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The 10 Most Incredible Health Benefits of Clove

If you think that cloves are merely a nice flavoring for pumpkin pie and apple cider, think again.

Though not as popular as the worldwide favorite, cinnamon, this warm and aromatic spice is a powerhouse when it comes to protecting your health. Clove buds are absolutely at the top of the anti-aging herbs/spices list and have other incredible properties like aiding blood sugar control and boosting heart health.

To make a long story short, once you read about the numerous health benefits of clove, you’re going to want to add more of this potent spice to your daily diet.

What Are Clove Buds?

Cloves, also called clove buds, come from evergreen trees known botanically as Syzygium aromaticum. These trees are native to specific tropical and subtropical regions, most notably the Maluku Islands in Indonesia.

Clove trees are slow-growing but long-lived, often reaching 100 years of age or more. They have smooth bark, aromatic leaves, and pinkish-white flowers. When harvested in their unopened, immature stage, the flower buds can be dried into the spice we know as cloves.

Once dried, clove buds can be used whole or ground into a fragrant powder. Their name is derived from the Latin word clavus, which means nail and refers to the nail-like shape of the whole spice.

Alternatively, the dried buds can be distilled (sometimes alongside the stems and leaves) to make a potent essential oil.

Today, cloves are a very common spice and may get shoved to the back of your cupboard until the holidays come around. However, this was not always the case…

The Rich & Fascinating History of Cloves

health benefits of clove

It’s fair to say that the health benefits of clove were known long before modern researchers started to study this ancient spice.

In fact, cloves are believed to have been used for at least 2000 years (and probably longer) in Chinese medicine. They have also been highly regarded in Ayurvedic medicine for a number of years, particularly for digestive and respiratory issues.

When knowledge of this fantastic spice first began to spread to the rest of the world via trade routes, cloves were very highly priced and available only to the rich and elite.

Unfortunately, this high monetary value meant that wars were soon fought for monopoly of clove production. The Maluku Islands (once known as the Spice Islands) changed hands a number of times as different countries sought to gain the edge in the spice trade.

Eventually, cloves became more widely available and were grown in regions outside of the Spice Islands.

They still remained highly popular for many years and were used for multiple medicinal purposes. One of the most notable is the inclusion of clove essential oil in the “thieves” blend that was thought to protect against the bubonic plague.

Research-Backed Health Benefits of Clove

Sky High in Anti-Aging Antioxidants

As you’re probably aware, a high antioxidant intake is critical for longevity and living at peak vitality. These powerful molecules combat free radical damage and inflammation at the cellular level, which slows the aging process and helps protect your body from numerous age-related diseases.

There are many antioxidant-rich foods that are great additions to any diet, but herbs and spices usually top even the most nutritious fruits and vegetables for antioxidant content.

Cloves are the perfect example of this.

Though small in size, clove buds are rich in volatile compounds, including a particularly strong antioxidant known as eugenol. They also contain a variety of polyphenols, which are another group of disease-fighting antioxidants.

According to one large research study, cloves tested highest for polyphenol content and overall antioxidant activity out of all herbs/spices involved. They also beat out every fruit, seed, and vegetable that was tested.

Fights Pathogens & Boosts Immunity

Cloves— especially in the form of clove essential oil— have proven to be potent at fighting a range of pathogenic microbes.

Lab studies have shown that clove has antibacterial activity against a range of Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. More specifically, it can inhibit E. coli (responsible for stomach infections), Staphylococcus aureus (a cause of skin infections and other diseases), and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (frequent culprit behind pneumonia).

Other research has discovered potential antiviral properties of eugeniin, a compound found in cloves and clove oil.

Beyond simply fighting pathogens on their own, cloves also appear to stimulate the immune system. This means that they can help your body’s natural defense system to stay strong and fight off potential infections.

Good for Oral Health (Plus, an Old Toothache Remedy)

One of the most widely known health benefits of clove in times past was the numbing power of the buds. Whole or ground cloves (and later clove oil) were often used to ease a toothache and numb sore gums before anesthetics were invented.

Today, researchers know that the powerful compound called eugenol is responsible for the natural anesthetic effect of clove. It has even proven to be comparable to conventional drugs for its numbing and healing effects after tooth removal.

But the benefits for oral health don’t stop there.

The antibacterial nature of cloves has been shown to inhibit several oral pathogens that can cause gum disease. This potent spice can also be effective against plaque and bacteria when used in an herbal mouthwash— so much so that it outperformed a commercial mouthwash!

Helps Ease Pain & Inflammation

The pain-relieving effects of clove aren’t just for sore teeth.

Eugenol, the main compound in cloves, possesses strong anti-inflammatory properties to go along with its anesthetic-like ability. This is likely due to its powerful antioxidant capacity and means that it can help to calm chronic inflammation occurring within your body.

When used topically as an essential oil, eugenol can also ease pain and inflammation associated with sore muscles, achy joints, etc.

In fact, one study found that clove gel was comparable to benzocaine when used topically for pain. Not bad at all.

Just make sure you dilute the essential oil before applying it topically to avoid skin irritation.

Has Potential for Lowering Blood Sugar

One of the more newly discovered health benefits of clove is an ability to help with blood sugar control.

Preliminary studies pinpoint nigericin, a compound in cloves, as the main force behind blood sugar improvement. It and the spice as a whole have been shown to help moderate blood sugar as well as increase insulin secretion and improve insulin resistance.

