Warm, sweet, and spicy, cloves (Syzgium aromaticum) are the dried flower bud of the clove tree. Of the many essential oils cloves contain, eugenol is the most important. It helps produce more mucus in the stomach to protect the stomach lining from corrosive acids. Cloves enhance immunity against threats circulating in the blood but also check the immune response before it triggers uncontrolled inflammation. With their rich manganese reserve, cloves could also help improve bone density and strength.
Owing to their unique flavor and aroma, spicy yet sweet, the flower buds of the evergreen clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum) lend themselves well to a spectrum of traditional cuisines. But they offer more than just a sensory treat. They house plant chemicals that make their way deep into your tissues and support your body’s self-care systems.
About 15–20% of a clove bud is its essential oil, rich in eugenol, eugenol acetate, and β-caryophyllene. Most of the health accolades that cloves boast of are because of eugenol. Though found in other spices, too, like nutmeg, cinnamon, and basil, eugenol is the highest in cloves.
Let’s see exactly what this exotic spice brings to the table.
Why It’s So Great
Before we get into details, we have to first realize what a powerhouse a clove bud is. We constantly hear and read about these powerful antioxidant plant chemicals called polyphenols that help us fight harmful free radicals in the body and protect against inflammatory diseases like heart disease and infections.
From 100 foods rich in polyphenols, cloves was a clear winner with a colossal 15,188 mg of polyphenols per 100 gm. That’s 15% of only health-promoting compounds. And 112 times more polyphenols than apples (136 gm).
That should be reason enough to include the dried flower buds in your cooking. But here are some more…
1. Provides Digestive Aid
Folk remedies swear by cloves to ease bloating and indigestion, even nausea and vomiting. Scientific research has yet to catch up to prove these but there is growing interest in the digestive aid provided by these flower buds.
In fact, both clove essential oil and its isolated component eugenol have already been seen to encourage mucus production in the stomach lining. This lining is the stomach’s in-built failsafe against irritation by strong stomach acids. This lining is crucial protection.
2. Helps the Immune System Self-Modulate
The immune system is our body’s army against infections. Its job is to attack anything it identifies as foreign, anything that is a threat like a bacteria or virus. Get hurt, and the immune system jumps into action. Catch a virus, it’s on full throttle. All good as long as it is identifying the right threats and not mistaking the body’s own cells to be foreign. And all good as long as its counterattack isn’t so widespread that the body’s healthy cells suffer collateral damage.
Because of this, the immune system has to keep a check on itself. It has to know when to pull back. And it does. Cloves give it some support.
To understand how, you need to know how the immune system works. It basically has two attack strategies:
- one that involves antibodies, cellular bullets directly shot at the threat circulating in the blood (humoral immunity),
- and one that attacks the threat with protein ammo while it is trapped inside your body’s cell (cell-mediated immunity). It so happens that this protein ammo (cytokines) also serves as SOS signals to alert and call in more immune system troops from other parts of the body.
Cloves enhance humoral immunity, so you have the threat being tackled. But they also inhibit cytokine production (IL-1 and IL-6) so that the entire attack doesn’t escalate out of control too quickly.
Clove’s eugenol and eugenyl acetate are the workhorses here.
3. Promotes Bone Health
Bones give you structure, help in maintaining your body’s mineral balance, and are the site where your blood cells are made (in bone marrow). They need to be dense, strong, and dynamic. Cloves help.
In an animal study, clove extract high in eugenol was seen to increase bone density and strength. This probably has to do with the fact that cloves are extremely rich in manganese, a necessity for a number of bone-building enzymes.
For perspective, a teaspoonful of ground cloves takes care of one-third of your manganese requirement for the day.
Cloves come in three forms: the whole dried flower buds, the ground flower buds, and the essential oil. All three forms carry the same health benefits, but their potencies vary – the essential oil being the most potent, ground cloves being the least (because most of the oil is lost).
The most convenient and possibly the safest way to benefit from cloves on a daily basis is through your diet. Just throw in 2–3 dried flower buds into your meals as they cook. As the oils leach into your food, you have only to gain from them!
As far as clove essential oil goes, it is generally used topically. Consumption is anyway not recommended for extended periods of time. The oil should be diluted with a carrier oil like almond or coconut oil first.
Being most popular amongst dentists and strongly advocated as a toothache reliever, you could dab the oil on your gums when you have a toothache.