Cloves (Syzygium aroniaticum, Eugenia caryophyllus), the very spice
you use to spike hams and enliven cookies, muffins, and other
treats, can also be a handy, temporary
Stand-in for your dentist and can ease sore throats. Cloves are the
unopened pink flower buds of an evergreen tree.
They are handpicked and dried until they turn brown.
rooted in history
Cloves originated in the Moluccas, formerly known as the Spice
Islands of Indonesia. It’s said that back in 200 BC, Chinese
courtiers would nibble cloves when addressing the emperor so as not
to offend him with their bad breath.
As with other aromatic spices, cloves became popular in Europe
during the Middle Ages, when aristocrats relied on cloves’ sharp
flavor to mask the taste of poorly pre served foods.
Later, as cloves became more available, healers used them to remedy
such complaints as nausea, vomiting, indigestion, diarrhea,
toothache, warts, and worms. The 17th-century British herbalist
Nicholas Culpeper, whose wisdom the early settlers often relied
upon, advised that cloves would “help digestion, stop looseness and
quicken the sight.”
what’s in it?
Cloves contain an anti-inflammatory chemical called eugenol. In
animal studies, it inhibited COX-2, an enzyme that spurs
inflammation (the same enzyme that so-called COX-2 inhibitor drugs
such as Celebrex quash). Cloves also contain a variety of flavonoids,
including kaempferol and rhamnetin, which helps explain why their
antioxi dant properties rank so high. The combination of cloves’
anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties spells heaps of health
benefits, from boosting protection from heart disease to helping
stave off cancer, as well as siowing the cartilage and bone damage
caused by arthritis. Compounds in cloves, like those found in
cinnamon, also appear to improve insulin function. Trouble is,
there’s no science suggesting the amounts of cloves needed to
achieve these benefits.
what science says
Current science doesn’t have much to say on the subject of using
cloves medicinally as far as humans are concerned. But clinical
studies have been performed on lab animals and in test tubes, with
some pretty interesting results.
Most recently, in 2009, Indian researchers learned that eugenol
reduced the incidence of experimentally induced stomach tumors in
mice and speculated that cloves could one day play a role in cancer
prevention and treatment.
In another study published in 2009, Portuguese scientists tested
clove oil and discovered that it inhibited a variety of fungi
responsible for infections in humans, including Candida and
Aspergillus. The results led the researchers to recommend more
studies to develop clove oil as a treatment for fungal infections.
Finally, in a 2004 study, Indian scientists decided to see whether
there was any scientific basis behind cloves’ legendary reputation
as an aphrodisiac. They gave male rats various doses of clove
extract every day for a week and teamed them up with receptive
female rats. Turned out, the highest doses made the male rats
especially frisky and romantic, so the researchers concluded that
cloves “enhanced their sexual behavior.”
American 19th-century Eclectic physicians, who upheld a philosophy
of “alignment with nature,” were the first to extract the volatile
oil from clove buds. Soon, its pain- killing effects made it the top
home remedy for toothaches. In the days when dentists were few and
far between, people would soak a cotton ball in the oil and apply it
to an aching tooth. The oil had a nasty sting, but it did numb the
ache—at least for a little while.
Clove oil is not only an effective painkiller but also a potent
antiseptic. Even today, dentists use it to disinfect root canals and
mix it with zinc oxide to make temporary fillings.
smokers, take note
Sucking on cloves has been said to help smokers kick the habit
because it replaces nicotine’s lingering taste, which increases the
craving for tobacco, with the piquant taste of cloves. The slight
numbing sensation it imparts may also help numb the urge to light
Good to know
Pure dove oil can irritate the skin. Never use it internally, except
to dab on teeth or gums to ease toothache pain.
Find whole cloves in the spice aisle of your supermarket. It’s best
to purchase cloves and other spices from stores with a high
turnover, to assure freshness. When squeezed with a fingernail,
fresh cloves will release some of their oil. To use cloves for a
tooth ache: Put a couple of whole cloves in your mouth. Let them
soften a bit, and then bite on them gently with good molars to
release their oil. Then move them next to the painful tooth and keep
them there for up to half an hour Clove oil has a numbing effect.