Cloves are the aromatic dried buds of a tree (Eugenia caryophyllata also sometimes Syzygium aromaticum, Myrtaceae) native to Indonesia, used as a spice in virtually all the world's cuisine. The name derives from French clou, a nail, as the buds vaguely resemble small irregular nails in shape. Cloves are harvested primarily in Indonesia and Madagascar. It is also grown in Zanzibar, India, Sri Lanka, and the "Spice Islands" (Moluccas, Indonesia known as the Bandas Islands)
Cloves can be used in cooking either whole or in a ground form, but they are extremely strong so they are used sparingly. The spice is used throughout Europe and Asia and is smoked in cigarettes (also known as kreteks) in Indonesia and in occasional coffee bars in the West, mixed with marijuana to create marijuana spliffs, and by members of the goth subculture.
In the 3rd century BC, Chinese leaders in the Han Dynasty required those who addressed them to chew cloves so as to freshen their breath. Cloves, along with nutmeg and pepper, were highly prized to Roman times, and Pliny the Elder complained that "there is no year in which India does not drain the Roman Empire of fifty million sesterces." Cloves were traded by Arabs during the Middle Ages in the profitable Indian Ocean trade. In the late 15th century, Portugal took over the Indian Ocean trade, including cloves, due to the Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain and a separate treaty with the sultan of Ternate.
The trade later became dominated by the Dutch in the 17th century. With great difficulty the French succeeded in introducing the clove tree into Mauritius in the year 1770; subsequently the cultivation was introduced into Guiana, Brazil, most of the West Indies, and Zanzibar, where the majority of cloves today are grown.
Essential oil of clove has anesthetic and antimicrobial qualities, and is sometimes used to eliminate bad breath or to ameliorate the pain of a bad tooth. It, or its main component eugenol, is used by dentists to anesthetize the gum before injecting Novocaine or similar anesthetics, and is the characteristic odor of a dentist's office.
The clove tree is an evergreen which grows to a height of from 30 to 40 ft., having large oval leaves and crimson flowers in numerous groups of terminal clusters. The flower-buds are at first of a pale color and gradually become green, after which they develop into a bright red, when they are ready for collecting. Cloves are rather more than half an inch in length, and consist of a long cylindricatcalyx, terminating in four spreading sepals, and four unopened petals which form a small ball in the centre.