Clove (syzygium aromaticum)

A highly aromatic evergreen, the clove tree grows up to 35 feet tall in tropical southeastern Asia, where it is native. The dried, unopened flower buds are commonly used in cooking. Clove buds also yield a pale yellow essential oil used in dental products, soaps, creams, lotions, and insect repellents. It’s said that in China, during the Han Dynasty, subjects who addressed the emperor were made to hold cloves in their mouths as a breath freshener.


Plant profile

Common Name: Clove

Description: Evergreen tree grows up to 30 feet tall; glossy green, lance-shaped leaves; clusters of white or pink flowers are followed by long berries; entire plant is highly aromatic

Hardiness: To Zone 10

Family: Myrtaceae

Flowering: Depending on its growing environment, flowers form fall to midwinter

Parts Used: Flower bud

Range/Habitat: Native to southeastern Asia, cultivated worldwide in tropical areas

Culinary use

Clove buds are a distinctive spice, commonly used whole or in powdered form as an ingredient in curries, pies (particularly pumpkin pie), pickles, tea blends, and mulled wine and cider. The sharp, strong flavor complements beets, carrots, squash, fruit dishes, and desserts.

Medicinal use

Clove oil contains a high concentration of eugenol, which has pain-relieving and mildly antiseptic properties (but can be toxic to the liver if used in large amounts). The oil is an ingredient in liniments used to relieve muscle and arthritic pain. It’s also used to alleviate toothache and is included in dental cements, fillings, and other preparations. Because of eugenol’s antiseptic properties, clove has the potential to fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans.

Clove oil is also thought to have carminative (gas-relieving) activity and is used to treat stomachache and flatulent colic. In aromatherapy, clove oil is used to reduce drowsiness and alleviate the pain of headaches.

To treat a toothache, stomach discomfort, or indigestion at home, make a soothing infusion by steeping cloves in hot water for 10 minutes. Clove oil can also be applied to cotton and used to alleviate toothache by pressing it against the affected site.

Clove trees thrive in humid, tropical conditions with well-drained, fertile soil and full sun or partial shade

How to grow it

Clove trees thrive in humid, tropical conditions with well-drained, fertile soil and full sun or partial shade. In Zone 9 and colder, grow your clove tree in a heated greenhouse. Be sure the growing medium includes compost or other organic matter to ensure good drainage, and protect the young plants from direct sun. Provide 1 inch of water per week to keep the soil consistently moist, and mist frequently. Feed in spring and early summer with a slow-release organic fertilizer. Commercial growers harvest the flower buds when the lower parts of the flowers turn purple. They are then sun dried until they are a deep reddish brown.