In one of the first human trials conducted, clove extract successfully lowered both pre- and post-prandial blood sugar levels. This included in volunteers who were prediabetic.

More quality clinical trials are needed, but clove is already demonstrating that its positive effects on blood sugar can translate from the lab to the human body.

Very Heart-Supportive

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. and around the world. This means it’s never too early to start thinking about the health of your heart.

Of course, a good diet and regular exercise go a long way toward protecting heart health, but antioxidant-rich spices like clove can give your heart the extra boost it needs.

Research backs this up and has shown that clove can reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), and triglycerides— all risk factors for heart disease. The same study also found an increase in HDL cholesterol (the good kind) after clove consumption.

Eugenol appears to be mostly responsible for the heart-helping effects of cloves. One study even found its effects comparable to lovastatin, a common lipid-lowering drug.

Promotes Healthy Digestion

Spices like cloves, cinnamon, and ginger have long been used as natural digestive aids. In traditional medicine, the warmth of each spice is considered stimulating for digestion and particularly helpful for constipation, gas, bloating, and general indigestion.

Modern research has also revealed other health benefits of clove for digestion, particularly when it comes to preventing stomach ulcers.

Essentially, cloves and clove oil have an ability to increase the production of gastric mucus. This mucus functions as an important barrier to prevent erosion of the stomach lining by digestive acids, lessening the chance of ulcers forming.

Human trials are needed to confirm these results, but the research done so far is very promising.

Cancer-Fighting Activity

Like other antioxidant superstars, clove has displayed cancer-fighting potential in lab studies.

Specifically, clove extracts were found to cause cancer cell death and suppress tumor growth in several human cancer cell lines. Clove oil also killed 80% of esophageal cancer cells in one study and proved to be toxic for breast cancer cells in another.

Of course, we are still a long way from using cloves as an anticancer treatment.

However, it cannot be overstated how important antioxidants are for fighting many diseases— including cancer. And cloves just happen to pack in more antioxidants per gram than almost any other food/herb/spice.

Antifungal & Anti-Parasitic Properties

If you aren’t convinced yet that clove buds are incredibly powerful, here’s some more evidence.

Not only do cloves have a proven ability to fight multiple strains of bacteria (and potentially viruses), eugenol has also demonstrated antifungal activity against Candida albicans. In one study, it even proved to be comparable to a common drug (nystatin) at treating oral yeast infections.

In addition to this, clove oil has shown an ability to kill a specific type of parasite known as Leishmania donovani.

This particular parasite is transmitted by sand flies and has devastating health effects around the world. Current treatment options are limited and expensive, so hopefully the research surrounding cloves will lead to a new breakthrough.

May Benefit Bone Health

Low bone mass is a problem for many older adults, so the potential health benefits of clove for bones will come as good news to many.

One of the main reasons cloves are thought to promote bone health is their manganese content. Manganese is an important mineral for bone formation and density, and just one teaspoon of cloves (ground) contains over half of the recommended daily amount.

This impressive manganese content could be the reason that clove extract increased bone density and improved several markers of osteoporosis in one study.

Consume cloves alongside good sources of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D, and your bones will be even happier!

Are There Any Precautions with Cloves?

Generally speaking, cloves are entirely safe for most people (assuming no allergy) to consume in culinary amounts. Most studies also list no side effects associated with clove extract, even when used at a high dosage.

When taking clove in larger amounts (i.e., in supplement form), it may affect blood clotting. Use caution and check with your healthcare professional if you are taking blood thinning medication or about to undergo a surgical procedure.

It’s also worth mentioning that clove oil is very powerful and should be used with respect. Be sure to dilute it properly before applying to your skin, and keep it out of the reach of children. (There have been cases of liver failure after children drinking whole 5-10 mL bottles of clove oil.)

Ways to Incorporate Clove into Your Diet + Recipe

health benefits of clove

Clove is fairly easy to add to your daily diet, but you’ll want to use it liberally to maximize its health benefits.

If you regularly eat oatmeal, smoothies, applesauce, etc., you can sprinkle a good amount of ground cloves on top for an antioxidant boost (and delicious flavor). Clove powder also works well in many savory recipes, like curries and rice dishes.

To maximize the digestive benefits, simmer whole cloves in water for about 10 minutes to make a fragrant tea. You can drink the tea as is or add a natural sweetener like raw honey.

You may also want to consider adding in other potent antioxidant spices— like in the recipe below.

Simple, Spicy Chai Tea Recipe

This tea will wake up your taste buds while providing powerful immune support and promoting better digestion. Increase or decrease the spice amounts according to your personal preference.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken or crushed
  • 3-4 green cardamom pods, crushed
  • 3-4 whole cloves
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh ginger root, chopped or grated
  • Grind of black pepper
  • 1-3 teaspoons loose black tea
  • 8-10 ounces water
  • Plant-based milk (optional)
  • Maple syrup or honey (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Place all of the spices— excluding the black tea— into a saucepan and pour the water over them.
  2. Bring to a low simmer and continue simmering for 15-20 minutes, covered.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the loose tea leaves. Cover the pan and let steep for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Stain out the spices and tea leaves and pour the chai into a mug. Sweeten lightly with maple syrup or honey and add a bit of plant-based milk if desired for a creamier drink.

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Whatever you do choose, though — for the sake of your brain, heart, liver, energy and overall longevity — please do take proper care to ensure you are getting enough antioxidants. This means both in terms of volume and a wide range of antioxidants, such as those found in one of the planet’s top antioxidant food sources, cloves!

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