Clove: A highly useful aromatic herb

Clove is an aromatic flower bud that is used for its distinctive flavour. It has a number of medicinal properties

CloveCloves are aromatic dried flower buds that are native to Indonesia and used as a spice in cuisines. The name derives from the French clou, a nail, as the buds vaguely resemble small irregular nails in shape. They are preferred for meat dishes and rice is frequently aromatised with a few cloves. In Ethiopia, coffee is often roasted together with some cloves in the so called "coffee ceremony."

In England, they are used for special types of sweets or sweet breads, and especially stewed fruits [together with cinnamon].

They form an essential part in Chinese spice powder, frequently appear in curry powders, determine the character of Moghul variant garam masala and are a component of Arabic baharat. The famous Worcestershire sauce, an Indo-British contribution to international cuisine, is markedly dominated by clove aroma. Cloves have historically been used in Indian cuisine. In the north Indian cuisine, cloves are used in almost every sauce or side-dish, mostly ground along with green cardamoms. In the south Indian cuisine, they find extensive use in rice dishes, and are normally added whole to enhance the presentation and flavour of rice.

Cloves can be used either whole or in ground form, but they are extremely potent and to be used sparingly.

Cloves impart a particular aroma because of the presence of essential oil in them. The compound responsible for the aroma is eugenol. It is the main component in the essential oil extracted from cloves, comprising 72 to 90 per cent eugenol and has pronounced antiseptic and anaesthetic properties. It also has painkiller properties.

Cloves are used in Ayurveda, Chinese medicines, western herbal medicine and dentistry, where its essential oil is used as an anodyne for dental emergencies. Cloves are used as a carminative to increase hydrochloric acid in the stomach and to improve peristalsis. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy when stimulation is needed, especially for digestive problems.

In the south Indian cuisine, cloves find extensive use in rice dishes, and are added whole to enhance the presentation.

Cloves help to ease toothaches and provide relief from pain. One glass of hot water with one teaspoon of powdered cloves, when taken during indigestion and diarrhoea, helps to relieve indigestion and other such intestinal problems.

Cloves have healing properties. It is helpful in healing of cuts and bites. When a paste of clove powder and water is made, and is applied on the affected area [of cuts and bites], it promotes faster healing. Cloves help to relieve muscle tension, stimulates mind and is also helpful in improving memory.

Large amounts of cloves should be avoided in pregnancy. Cloves can be irritating to gastrointestinal [GI] tract, and should be avoided by people with gastric ulcers, colitis or irritable bowl syndrome. In overdoses, cloves can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea and upper GI haemorrhage. The use of essential oil should be restricted to three drops per day for an adult as excessive use can cause severe kidney damage.

History of Cloves

Eugenia caryophyllus or Syzygium aromaticum or Clavus (meaning nail) in Latin, is popularly known as cloves. It is commercially in demand today as a food item, and as a medicine ingredient. Clove is also extensively used in soaps, lotions, and toothpastes, and other topical applications.

It is also used in perfumery, pharmaceutical and flavouring industries. The major producers of this spice are Indonesia, Zanzibar and Madagascar. Indonesia alone accounts for 66 % of the world production where clove cigarettes are manufactured.

States in India that grow clove are Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. In ancient days, clove was known to be the cause for battles fought, as it was one of the best spices traded.

The spice is made from the plucked floral buds. The clove buds are an initial pink in colour as they grow out, however, they turn a fiery red colour – this is the point at which they are plucked to be sun dried and turned in to the deep reddish brown and familiar spice called cloves.

Dietary uses

Whole cloves can be stored for about a year but powdered cloves are best if used within two months or earlier or else it could lose its volatile principles and become less effective. Powdered clove is used for baking, in perfumes, and for medicinal purposes in India just as in all other Asian countries.

Cloves are an excellent source of manganese, dietary fibre, vitamin C and K, omega-3 fatty acids, flavonoids and also a good source of calcium and magnesium.

Medicinal uses

Known for being a mild anaesthetic, anti-inflammatory as well as an anti-bacterial agent, it is extensively used in relieving pain in oral ailments. Ayurveda recognises it as an antiseptic, analgesic, anti microbial, antispasmodic, antiviral, anti parasitic, anaesthetic, and carminative. It prevents vomiting, acts as a digestive, and a mild sexual stimulant. Clove is said to be effective against coli, streptococci, staphylococci, and pneumococci. It is believed to prevent stomach upset, traveller's diarrhoea and wound infections.

Cloves boiled in water are recommended to be taken daily as digestive stimulant. Cloves, alone or with tulsi, pepper and honey, help relieve cough. This can also be given to small kids when they frequently develop cough, cold, and sore throat. Elderly people can be advised to eat a clove daily to be relieved of their aches, flatulence and other digestive problems.

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