Health Blog

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Which herb is named after the word “nail”?

Hint #1:
This herb has been used in dentistry

Hint #2:
You might find this herb in some over-the-counter sore throat sprays and mouthwashes

Hint #3 (though this one might actually throw you off):
It is actually a pink flower bud before it is dried

I didn’t know about that last one until I researched it. Yes, cloves are actually the unopened pink flower buds of the evergreen clove tree. Cloves are cultivated in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Madagascar, and Brazil. The are named cloves after the Latin word clavus, which means nail because they do actually look like nails. Like many of you, my first thought with regard to cloves is how you can “nail” the cloves into an orange, covering the orange for a lovely fragrant pomander. But there are many medicinal uses as well.

As mentioned above, clove has been used in dentistry for gum pain, temporary fillings, and even root canal therapy. The clove oil contains a component called eugenol, which is both a mild anaesthetic and anti-bacterial agent. This is also why you might find it in sore throat sprays and mouthwashes.

Cloves are also anti-inflammatory. When given to animals already on a highly anti-inflammatory diet, they found an additional 15-30% reduction in inflammatory symptoms.

Cloves, combined with the herbs wormwood and black walnut, are often used as an anti-parasitic. Cloves have also been used to prevent toxicity from environmental pollutants like carbon tetrachloride, a chemical that used to be commonly used in fire extinguishers, in dry cleaning solvents, as a refrigerant, and in lava lamps. There is also some evidence that cloves can help in the prevention of digestive tract cancers.

I was recently reminded about cloves because a patient returning from a trip, brought me a little bag of cloves. I love the smell and thought of the pomander, but figured I would see how else I could use them.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, cloves are a TCM herb called ding xiang. They are a warming herb and are used to treat symptoms related to Cold in the Spleen, Stomach, or Kidneys. When the diagnostic patterns are suitable, ding xiang is used to treat nausea, vomiting, hiccups, cough, lack of appetite, impotence, and weakness in the legs.

An interesting tidbit I found about cloves is that because of their sweet and spicy smell, Chinese courtiers dating back to 200 BC would keep them in their mouths to freshen their breath when addressing the Emperor. Smart!

Buy whole cloves instead of powder as the active components of cloves are volatile, so the powder quickly loses its flavour and medicinal benefits. Use your nose to determine the quality of cloves. You should be able to smell them quite easily. If you are not sure, drop some in a cup of water. If they are of good quality, they will float vertically. If they sink or float horizontally, they are stale. Keep them in glass jars, in a cool, dark place. The whole cloves will keep up to a year, while the powdered ones will keep just a few months. To grind the whole ones into powder, you could use a mortal and pedestal or a coffee grinder.

Did you know that cloves many contribute to the taste of Worcestershire sauce and ketchup? They are more commonly used in baking, mulled cider or wine, and in Quebec are used in tourtiere. Yum…tourtiere…

You might like to use them in applesauce. I make applesauce often and usually use cinnamon, but my next batch will be flavoured with cloves! You can also use them in stir fries. Or pierce an onion with 5 to 6 whole cloves and add that to soups, broths, or liquids used to poach.

Do you have any ways that you like to use cloves in your home or cooking?

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