The unmistakable aroma of cloves often reminds people of exotic places and a sense of mystery and romance. Cloves have a strong, wintergreen-like flavor. The unopened flower bud is used as a culinary spice either as the whole bud or ground cloves. The spice contains a health-benefiting oil called eugenol which has anti-inflammatory properties. This makes clove a mild anesthetic and anti-bacterial agent. Clove oil is effective as a temporary remedy for a toothache. Cloves are also a good mouthwash or a sore throat gargle. Cloves are nutrient dense so they are an excellent source of Vitamin K and they have sufficient amounts of iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium.
Cloves come from a tree that needs a humid, tropical climate. Cloves are native to the Spice Islands of Indonesia and have been consumed in Asia for more than 2,000 years. Cloves gained popularity in Europe during the Middle Ages to hide the taste of foods that were difficult to preserve. Today, cloves are harvested in many tropical countries all over the world. Cloves combine well with beets, green beans, carrots, squash, fruit compotes, meat stews, marinades, and spiced teas. They are an important ingredient for pickling vegetables and preparing mulled wines and liquors.
It’s best to buy whole cloves and grind them as needed because they will stay fresh longer. Whole cloves will last a year in a tightly sealed glass jar in a cool, dark and dry place. I recently pickled beets and canned them with a great recipe from the “Ball Blue Book of Preserving.” There are many other superb recipes using cloves for preserving and making foods for the holidays. Combining cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and other spices simmered on the stove can bring the exotic scents to warm a winter household.