Cloves and Clove Oil
The Clove tree originates from the North Moluccas in Indonesia and was cultivated upon the islands of Ternate, Idore, Bacan and the West Coast of Halmahera. Under Dutch control several other islands within the Moluccas were cultivated with Cloves. However it was only after the Dutch Clove monopoly ceased in the 18thcentury that Clove trees were introduced for cultivation into other countries. In modern times the main producers of Cloves are now Zanzibar, Madagascar and Indonesia.
The part of the Clove tree that is of greatest commercial value is the buds, referred to as Cloves. These buds are traded worldwide and are controlled by strict import/export regulations, which help to maintain the consistency of good quality and authenticity of the product.
Clove trees vary in yield of their crops from bumper crops to lighter crops in cycles from two to six years, a mature tree per harvest may yield as much as forty pounds of Cloves. The Clove buds upon being harvested are a uniform pinkish colour, but once dried become a darker shade of red with the heads becoming a light tan in colour, between 4000 and 7000 buds are required for each pound of dry cloves produced due to the fact that Cloves lose up to two-thirds of their harvested weight.
The bark of a Clove tree is generally grey and smooth with the inner bark being a yellowish colour. The leaves of the Clove tree are bright pink initially and turn a dark shade of green as they mature.
Few plants contain as much essential oil as Cloves do, and the Clove oil has been obtained by distillation since the 15th century. Different methods of distillation can be used to obtain different types or grades of essential oil. Clove oil obtained through water distillation is lighter than the dark heavy oil obtained by steam distillation.
Today most of the worlds Clove crop Is used for the production of Clove oil, many useful products can be extracted from within the Clove oil including: Eugenol, Methyl Benzoate, Caryophyllene, Benzyl alcohol, Furfural alcohol and Vanallin.
The word ‘Clove’ is derived from the French word for ‘Nail’ which is ‘Clou’, this is thought to be due to the shape of the Clove. In most Clove plantations there are two crops a year, the first being between July and October and is known as the ‘Mwaka’ crop and the second follows between November and January which is called the ‘Vuli’ crop.
The earliest records of Clove usage are dated back to the Han period of China thousands of years before Christ, where court officials were required to freshen their breathe by holding whole Cloves within their mouths before addressing the Emperor. Cloves are also known to have been used in ancient Egypt where a Mummy has been found wearing a necklace made of strung Cloves.
Cloves were not known of in Europe until the 4th century when Arab traders sold or traded Cloves as a luxury item. Arab traders controlled the Clove trade along with the trade of most known spices until the late 15th century, at which point Portuguese traders broke their spice monopoly. Due to their culinary value in the flavouring of foods and their use as a preservative combined with the long and costly means through which they were transported into Europe Cloves could be sold for a very high price, Cloves at times were even used as a currency, i.e. one pound of Cloves could be traded for three sheep.
Cloves and Clove oil have been widely used as a medicinal agent throughout the world, notably within the practise of Tibetan medicine where Cloves have been used as a treatment for Bronchitis and used in teas to boost the immune system during the winter months.
Teas made from Cloves are often used in the treatment of nausea, flatulence, dyspepsia, indigestion and are also used as a local anaesthetic. Clove oil can be used as a deodorant, stimulant, bactericide, insect repellent as well as in the removal of warts and parasites.
Clove oil is also commonly used to bring temporary relief from toothache and when mixed with Zinc Oxide can be used as temporary filling for disinfecting root canals, and can be found as an ingredient within numerous oral hygiene products such as: toothpaste, mouth wash and gargle preparations.