeds are not viable and will not germinate. So plant seeds immediately right on top of the soil. It isn’t needed but it’s ok to dust the seeds with a little soil.  Use rich and loamy soil with lots of organic matter. Good drainage is preferred and your tree will require much watering especially when in the seedling and sapling stages.  After a while you will see lots of little seedlings sprout and start adjusting to the soil. Once they start sprouting quickly and are larger than one inch in height, transfer them to a new large pot that they can grow up into. 

Then water the soil and cover the tray or pot with plastic to keep the germination area moist. Clove Tree grows best in humid environments so always keep this in mind. It prefers a tropical climate and a semi-shaded sun exposure.

It can tolerate brief frosts but temperatures below 32 F can kill the plant. Be careful and cover or bring in the plant when it is too cold. 

Do not over-water. It’s a balancing act getting the water right so pay attention to how the plant react to your watering. Frequent small waterings are best and misting the plant will be highly beneficial. Keep the air humid as much as possible. 

Clove trees require a minimum of 50 inches of rainfall annually and temperatures that never get freezing. However you can replicate this environment if you grow indoors. Do not attempt to grow a clove tree outdoors if you live in a temperate zone. 

Cloves enjoy aged manure and compost and bone and fish meals yearly. In native areas the fertilizer is usually applied around the plant before it begins to rain. You can also use, urea, superphosphate, muriate of potash and potassium sulfate. 

Be careful of rot and wilting and watch out for mealybugs, stem boers, and scales. 


When you get cloves from the store they are dried unopened flowers buds that were harvesting in a timely fashion. It takes six years for a clove tree to start flowering if it’s healthy and enjoying it’s climate and conditions. But the full bearing stage takes 15-20 years. 

The opened buds are picked before they turn pink normally because this is the best way to use the buds as a spice or in other extracts. Be careful not to damage the branches as you cut the unopened flowers from the plant. Once you pick the buds you must dry them until they have lost at least half of their weight. The color of the bud will darken to light and dark browns.


Cloves and plant botanical drawing


Eugenol comprises 72–90% of the essential oil extracted from cloves, and is the compound most responsible for clove aroma. Complete extraction occurs at 80 minutes in pressurized water at 125 °C (257 °F). Ultrasound-assisted and microwave-assisted extraction methods provide more rapid extraction rates with lower energy costs.

Eugenol is the most obvious and compelling component of cloves and is responsible for both it’s flavor and medical uses. Many studies have shown Eugenol to be beneficial medically. 

Cloves also contain a high level of manganese but few other nutritional benefits. 

Other important essential oil constituents of clove oil include acetyl eugenol, beta-caryophyllene, vanillin, crategolic acid, tannins such as bicornin, gallotannic acid, methyl salicylate (painkiller), the flavonoids eugenin, kaempferol, rhamnetin, and eugenitin, triterpenoids such as oleanolic acid, stigmasterol, and campesterol and several sesquiterpenes.[25] Eugenol has not been classified for its potential toxicity.


Clove Etymology


Scientific classification
Species:S. aromaticum
Binomial nameSyzygium aromaticum
(L.) Merr. & L.M.Perry

Source: Wikipedia


Wikipedia – Clove
About Cove uses, pairings and recipes – 
New World Encyclopedia – Clove
McComick Science Institute – Cloves
Thetreeographer – The Clove Tree that ended a Monopoly.
Indian Mirror – Clove
Flying the Hedge – Clove
Solidago School of Herbalism – Clove, A Spice That’s Extra Nice

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