The Health Benefits of Clove
Some of my favorite things about the holidays are the evocative smells.
Just close your eyes and think about holiday cooking or gatherings, and you can almost smell that delicious aroma!
Recently I wrote about cinnamon. I love the smell that lingers around the house after making an elixir with cinnamon in it. It just “smells” of the holidays. Plus, cinnamon has so many health benefits, including stabilizing your blood sugar.
Many spices are just like cinnamon, having a delightful taste and delicious aroma, as well as many important health benefits.
Today I want to share some information about another wintertime spice – clove.
What is clove and how is it used?
Certainly not as well-known as its frequent companion cinnamon, clove often “comes out” over the holidays and is used a lot in baking and roasting. People use clove in Thanksgiving stuffing, as well as in stewed and baked fruits. I love it in hot apple cider, chai drinks, and soups.
Whole cloves are very odd looking. They look like “nail heads” with little spikes (the word clove actually comes from the Latin word for “nail”). People will sometimes “spike” whole cloves into foods – such as oranges or onions – for dramatic presentation, as well as the flavor it can bring to a drink or soup. Cloves have a sweet, although intense, taste, so a little goes a long way.
The little nail heads are really the unopened flower buds of the evergreen clove tree. The buds are picked and dried to make the clove spice. They have a hard exterior, but the inside flesh contains an oily compound that not only is essential to clove’s flavor and nutritional status, but provides many of its health benefits.
Cloves are warming, and are considered a pungent food. Pungent foods promote energy circulation and increase the metabolic rate. So if you have heat symptoms where you already feel hot, you'll want to avoid warming and pungent foods.
Cloves, along with cinnamon and ginger, have expansive and drying qualities, along with being warming. This reinforces the expansive aspects of sweet foods while reducing their moistening aspects. Foods which generally digest better with the addition of these spices include yams, sweet potatoes, and winter squash, as well as any other very sweet fare, particularly desserts and cooling fruit dishes. Adding pinches of these spices to highly mucus-forming foods also greatly improves digestion, especially if you are cold and damp.
Cloves have anti-inflammatory and anesthetic properties
The oil found in cloves is high in a substance called eugenol, which is a very potent anti-inflammatory that also has analgesic and anesthetic properties. 72-90% of a clove is made up of eugenol. Clove also contains flavonoids which provide anti-inflammatory properties as well.
In animal studies, the addition of clove extracts provided significant inflammation-fighting benefits. Eugenol has been the subject of multiple health studies relating to the prevention of joint inflammation and digestive tract cancers. The eugenol in clove has also been studied related to its role in preventing toxicity effects from environmental pollutants.
Eugenol has been used for centuries to aid in reducing pain and inflammation from toothaches, and is sometimes paired with zinc oxide powder to create a temporary filling.
Used as an anesthetic and in many OTC products
In the U.S., eugenol from clove is used in dentistry to numb general gum pain, and also in conjunction with dentistry work such as temporary fillings and root canals. Eugenol, as well as another component of clove called beta-caryophyllene, make clove a good local anesthetic for these purposes.
You may be surprised to hear that the substance eugenol is widely used in products that you may already purchase. It can be found in analgesics, like OTC throat sprays; anti-inflammatory agents, such as OTC gum pain relief products; flavoring agents; and cosmetics and personal care products like toothpastes and mouthwash.
Ginger is another wonderful spice that provides pain and anti-inflammatory properties. When you combine clove and ginger, the therapeutic properties go far beyond a tasty beverage. Do a little research on some of your other favorite spices, and you may find they are providing you with more than some zesty taste!
Clove is a strong antioxidant and may have anti-cancer properties
Pharmacological studies have shown that the eugenol in clove also provides antifungal, anti-cancer, and antioxidant properties. The anticancer activity has become an important research topic in recent years.
Researchers from the Miguel Hernández University identified clove as the best antioxidant spice due to the high levels of phenolic compounds it contains. Antioxidants defend against oxidative damage and the damage caused by free radicals.
Nutritional and other benefits of cloves
Cloves are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In particular, clove is high in manganese, plus it is also a good source of vitamin K, iron, calcium, and magnesium.
Why is manganese important? Among its many benefits, manganese is important to bone production and skin integrity. It is also a co-factor for the enzyme prolidase. This enzyme is necessary for your body to make collagen. I've already mentioned the antioxidant benefits of cloves. Manganese functions as an antioxidant in skin cells, partly due to its enhancement of the phenolic activity.
Additional health benefits:
Many people use cloves for digestive support. Clove is known to be helpful for upset stomach and in protecting the digestive tract from damage due to vomiting. It is also known to have carminative (anti-gas and bloating) properties.
The eugenol in clove is also being studied as a potential therapeutic option in the management of diabetes: it appears to inhibit advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in vivo and in vitro mice studies.
Clove is used as an expectorant, a substance taken to make it easier to cough up phlegm due to a cold.
Some people use cloves as an insect repellent. There is some research to back this up.
It is also sometimes used for acne and skin irritation, applied directly to the skin in a pasty mask.
Finally, it may be used to help keep men from premature ejaculation. Research has shown that applying a cream containing a variety of herbs and roots, including clove flower, to the skin of the penis may improve premature ejaculation.
How to select and store clove
You can purchase whole organic cloves as well as clove powder. It is also available in capsule supplement form. Powder loses its flavor more quickly.
Clove bud oil has a very high ORAC value (antioxidant capacity) and profound healing qualities. It is a potent anti-microbial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal oil. Clove is also an ingredient in anti-parasitic blends. Historically, clove oil was used to numb tooth pain. Since ancient times clove has helped keep mouths clean and healthy. Eugenol gives clove bud oil its impressive action against pathogens and microbes. With its warming, spicy fragrance, clove bud essential oil brings a flavorful, healing boost.
Clove bud oil may be diluted in coconut oil as a culinary oil. It may also be diluted in a carrier oil such as jojoba or seabuckthorn. Apply diluted in the mouth for healthy teeth and gums, toothaches, and for fresh breath. Add to a diffusor with a few drops of cinnamon oil, or the citrus or fir oils for a warm, inviting fragrance in the home.
Cloves – like many spices – should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark, and dry place. Whole cloves will stay fresh for about one year stored this way. Ground cloves will last half as long. You can extend the shelf life by storing cloves in the refrigerator.
A delicious way I use clove
This is a recipe I use to show people that healthy eating can still be delicious. This is one of many recipes in my “Blitz That Belly” holiday eBook. There is even a recipe for healthy gingerbread cookies!
“Not Egg” Nog
- 1 cup raw macadamia nuts, or any combination of nuts or seeds
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, or more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
- 1 pinch of stevia, if desired for sweetness
- 1 pinch of cloves (optional)
- Put all ingredients into blender.
- Blend until the mixture is smooth, thick, and creamy.
What is your favorite way to use clove? Share your recipes or therapeutic ideas in the comments below, as well as in our Unstoppable Health Facebook group.