Uses for Cloves

Masala Chai spices, including ginger, peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom
Lindsey Goodwin

Cloves are a spice that is harvested from the dried flower bud of the clove tree. The clove tree is a type of tropical evergreen from the myrtle family. It is native to Indonesia and is commonly grown in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Madagascar, and Zanzibar.

Clove flower buds are harvested before they open, and then they are dried. They are sold as whole buds or ground into powder. Whole cloves are nail-like in shape, with a rounded, bulbous tip. Cloves are noted for their medical uses, health benefits, warming qualities and strong flavor. Their flavor comes primarily from eugenol.

The word "clove" may also refer to clove cigarettes or cloves of garlic.

Cloves & Health

Cloves have many health benefits and have been used for many purposes over the years. Some of the most common medicinal uses of cloves include treatment for toothache pain, stress relief and inflammation reduction of arthritis and other inflammation.

In many alternative medicine traditions, cloves are considered to be warming and stimulating. Cloves can be cooked into various foods and drinks for some health benefit. Clove oil can be applied topically or used in aromatherapy.

Buying Cloves

Culinary cloves can be bought as whole buds or in ground form (as a powder). Whole cloves are more flavorful and aromatic than powdered cloves, as clove powder quickly loses its freshness. You can grind cloves at home using a clean, dry coffee grinder.

Cloves for health purposes (such as external use or toothache relief) usually come in the form of clove oil. Look for a pure clove oil or a clove oil mixed with a good carrier oil.

Clove Drink Recipes

Cloves are commonly used to flavor hot drinks, such as hot apple ciders and mulled wines. They are a key ingredient in many chai spice mixtures and are often added to coffee in the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. In hot cocktails and mulled red wines, cloves often appear not only as an ingredient but also as a garnish, usually studding the peels of orange wheels and lemon wheels. Cloves are also sometimes used in cold beverages, though this is rare.

Many clove drink recipes also feature spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg.

Clove Food Recipes

Cloves are used in a wide range of sweet and savory foods. Some (such as gingerbread) are probably well known to you, while others (such as Peruvian purple corn pudding or vegan roasted chestnut soup) may not be so familiar. It is likely that you've tried cloves more times than you're aware of -- it makes appearances in everything from pork brines to Indian garam masala (a spice mixture found in many Indian curries and other Indian dishes).

Due to their woody texture, whole cloves are often removed from foods before eating, but there are some notable exceptions to this rule.

Many food recipes that include cloves also include spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, citrus peel, star anise or peppercorns.