Cloves - Eugenia caryophyllata


Eugenia caryophyllata (also called Syzygium aromaticum) is a tree of medium or small size, evergreen, originating in the Moluccan islands; it is cultivated, to use its spice, in Africa, Asia, South America and Australia. The cloves are obtained from floral buds, collected still well closed and dried in the sun, in summer and in winter. The tree is erect, with a roundish crown, with large dark green leaves, very shiny, slightly leathery, the young leaves are suffused with red; the flowers are gathered in umbrella-like corymbs, from a long bright red goblet a white flower blooms, with a feathery appearance; the flowers are followed by small reddish berries. The dried buds have a brown color and a woody consistency; they are used whole, or they are ground, preferably just before use, to avoid the dispersion of aromatic oils. This spice has a very intense aroma, slightly spicy, it is used both in sweet and savory preparations; there are cloves, especially in biscuits and pork meat preparations. Cloves are also widely used in perfumes and essential oil is widely used in the food industry. Since ancient times this spice has also been used in medicine, as a local anesthetic, as an antiseptic and as a food preservative.


Eugenia trees grow in places with mild winters, generally they do not tolerate temperatures below zero; they are planted in a shady or partially shady place, with slightly damp, but well-drained soil, with a slightly acid ph. They propagate by seed, in a container, although it is necessary to wait 4-5 years before flowering. They are plants of easy cultivation, which in places of origin do not require care, and can produce buds for tens of years.

Cloves of Carnation

Clove is a spice produced from a tree of the Myrtaceae family, Syzygium aromaticum, from four to six meters high. The crown generally has a rounded shape and is composed of branches that widen horizontally.
The leaves are opposite and petiolate, oval-lanceolate, with whole edges. The upper page is glossy while the lower one is characterized by transparent resinous stains. The ribs, very evident on both sides, are fine and parallel.
The flowers are born at the top of the branches and are arranged in small bunches. Their scent is very intense and intoxicating. They have a goblet and a red ovary. When they wither take the shape of a nail since the petals rest on each other to protect the development of the fruit.
It is precisely at this time that the harvest takes place. To get to the finished product that we all know we need to wait until they are completely dried.

Cultivation of cloves

It is a tree of slow and difficult growth. Propagation occurs mainly by seed, although these have a very low germination capacity, especially if preserved. The only way to maintain this ability is to leave them inside the fruit: it is thus possible to make them remain viable for almost two weeks.
It prefers volcanic, rich, but light soils, acidic or neutral. It is very sensitive at the level of the roots and therefore it is preferable not to disturb them for a long time.
The substrate must always be kept slightly damp. It loves warm climates and does not tolerate currents, however, a well established plant can also withstand temperatures around 10 ° C.
In Italy it could, therefore, be grown in the extreme South or on the Islands, although it requires great experience and patience.

Clove in antiquity

This evergreen tree is native to the Moluccan islands. He was already known to the Chinese for his medicinal properties long before the Christian era. Some writings dating from around 300 BC speak of it. Around 200 a. C. the cloves were imported from Java to China, to the court of the Han dynasty. They were mainly used to improve the breath of people who had to go before the emperor.
However, they were probably already known also in Africa and the Middle East. Some Egyptian mummies, in fact, have been found with necklaces of cloves. Some ancient Greek manuscripts also speak of it, exalting their medicinal virtues.
In Europe they were probably very important to the Phoenicians. The first certain trace of our continent dates back to 334 AD: the Roman emperor Constantine donated 150 pounds of this spice to the bishop of Rome, San Silvestro.

Clove in the Middle Ages

It became increasingly popular throughout the Middle Ages to the point that they were the real stimulus for new explorations of the East. European travelers created new ways to be able to import large quantities of spices and rare fabrics.
The clove, in particular, was considered very precious: numerous tombs were found in which treasure chests were kept containing, each, at most two buds.
They were mainly used for storing food, especially meat.

From the Portuguese monopoly to the present day

In the fifteenth century, Niccolт Conti, a Venetian merchant, learned that this spice was produced in the Java area. The first to go, with ships, towards those territories were the Portuguese, who arrived there in 1511. They immediately began to take possession of his production (and also that of nutmeg).
In 1521 we have the first detailed description of the tree, by Pigafetta, lieutenant of Magellan. In 1605 the Moluccas became Dutch territory, but the production and marketing policy did not change. The control of production (and reproduction of trees) became, if possible, even more rigid (with the sole purpose of creating a monopoly and maximizing profit).
It was common practice to burn all the plants outside the restricted area for controlled cultivation. Whoever was caught stealing even a seed was immediately sentenced to death.
In 1773, however, Pierre Poivre, a French botanist, managed to obtain a small tree and, after many failed attempts, obtained other seedlings. Thus began a large-scale cultivation at the Réunion and the spice managed to become more accessible to all.

