Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of an evergreen tree (Syzygium aromaticum) native to the Spice Islands. A clove tree can live for 400 years or more.
Cloves were known in China before the 3rd century bce. By the 2nd century bce cloves were traded in the Levant.
Like nutmeg, colonial traders fought to monopolize cloves. Unlike nutmeg, cloves grew on several islands, and so monopolization was not so simple.
In 1770, a Frenchman smuggled a clove tree off one of the Spice Islands. The tree was eventually transferred to Zanzibar, which is now the world’s largest clove producer.
Cloves clove a place in Chinese, Ayurvedic, and western traditional medicines. They are a carminative (gas preventative), detoxifier, anthelmintic (worm expunger), and anti-inflammatory. Cloves warm the body, boost insulin function, and relieve dental pain.
Indonesians concocted clove-flavored cigarettes – kretek – which are now smoked in Europe, Asia, and the United States. Clove cigarettes were outlawed in the US in 2009, so they are now sold as cigars.
Culinary cloves lend flavor to breads, meats, curries, and marinades. Cloves are incredibly high in manganese, and are otherwise nutritious: with vitamins A, B, C, K, iron, magnesium, calcium, antioxidants.