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Cloves are one of the aromatic spices widely used in cooking. They provide a warm, sweet and aromatic taste to various dishes. Cloves are usually used in ginger bread and pumpkin pie, but they are also a fantastic addition to split pea and bean soups, baked beans and chili. Cloves are dried flower buds of a tree in the Myrtaceae family, which is native to Indonesia. The English name “cloves” is derived from Latin word clavus, meaning ”nail”. This name is due to the fact that these flower buds are shaped like small irregular nails. The flowers are at first pale and then gradually become green, after which they develop into a bright red. Red flowers are ready for collecting and use, either whole or in a ground form.

Health benefits of cloves

The active ingredient in cloves responsible for their various health benefits, is known as eugenol. It is a clear to pale yellow oily liquid extracted from certain essential oils especially from clove oil, nutmeg, cinnamon, basil and bay leaf. Cloves are so rich in eugenol, that its name is actually derived from the scientific name for clove, Eugenia aromaticum or Eugenia caryophyllata. This compound is responsible for the characteristic aroma of cloves. Besides eugenol, cloves contain many other beneficial compounds, such as beta-caryophyllene, and represent one of nature’s true anesthetic and anti-bacterial agent. Clove also contains a selection of flavonoids, including kaempferol and rhamnetin, which also contribute to clove's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Cloves are used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese medicine, western herbalism and dentistry. In dentistry, eugenol extract from clove is used in combination with root canal therapy, temporary fillings and treatment of general gum pain. Cloves are also used as a carminative, to increase hydrochloric acid in the stomach and to improve peristalsis. The essential oil is often used in aromatherapy, especially in the treatment of digestive problems. Topically, clove oil is applied for hypotonic muscles, and used in the treatment of various disorders including multiple sclerosis.

Serving ideas

Cloves are a versatile spice, delicious when used in drinks and in both sweet and savory dishes. Try making an easy aromatic mulled wine recipe in the slow cooker. For this recipe one needs: ½ bottle of red wine, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 cloves, 1 sliced orange,1 sliced lemon and 50g of brown sugar. Place all of the ingredients into a saucepan and simmer gently for 6-8 minutes, without boiling. To serve, pour the mulled wine into heatproof glasses.

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