Monday, May 28, 2012

Syzygium aromaticum - Clove

Syzygium aromaticum - Clove, also know as Eugenia caryophyllata, Eugenia aromatica, Caryophyllus aromaticus, Oleum Caryophylli.   The spice is the dried, unopened, nail-shaped flower bud of this lovely aromatic evergreen tree.  The generic name, Syzygium, comes from a Greek word meaning “yoked together” and refers to the union, in some species, of the petal tips into a cap that covers the stamens.  The word clove is believed to come from either the French "clou" or the Latin "clavus" both meaning "nail" in reference to the shape of the clove bud.  The genus name, Eugenia, is named after Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736).

Syzygium aromaticum is a triangular shaped evergreen tree growing about 40 feet tall with smooth gray bark and 5-inch-long, glossy opposite leaves that resemble bay leaves. The attractive red and white bell shaped flowers bloom year round in 1/4-inch clusters at the ends of the branches and have four tiny petals surrounded by a long, four-parted calyx (the “stem” of the clove) and numerous stamens. The buds are pink, but the calyx changes from yellow to deep red-pink after the stamens fall. The fruit, called mother-of-cloves, is an edible purple berry about 1 inch long and 1/2 inch across. The entire plant is extremely ­aromatic. 

Clove oil is an important ingredient in dental medicine. It has a long history as a folk remedy for toothache, relieving both pain and inflammation of the gum tissues. As an antiseptic, dentists use the clove's principal constituent, eugenol, mixed with zinc oxide as a temporary filling for root canals. Laboratory studies show that its other constituents, kaempferol and myricetin, can inhibit the growth of bacteria associated with gum disease.

Other laboratory studies have confirmed that eugenol inhibits the growth of fungi, including those that cause yeast infections and athlete's foot. Animal studies have shown that it is also a strong antioxidant and protects against cardiovascular disease.

Clove tea, used along with other herbs and spices such as allspice, bay, cinnamon and marjoram, has been used to relieve bronchitis, asthma, coughs, infection, tuberculosis, altitude sickness, nervous stomach, nausea, diarrhea, flatulence, indigestion, dyspepsia, gastroenteritis, side effects of lobelia, and depression. A few cloves added to other herbal teas is often used to alleviate mild depression and nervous irritability.

In Pakistan cloves are among many herbs used in folk medicine to treat the common cold, cough and flu to more serious conditions such as asthma, jaundice and heat stroke.  Europeans use clove tea as a digestive aid, traditional Chinese medicine uses cloves to treat fungal infections, diarrhea, hernia, hiccups, indigestion, intestinal parasites, impotence, ringworm, and kidney disorders.

During the Middle Ages, cloves were used to cure the plague and were also considered an aphrodisiac due to the similarity in shape to the human penis.  The medieval herbalist Hildegard of Bingen recommended cloves in the treatment of gout.  Cloves were also used as an insect repellent.

Cautions:  Aside from using clove oil as an emergency toothache treatment, don’t self-treat with the oil or its constituents. They can be toxic in small amounts when used internally or absorbed through the skin.  Eugenol has been found to be a weak tumor promoter in laboratory tests, making clove one of many healing herbs with both pro- and anti-cancer effects. Scientists are still not sure which way the balance tilts. Until they are, anyone with a history of cancer should avoid using medicinal amounts of clove.

Anti-Fungal Powder:  To make a powder that reduces sweating and retards fungal growth, use one cup of dried sage leaves and one teaspoon of whole cloves. Make sure the sage leaves are thoroughly dried. Place the ingredients in a coffee grinder or blender and process until finely ground. Sprinkle this powder in socks or on feet daily.

"Her breath is like honey spiced with cloves, Her mouth delicious as a ripened mango." ~ Srzgarakarika

The first references to cloves are found in Oriental literature of the Han period in China under the name "Chicken-Tongue Spice".   Cloves were brought by Javanese traders from the island of Ternate to the Imperial Chinese court of the Han dynasty about 2,500 years ago. Arab traders brought cloves to Europe 400 years later and the Portuguese were trading cloves in the Moluccas by 1511.  The Chinese used cloves extensively for cooking, medicines, and for deodorizing bad breath. The Chinese emperor was so offended by the bad breath of foreign envoys, that he decreed every visitor must chew on a clove before addressing him.

When the Europeans finally found the clove producing Moluccas islands in the 17th century, they used extreme measures to take control of the spice supply, (read The Notorious Nutmeg for more on this bloody history). Clove trees grew on many islands, but the Dutch destroyed all clove trees except those on a single island which they controlled. In 1625 alone, 65,000 clove trees were cut down. The Dutch held the monopoly on cloves for about 150 years. During this period, any unauthorized person caught growing or carrying cloves or seedlings would be put to death.

The French finally managed to smuggle some clove tree seedlings to Mauritius, an island east of Africa in the Indian Ocean; by the 1800s clove trees were being cultivated on a number of islands in the Indian Ocean and in the New World. They are now grown commercially in Madagascar, Tanzania, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, RĂ©union, the Seychelles, and the Comoro Islands. Zanzibar and Pemba islands, off the east coast of Africa that are part of Tanzania, produce about 90 percent of the world’s cloves.

The Spanish liked cacao very much and they added water to it,
plus other condiments including cinnamon,
cane sugar and cloves. 
~ Paul Gepts

In Moluccan folklore, villagers treated blossoming clove trees like a pregnant woman. No man could approach them wearing a hat, no noise could be made near them and no light or fire could be carried past them at night for fear they would not bear fruit. Some Moluccans still plant a clove tree at the birth of a child, with the belief that if the tree flourishes, so will the child.

