In the third century BC a messenger arrived from the island of Java to a guardian of the palace of the emperor of China asked if it was possible to have a clove. Not because his tooth hurt like the guardian thought, but the clove he needed because the new emperor wanted that when someone turned to him, his breath had to be perfumed.
In their writings the Chinese doctors of the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 BCE) named the virtues of Eugenia, known for its cloves, and in particular its properties against halitosis. However, up until the 16th century, the age of great journeys, very modest quantities of this and many other spices arrived in Europe from India. One of the main reasons that pushed Cristoforo Colombo to face his journey by sea was also the search for the shortest way to reach the spice-producing countries, and eugenia with its cloves was among the most valuable.
Tropical spices were in fact very popular in Europe and perhaps eugenia stood out among all the others because according to sign theory it was considered a powerful aphrodisiac. The herbalists and pharmacists of the Low Middle Ages and the Renaissance saw in the clove the representation of an erect penis with the testicles at the base. It was thought, therefore, that his action developed precisely on the genital organs.
In any case, the discoverer of America, Christopher Columbus, did not find the land where eugenia grew. It was the expedition of the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan and of the Basque Giovanni Sebastiano Elcano the first to go around the world and to arrive, in 1520, to the Moluccas islands, near China. There they loaded their ships with very fragrant cloves, like a precious treasure, and brought them to Spain. Thereafter the cultivation of Eugenia gradually spread to all tropical regions. The same Dante Alighieri in the XXIX canto of the Inferno, verse 127-129 speaks of Niccolт de 'Salimbeni who introduced into the kitchen the expensive use of cloves to flavor roasts. Dante talks about it as if the spice was an absolute luxury.
Cloves contain 15-20% of an essence consisting mainly of eugenol and small amounts of acetylugenol, caryophyllene and methylamilcetone. To this essence, the clove owes its aroma and its particular effects.
Clove is antiseptic and analgesic. Its essence in the form of oil is part of the composition of toothpastes, elixirs for oral use and perfumes. Its antiseptic power is three times higher than that of phenol. It is recommended for use in the case of stomatitis (inflammation of the oral mucosa) and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). Applied locally, it can briefly calm the pain of a bad tooth. It is also a stimulant of the body, although much more bland than coffee. Increases appetite and eliminates intestinal gases. Clove is antioxidant.
Clove: preparation and use
For internal use, prepare the infusion with 2 or 3 nails per cup of water and drink no more than 1 cup at each meal. The essence should be ingested by 1-3 drops before each meal. It is recommended to use cloves in moderation as a condiment. Only one is sufficient to flavor an entire course.
For external use it refreshes the oral cavity, by rinsing with a glass of water in which there is added a few drops of essence of cloves. To calm the toothache it is necessary to put a piece of clove or a drop of essence on the aching tooth.
Those suffering from gastroduodenal ulcers and gastritis should refrain from taking eugenia, both as a medicinal plant and as a condiment. In high doses it produces irritating effects on the managing apparatus causing nausea, vomiting and stomach pain.
In the kitchen the clove is used for the preparation of desserts, aromatized wines, liqueurs and creams. In northern Italy it is used to make mulled wine. It is used to flavor infusions and teas, to accompany the dressing of some vegetables, such as carrots and onions, it is used to flavor meats, especially when grilled and seasoned cheeses. Even cosmetics reserve a place for the use of clove, in fact it is used for the production of natural deodorants for environments, while inserted inside an orange it keeps moths away from the cabinets with the same result as camphor.