Clove: the spice

It is a very fine spice and is still produced in a very small area.
It is called "clove" due to its shape, which in effect resembles a rusty nail, and the scent, which is vaguely reminiscent of the dianthus.
The aroma is so intense, it is given by its essential oils, very concentrated, in particular euganol. If the spice is optimally preserved it can also contain up to 15%. It has a sweet and floral fragrance, very warm. Even the taste is unmistakable and brings slightly spicy and peppery, but at the same time enveloping notes.

Guide to buying and using

On the market there are generally whole or reduced powdered cloves. The purchase of the first is always advisable because they retain their aroma for longer and are therefore more appreciated by consumers. To assess its quality and freshness we can do a little test: we dip a nail in a glass of water. If it gets to the bottom, it has fully preserved its virtues.
The powder is less valuable and required: it is usually used in pastry or spice mixtures.


Cloves, whether in powder or whole, are kept for several months in an airtight jar, away from light and heat.

Medicinal uses

The energy values ​​of this spice are negligible. However, its medicinal properties have been known since ancient times, especially as an analgesic and antiseptic.
It has been used many times to mitigate toothache: it puts a whole area into the area where you feel pain. Alternatively, it can be infused and then used to rinse the liquid.
The same infusion, applied with a certain regularity, is useful for soothing small wounds and favoring fast healing.
It is also considered an excellent adjuvant for digestion: six or seven nails are placed in infusion in boiling water for about ten minutes. The filtered product should be drunk hot.
In the East (particularly in Indonesia) it is widely used for flavoring cigarettes. According to some it also has some slight sedative effect.
The essential oil of clove has many therapeutic properties, but it also has side effects to keep in mind.
The application of pure essential oil on the skin and mucous membranes is dermocaustic: this means that it can cause severe irritation and sometimes even real burns. To be used it must always be diluted in another vegetable oil (for example sweet almond oil).
It can cause internal burns even if taken by mouth. It is however more important to note that it has strongly neurotoxic effects (it kills nerve cells and even neurons). It can therefore cause hallucinations and even seizures.
Massive use by pregnant women is also not recommended. In fact it is capable of inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, favoring the onset of an abortion.

Culinary uses

In Europe and throughout the West today has a rather limited use.
It is used in very small doses to give flavor to meats, especially stews and roasts (ideal for pork, wild boar, game and horsemeat), in some fish preserves (for example in anchovies in oil) and in marinades.
Classically it is customary to stick a few nails into an onion which is then used for culinary preparation. In this way they will be able to release their aroma and then be easily recovered, without the diners finding them in the dishes, risking to eat them whole.
Become part of the typical Christmas sweets, such as gingerbread, spiced biscuits or in the flavoring of candied fruit or mustard.
It also aromatises liqueurs (such as ratafiа), drinks, herbal teas and infusions. It is typically used for the preparation of mulled wine or typical Christmas beers served hot.
In any case, he always finds other spices as excellent companions: cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, star anise and even cardamom.

Other uses

It is used as an anti-moth and to remove annoying insects.
It is very common to pack oranges with a dozen of cloves stuck into them so that they can then be placed in the cabinets, in order to perfume them and remove any parasites.

Myths and curiosity cloves

- In the Moluccas, a clove tree is planted when a child is born. Its vigorous growth bodes well for the child, who will always wear a necklace made with dried flowers, to ward off bad luck.
- In Tunisia it is customary to give a bracelet of cloves to brides.
- To protect themselves from the plague, during the Middle Ages, it was customary to bring with them an orange in which cloves were stuck.
- He had the reputation of a powerful aphrodisiac to the point that the monks could not use it

Cloves: How to prepare mulled wine

Red wine must be heated at a low temperature and the spices are infused. The most traditional are cinnamon and clove, but others can also be added (such as star anise or cardamom). It is also essential to add sugar (possibly at the end) and citrus peel such as orange, tangerine and lemon (avoiding the very bitter white part), depending on our tastes.
  • Clove plant

    Eugenia caryophyllata is a medium-sized, evergreen tree, which is part of the Myrtacee and pr.

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