(Syzygium aromaticum, also known as
Eugenia caryophyllus and E. aromatica). The word 'clove'
comes from the French 'clou', meaning nail. Cloves are the unopened
flower buds of a tree of the myrtle family, indigenous to the Moluccas,
the fabled Spice Islands of old. They grow on strong but slender
stems in groups of two, three or four and each bud measures about 1 cm
from the base of the long calyx to the rounded tip of the bud. When
fresh they are deep pink and even as tightly closed buds, give off a
spicy, floral fragrance. They are never allowed to bloom because if they
do, they will become worthless as a spice.
The buds are picked twice a year, separated
from the stems and spread on mats to dry in the sun for several days
until dark brown. They lose two-third of their weight after drying, and
it takes from 10,000 to 14,000 of the dried buds to make a kilo of the
The clove plant provides
which are used in perfumes, toothpastes, mouthwash and breath
fresheners. Courtiers in China during the third century BC were required
to keep a few cloves in their mouths to sweeten the breath whenever
addressing the emperor.
The flavor of cloves, measure for measure,
is much stronger than most of the other spices, so the quantity added is generally
less than, for instance, cinnamon or nutmeg, so that it doesn't
overwhelm. A clove or two simmered with stewed fruit, then removed, adds
interest; and for pickling, cloves are as essential as mustard seed. In
Western cooking, the Christmas ham wouldn't be the same if not studded
with cloves before baking, and a pinch of ground cloves added to the ham
glaze of mustard and brown sugar lifts the flavor tremendously.
Cloves are an essential ingredient in many
spice blends, but perhaps nowhere more important than in Indian curry
Medicinal uses : Oil of clove is an
old and reliable toothache reliever, is antiseptic and was used in
medicine to aid digestion.