Updated: Feb 1, 2019
Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae (Syzygium aromaticum). They are native to the Maluku Islands (or Moluccas) in Indonesia.
Archaeologists have found cloves in a ceramic vessel in Syria, with evidence that dates the find to within a few years of 1721 BC.
In the third century BC, a Chinese leader in the Han dynasty required those who addressed him to chew cloves to freshen their breath.
The clove tree is an evergreen that grows up to 8–12 m tall, with large leaves and crimson flowers grouped in terminal clusters. Cloves are harvested when 1.5–2.0 cm long.
Cloves are used in the cuisine of Asian, African, and the near and Middle East countries, lending flavour to meats, curries, and marinades.
In Mexican cuisine, cloves are best known as clavos de olor, and often accompany cumin and cinnamon.
Cloves are used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese medicine, and western herbalism and dentistry where the essential oil is used as an anodyne (painkiller) for dental emergencies.
The clove tree that experts believe is the oldest in the world, named Afo, is on Ternate. The tree is between 350 and 400 years old. Tourists are told that seedlings from this very tree were stolen by a Frenchman named Pierre Poivre in 1770, transferred to the Isle de France (Mauritius), and then later to Zanzibar, which was once the world's largest producer of cloves. Until cloves were grown outside of the Maluku Islands, they were traded like oil by the Dutch East India Company with an enforced limit on exportation.
They sought to gain a monopoly in cloves as they had in nutmeg.