In ancient Chinese texts, cloves were mentioned because of their medicinal properties. Cloves originally came from the Indonesian Moluccas islands.
Cloves were widely used in Europe in the 4th Century; they used cloves for their strong fragrance. Cloves combined with other herbs and spices with put into pomanders as prevention against the plague and infection.
The clove tree is a tropical evergreen which grows to 65ft in height, with soft grey bark and dark green leaves that have a leathery texture. Fragrant green bulbs (cloves) appear at the end of the branches, gradually they will turn red, and if unpicked develop into flowers.
Cloves are grown in the tropics, and require an annual minimum of sixty inches of rain!. The buds are harvested in the dry season by hand, opened and dried on palm mats. It is actually the dried flower buds that we know so well as Cloves. No use trying to sow cloves - for they are not seeds! (I have had an e-mail asking me why their clove seeds do not germinate!)
The foliage of the Clove tree - Syzygium aromaticum is quite aromatic - but it is the Cloves which are the commercial end of the business.
Cloves are half hardy and will need to be grown under glass - unless in tropical countries.
In totally frost-free areas, they can be planted in a sunny spot and possibly live for a few years. They get more hardy as they get older.
The Cloves Tree actually belongs to that well known aromatic shrub - the Myrtle. Just a passing glance at the flowers will show you why, though Myrtle and Cloves will not normally be seen growing side by side! The foliage of Myrtle is very similar in scent to the Cloves when crushed.
Seeds will have to be sown in Spring, and a soil temperature of around 60-65deg F will need to be maintained for successful germination of the Clove Seeds. As soon as the plants are large enough to handle, they should be potted into individual 3.5in pots and grown on - potting on as required.
It is possible to propagate Clove Plants from cuttings, by using either soft wood cuttings in early summer, or semi-ripe cuttings ion late summer. Both types of cuttings are better in heated propagator with maintained soil temperature heat.
If you have toothache, soak a cotton bud into the oil of cloves and it will ease the pain, as it has antiseptic and analgesic properties. Clove will help relieve nausea and control vomiting. Clove has digestive properties; it is also used for flatulence and diarrhoea. Clove has been used to treat hernia, ringworm and athlete’s foot since ancient Chinese times, and also fungal infections.
When using clove in cooking be careful as clove has a very strong flavour and little needs to be used. Use clove either whole of ground, clove can be add to soups and stews or curries, whole cloves are usually studded into an ingredient , such as onions or potatoes. In India, cloves are used to enhance many sauces and are also combined with other spices to marinade meats.
Clove tea is a wonderfully refreshing drink. Try cloves with fish dishes and add to vinegars when pickling. Cloves are also used to enhance the flavour when baking cakes.