Cloves also have a rich history in magical folklore and are a main ingredient in various spells. To stop slander, malicious gossip and lies, a person would burn a red candle studded with cloves. It was also used to attract luck with money by either burning as an incense or using it as a gambling charm in a "money bag" along with silverweed, cinnamon and Irish moss.    In neopagan magic, cloves are used to banish evil spells cast against you, while they also purify and protect.  Worn as an amulet it will drive away negativity and hostility, stop gossip, comfort mourners, attract riches and the opposite sex.
The spice is also popular with artists in basketry and hand-crafted jewelry, and clove oil can be used to help keep oil paints fresh and moist for several weeks.

We smoked a lot of cloves.
~ Method Man

Although cloves originated in Indonesia, it is there that more than half the world's supply is imported for use in cigarettes. Clove cigarettes, kretek, (currently banned in the USA) which crackle while burning, are extremely popular; their sweet, incense-like aroma pervades nearly every aspect of Indonesian life. But as a spice, the clove is not used very much in Indonesian cuisine except in some sweets.

Only the highest quality cloves are used as a culinary spice throughout the world. The rest, along with the dried flower stalks and leaves, are processed to extract the essential oil, which is used not only to flavor foods, but also in cosmetics, dentistry, medicine, and as a clearing agent in microscopy. About 85 percent of the oil is eugenol, which is also a component of the essential oils of cinnamon, bay laurel, basil, nutmeg, and hyssop, among other familiar herbs and spices.

Cloves contain manganese, vitamins C and K, magnesium, calcium, and fiber. The flavor of ground cloves seems to last forever, whereas the flavor of most other ground spices fades rapidly. Clove is used to make vanillin, which is artificial vanilla.

Nose, nose, jolly red nose, who gave thee this jolly red nose?
 ... nutmegs and ginger, cinnamon and cloves
~ Francis Beaumont

In cooking, cloves can enhance so many kinds of food: fruits, baked goods, ham, beets, green beans, winter squash, pea soup. They are an essential ingredient in Sri Lankan cooking, Chinese five-spice powder, Indian garam masalas, American pickling spice, and spiced teas.  They are extremely popular in the Middle East and North Africa where they are used in meat dishes and to aromatize rice. In Ethiopia, coffee is roasted with some cloves in a traditional coffee ceremony.

Cloves are less popular in Europe, where their strong flavor is not appreciated. They are used for special types of sweet breads, but mostly with stewed fruits (along with cinnamon). Plain rice is often flavored with one or two cloves. In France, cloves often go into slow cooked meat stews or a hearty meat broth. In England, they are popular in pickles.

Cloves are often used to enhance the flavour of game, especially venison, wild boar and hare. They are used in a number of spice mixtures including Ras el hanout, curry powders, mulling spices and pickling spices. Cloves also figure in the flavour of Worcestershire sauce.

"Cloves must always see the sea in order to survive"
~ Ancient Legend

A vintage image of clove plantation...

Clove trees require a warm, humid climate with 50 to 70 inches of rainfall annually and a minimum temperature of 59°F; well-drained, fertile loam; and a position in full sun or part shade. Most clove ­plantations are located within 10° of the equator and close to the ocean. Commercial growers shade the young trees and protect them from wind, sometimes growing them under other trees such as mangoes or jacarandas. Trees may be propagated by sowing seeds in spring or rooting cuttings in summer. The trees flower for the first time when eight or nine years old.  Under favorable conditions, trees may live 100 years or longer.

...not much has changed.

The unopened flower buds are harvested by hand when they reach full size and are just turning pink. In Indonesia, women and children pick the clusters closest to the ground, while men either clamber into the branches or climb ladders to gather the higher clusters. Later, the buds are snapped off the flower stalks and placed on leaf mats to dry in the sun. After three days, they will have turned dark brown and weigh only one-third of their weight when first picked.  A tree may yield as much as 75 pounds of dried cloves, but the crop fluctuates from year to year.

Resourses include: 

McCormick Science Institute
The Epicentre
Emily Doyle: Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
The Herb Companion
Botanical Museum, Beja, Portugal
Purple Sage Medicinal Herbs

Monday, April 2, 2012

A long time coming....

I have planned and prepped some preliminary work on a few articles which I will be posting very soon.

This year I will not be working on a garden due to time constraints. Instead, I will be visiting some botanical gardens and arboretums and write more articles about interesting herbs.  Last year I visited two gardens during the fall season and will be posting about them soon as well.

National Arboretum, Washington DC
copyright SHD 2011

I visited the National Arboretum in Washington DC in September, (where I dropped and broke my digital camera! Ack!).  It's an absolutely beautiful place and if you live within a 3-4 hour drive of DC you should take the time to go there.  It's worth a road trip, and it's free because your tax dollars pay for it.

Temple University Ambler
copyright SHD 2011

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I stopped by the gardens belonging to Temple University in Ambler, PA. Again, it was the dead of winter (albeit a mild one), but as you can see, it promises to be a pleasant experience for the spring and summer and should prove to be a fun future article.

I would like to say "Hello!" to all my new followers, and "Thank You!" to everybody who bothers to read what I write, and especially thanks to those who make comments.  I appreciate your attention and I hope that I will justify it in the future.