Cloves – The Tiny Nail Shaped Spice

Clove Plant Whole Cloves Ground Cloves

Cloves are a member of the Myrtaceae family also known as the myrtle family. Whole cloves are the unopened buds of an evergreen tree with dark green foliage. The buds look like tiny nails which is actually where the name comes from the Latin clavus and the French clou for nail. The spice is actually picked as buds before they turn into mature fruits which have no usefulness as a spice. The spice that is actually used when dried is reddish brown to dark brown in color.


The spice is native to the Eastern Indonesian islands referred to as the Moluccas, also the Spice Islands, Madagascar and Zanzibar.


The spice was thought to have been introduced to China during the Han dynasty around 206 BCE to 220 AD. The spice then made its way to Rome and into Alexandria in the second century AD, was known around the Mediterranean by the fourth century AD, and by the eighth century AD made its way around Europe.


When purchasing the spice the buds should clean and in good condition. The whole spice retains its potency longer; the ground spice should be purchased right after processing because it loses its potency quickly. The ground spice should be a dark brown indicating full potency. Both the whole and ground spice should be stored in packaging that is airtight and away from extremes of light, heat, and humidity.


The spice should be used sparingly in cooking because it can overpower a dish. The spice has been used in pickling, curing hams, apple pie, and stewed fruit. They are also used in Indian and Asian curries.

For additional information on cloves click on the link to

For some great sections on herbs and spices some great references are:

• The Spice and Herb Bible – Second Edition by Ian Hemphill with recipes by Kate Hemphill

• The Food Encyclopedia by Jacques L. Rolland and Carol Sherman with other contributors

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Cloves Botanical Cycle

Cloves Botanical Image

Myrtle Family