Clove, or Syzygium aromaticum, originated in the Spice Islands. They were first found on Ternate, in the Maluku Islands (Moluccas) of eastern Indonesia. Trade of the plant began 2,500 years ago, and soon spread worldwide. The plant is a tall and thin evergreen and can reach up to 20 meters. Its flowers grow in bunches, and when they bloom, they look like red and white bells. After a slow drying process in the sun, they shrink until they look like tiny nails. (In the Basque language, the word for cloves, iltze-kanela literally means cinnamon nails — iltzatu nail).
Cloves have a highly aromatic and pungent taste and an intense, pleasant fragrance. The essential oil is obtained from the flower buds or leaves through steam distillation. Clove oil is mainly composed out of Eugenol (70-85%), an ingredient used to make prosthetics in dentistry. Clove also contain antioxidants that help strengthen the blood vessel walls.
Specialists in herbal medicine use clove oil for digestive disorders, insect bites, insect repellant, tooth pain, coughs, intestinal gas, nausea and vomiting. Cloves are often used as a natural insect repellant; and can be used as a non-toxic moth repellant. Eugenol, the main ingredient in clove oil, has traditional medicinal uses because of its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and pain-relieving effects, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, but cloves are no longer used in allopathic medicine like they were in the past. Cloves can be used in numerous forms: as oil, in gelatin tablets or raw, in their dried flower form. Clove oil is usually diluted with water. It may be used added to hot water and inhaled or in a hot bath when used as an expectorant, to ease the coughing up of phlegm.
Because of its fragrant aroma, a number of culinary and household products use clove oil such as mouthwashes, tooth pastes, skin creams, hair tonics, shampoos, conditioners, massage oils, perfumes and alcoholic beverages. They are also as a spice, and added to confectionery, sauces, some soups, pork meat, sausage seasoning, on some types of cakes, mulled wine or tea. They give special flavor to rice.
- Breath freshener: Combine a splash of clove oil with water and then gargle with it. Its antibacterial properties kill microbes in your mouth, and as an antiseptic, it helps prevent against infections.
- Pain killer: Cloves have a long history as being used as a natural painkiller, particularly for dental or gum problems. It is often used for a complication of tooth extraction called “dry socket. To ease dental pain, massage the aching area directly with a piece of cotton soaked in clove oil.
- Expectorant: Clove oil has a long history of being used as an expectorant, because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Pour a few drops of clove oil in a bowl of boiling water. Place your head over the bowl, and a towel over your head to trap the vapor, and inhale. It can also help colds and flu because of its diaphoretic effect, which helps the body sweat out any toxins.
- Natural insecticide: Clove oil can be used as a mold inhibitor, or as a natural insecticide. After dusting, add a few drops of the oil onto a rag and polish to prevent mold. You can use a few drops of the oil in an oil burner to repel mosquitoes and other insects.
- Eliminate moths: Dried cloves can be used as a natural moth repellent, by filling breathable small cotton sacks with the dried cloves and placing them in your clothes drawers. They have the advantage that they are fragrant smelling and not carcinogenic, unlike mothballs.
- Digestive aid. Although there is as yet insufficient evidence supporting its use as a digestive aid, clove oil has a long history of being used to relieve diarrhea, gas, bloating, intestinal spasms and nausea. If you are using it as a digestive aid, remember that clove is a highly concentrated oil, made through steam distillation. It has a strong pharmacological effect, so use only a few drops in water.
- Antiseptic: Although clinical trials assessing its medicinal properties have been limited, the German Commission E has approved the use of cloves as a topical antiseptic and anesthetic, according to Medline Plus, and can be used for minor scratches. Unless you have highly sensitive skin, clove oil is generally safe to apply directly to the skin, either in a compress or a few drops into a bandage.
Possible side effects
- Skin irritations. Although rare, clove oil can cause skin irritations for persons who are allergic. Symptoms include skin burns, a red rash, itchiness or shortness of breath. Severe allergic reactions can cause anaphylaxis.
- Gum sensitivity: Although long used as a dental treatment, clove oil can cause gum irritation or sensitivity of the core of the tooth. If you plan to use clove oil as part of your dental care, consult with a dentist first.
- Gastrointestinal problems: Ingesting large quantities of clove oil can cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. If you are using it as a digestive aid, use only a few drops in water.
- Unsafe for pregnant women. Ingesting clove oil is considered unsafe for pregnant women or children.
Cloves are an ancient herb, and its oil has been used for hundreds of years for a range of cosmetic, household and medicinal purposes. A powerful and fragrant herb, the oil can be used in a range of purposes for its antiseptic, antibacterial and pain relieving quantities. A natural insecticide, dried cloves are also an excellent moth repellent that isn’t harmful to your health, unlike standard mothballs.