History of Cloves

Like the history of many spices, the history of cloves goes back many centuries. In fact, this spice was one of the first to be traded and evidence of cloves have been found in vessels dating as far back as 1721 BC. Native to the Malucca Islands, as many spices are, cloves were once a treasured commodity prized by the Ancient Romans.

Magellan Ship full of Cloves

But it wasn't just the Romans who enjoyed cloves. The Chinese were said to use them as far back as 226 BC. Apparently they chewed the flowerettes prior to having an audience with the Emperor so that their breath would not smell bad.

Along with nutmeg, cloves were one of the most precious spices of the 16th and 17th century, and control of them spurred expeditions as well as wars. In 1522, Magellan's ship returned from its fateful trip around the world (Magellan himself was killed in the Philipines at the Battle of Mactan.) with a ship loaded with cloves and nutmeg, much to the delight of Spain. Of course, everyone wanted in on the trade since cloves were worth more than their weight in gold. In 1605 the Dutch found their way to the Moluccas and dipped their hand into the spice trade.

In fact, the Dutch wanted a monopoly on cloves, so they went about destroying clove trees that sprouted up anywhere outside of their control. This ended up causing quite an uprising because native tradition was to plant a clove tree upon the birth of a child and the life of the tree was psychologically tied directly to that of the child. If something happened to the tree, that did not bode well for the particular child with whom it was associated. The native islanders came to hate the Dutch wherever they extended their tree burning campaign.

But monopolies never last forever. It did not take long for others to try their hands at the clove trade. By the 18th century cloves were being grown in other places including Zanzibar, Madagascar, Brazil, Mauritius, Ternate, Tidore, and Tanzania, among other places. With the disolution of the trade monopoly, the price of cloves came down and eventually cloves became a favorite spice for all classes of society, the world over.

This spice gets its name from the French word "clou" which means nail, as many have remarked on how much cloves look like nails. The clove is the dried flower bud of an evergreen tree. The essential oil is said to have many medicinal properties and has been used for centuries to cure many ailments. Most interestingly, cloves have long been used to aid in dentistry as they have local anesthetic properties.

Although they are underappreciated for their medicinal uses today, cloves have been used historically to treat many ailments. They have antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, antispasmodic, antiviral, antiparasitic, analgesic, and simulative properties making them a great overall healer. They can be used to stimulate the mind as well as prevent nausea, diarrhea, ease coughs, aid in digestion, and even treat conditions like malaria and cholera. They can also be used topically to treat acne, styes and sores.

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Interesting Fact:

Cloves are dried flower buds, native to the Malucca Islands.

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