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Helpful Herbs: Cloves

The fresh, earthy scent of cloves is practically synonymous with the holiday season. While growing the clove tree in colder climes is not always realistic, you still should make the most of this aromatic spice when it is available.

Native to India and Indonesia, clove trees are tropical evergreens that can grow up to 33 feet in height. They grow wild in many equatorial regions, and prefer moist, warm soil. Tender seedlings grow into small trees which can be maintained in a hot, humid greenhouse if you are in a subtropical zone. The plants need temperatures of at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit to flower. If you’re thinking about putting a clove plant in your greenhouse, keep in mind that it takes twenty years of growth for these trees to produce viable flowers.

Once the clove plant finally comes into flower, wait until the blossoms turn purple before harvesting. These ripe flowers can then be plucked and dried, usually by leaving them in a sunny, dry spot for about a week. The result will be the tight, brown bud that you’re familiar with.

Cloves are used abundantly for spicing up recipes and in traditional medicine. A pinch of cloves can transform curries and marinades, and is a common spice used in tea blends. Clove heads are also used to stud ham for flavoring, and it’s one of the key flavors in pumpkin pie spice.

I’m sure you are familiar with the sight of oranges dotted with decorative cloves during the holidays. These decorations are called “pomanders”, and are created by sticking the pointy end of the clove into the orange. They release the sharp citrus scent of the orange in combination with the more spicy clove smell, and they last for holiday after holiday keeping the air fresh and festive. Pomanders were used as aromatherapy and air fresheners for centuries before being associated with the holiday season.

Cloves also have a host of medicinal benefits. As part of your diet, cloves will help to ease indigestion, boost the immune system, and release compounds that improve bone density. Cloves have also been shown to help with numerous oral diseases, including gingivitis and periodontitis. It is rumored that the scent of cloves can be used as an aphrodisiac, and a clove tea will help to reduce headaches.

Cloves have been harvested in Eastern cultures since at least the second or third century BC. Chinese leaders in the Han Dynasty used cloves as breath fresheners, and Sinbad the Sailor from Arabian Knights sold cloves from India. Because clove blossoms can be harvested while allowing the trees to continue growing, some clove trees today are said to be over 400 years old. They were a key part of the spice trade during the 17th Century, and the name clove stems from the French “clou” for nail, referring to the bud’s unique shape.

Cloves will spice up your holiday with some healthy side effects. Even if you don’t have the time or temperatures to grow the plants yourself, seek out some clove buds during the winter months to clear the air and brighten the days.


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