As the species name suggests, Syzygium aromaticum, or cloves, are an aromatic flower bud used as a spice, a fragrance and a medicinal herb. Cloves contain the flavonoid chemical, eugenol, which is also found in herbs such as cinnamon, basil, nutmeg and lemon balm. Eugenol, an important compound in the perfume industry, makes up almost all of cloves’ essential oil content. Eugenol acts as an anti-inflammatory, an antiseptic and a natural anesthetic. Cloves have been used in both Chinese and Ayurvedic traditions as well as in Western herbalism to relieve pain, especially oral and dental pain. Cloves are, regarded as a potent warming herb in eastern practices. It is believed to warm the digestive tract and facilitate digestion. Dilute clove oil is even rubbed topically on sore muscles like menthol. Sufferers of rheumatism and arthritis sometime use clove as well.
Whole cloves are better than powdered cloves because whole cloves retain their flavor and aroma much better. If you desire powdered cloves, you can still powder them easily at home with a coffee grinder. When it comes to cooking with cloves, a little goes a long way due to the rich oil content. Cloves are an essential spice when making a variety of dishes including baked ham, baklava, gingerbread, biryani and even curry. Cooking with cloves may be beneficial because cloves are a good source of antioxidants. Eating cloves regularly may also help reduce parasites, including intestinal parasites, by softening their eggs.
Cloves can be used to make incense and potpourri. Clove fragrance usually goes well combined with many of the same herbs that clove pairs well with in cooking. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy as a revitalizing scent. Cloves are even used as a brewing herb by some brewers. German hefeweizens actually utilize a type of yeast that imparts a clove-like flavor.