Cloves are one of those ancient spices, most people are at least familiar with clove cigarettes. Or you may have seen clove and orange pomanders at Christmas time, my husband says that clove smells like Christmas food to him since it is a common ingredient in fall holiday foods. I used to love Clove gum as a girl, though it is harder to find now sadly.
Cloves are actually the dried buds of flowers from a tree, they were found on those infamous in European history “Spice Islands” and since they were so prolific they were harder to monopolize the trade of them. They have their name as we know it now derived from old french for “nail of a gillyflower” and they do look like tiny little nails.
Europe quickly became obsessed with spices during the Middle ages, especially once they were brought back from the crusades. During outbreaks of disease, usually plague, or just generally existing in medieval cities could be quite smelly. Most medicine at the time believed that disease was caused by bad air or miasmas. So often sweet or strong smelling items were used to “fumigate” themselves from disease. One that has survived to this day is the pomander. Pomander can be used to describe a lot of things, but the main one most will recognize is an orange studded with cloves. I love these and they make great holiday gifts!
Historical medical uses tend to focus on digestion, the mouth, and teeth. A Han emperor required people to chew cloves before addressing him, to sweeten their breath. Ibn Battuta, the famous Arab traveler, mentions them and was familiar with them as they were traded all around Arabia and India and everywhere in between. Most uses focus on using cloves for tooth pain, and the commonly known remedy, cloves and especially clove oil is great for easing tooth pain from any sort of issue, and is a mild anesthetic. The fabulous Sam wrote a great post about dealing with wisdom tooth pain using ginger and clove tea that you can read here. But I should caution that there has been laboratory tests on extended use of clove oil for tooth pain and if used over and extremely extended period of time there could be damage to gums, tooth pulp, and mucous membranes. Cloves are known as warming, and help with digestion due to this, and that is some of the reason it can be hard on the gums. Since it can be slightly irritating to delicate skin areas, nothing as bad as peppermint, but still not something you want on chapped lips, or near your eyes or other places. As a topical oil for external use it is fantastic for pain. I would rate it a close second to frankincense in speed and efficacy in reducing muscle pain from spasms. I have had some great success using clove oil in this way, and of course I use therapeutic grade oils so that they do not have adulterants. All I need is a drop or two, and rub it directly on the area that hurts. Remember everyone is different, so test this for yourself, see what works for you, and educate yourself! Know what you are putting in and on you before you do anything and always check for reactions like on WebMD. If you are ever in doubt about anything always check with a professional!