Originating in Indonesia, cloves are dried flower buds from the clove tree. They are a popular spice that people use in soups, stews, meats, sauces, and rice dishes.

Their name comes from the Latin word clavus, which means nail since the shape of a dried clove resembles that of a nail.

People have used cloves in cooking and traditional medicine for many years, but it is only recently that scientists have begun studying their potential health benefits.

Read on to learn more about potential health benefits, uses, and risks of cloves.

Cloves have a variety of potential health benefits, including:

Oral health

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Cloves are the dried flower buds from the clove tree.

Researchers are studying clove oil as a natural method for maintaining oral health due to its effect on plaque, gingivitis, and bacteria in the mouth.

Researchers compared the effectiveness of an herbal mouth rinse containing clove, basil, and tea tree oil with a commercially available essential oil mouth rinse.

Both mouth rinses were effective against plaque and gingivitis, showing that they may help decrease oral inflammation and bacteria.

The researchers also found that the mouth rinse that contained clove decreased the number of harmful bacteria more than the commercial mouth rinse.

Diabetes

A study in mice found that clove extract and nigericin, a component of clove extract, reduced insulin resistance in mouse muscle cells.

Mice with diabetes that consumed nigericin also had less insulin resistance and improvements in glucose tolerance, insulin secretion, and beta cell function.

Another animal study looked at the effect of clove bud powder on laboratory markers in a rat model of diabetes. They found that blood sugar level was lower in rats that received the clove powder compared to those in the control group that did not receive the clove powder.

Cancer

Many herbs and spices are high in antioxidants, which are chemicals that play a part in reducing damage to cells that could lead to cancer. According to Today's Dietitian, "just 1/2 teaspoon of ground clove is said to contain more antioxidants than 1/2 cup of blueberries."

In one laboratory study, scientists found that clove extract was able to slow the growth of multiple types of human cancer cells. Clove extract also increased cell death in colon cancer cells.

The same study also looked at the effect of clove extract on tumor growth in mice. Tumors grew significantly less in the mice treated with clove extract compared to those in the control group.

In another study, scientists looked at the effect of different preparations of clove extract on human breast cancer cells. They found that clove essential oil and ethanol extract of clove were both toxic to breast cancer cells.

The authors reported that cloves might have a beneficial role in the future of cancer treatment since they can cause cell death and slow cell multiplication.

Obesity

Scientists have also studied cloves regarding their potential effect on obesity. In a study of mice, researchers found that clove extract reduced the incidence of obesity resulting from a high-fat diet.

Mice who received the clove extract had lower body weight, less abdominal fat, and less liver fat than those in the control group.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, multiple hazards are associated with clove oil. It may cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation, or an allergic reaction on the skin. It is also flammable and could be fatal if it is swallowed and goes into the airway.

In one case report, a 15-month-old child experienced liver failure after consuming 10 milliliters (ml) of clove oil.

Another incident involved a 2-year-old child who drank 5 to 10 ml of clove oil. The child experienced multiple medical problems, including coma, liver damage, and problems with blood clotting.

Cloves may also increase the chance of bleeding or increase the body's response to warfarin. It is important to discuss the use of any herbal products with a medical professional so that they can review potential side effects and interactions.

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Clove oil is used in traditional medicine including oral health.

Cloves are known for their strong taste and smell and can be purchased ground or whole for use in cooking.

Many cuisines include cloves, and it is also an ingredient in certain condiments, including ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.

Some perfumes use cloves for the aroma and clove oil is sold for use as an essential oil.

Cloves are commonly used in Ayurveda, which is traditional Indian medicine. They have also been used traditionally to cause a numbing sensation.

Ground cloves can be used in similar ways as cinnamon and ginger and can be used to flavor applesauce, oatmeal, muffins, and cookies.

This recipe for gingerbread cake with cream cheese frosting uses ground cloves.

Cloves are also sometimes used to make chai, which is a mixture of tea, spices, and milk popular in India and Pakistan. This cardamom ginger chai recipe incorporates cloves.

Cloves can be used in savory dishes as in this recipe for baked chicken with artichokes, cinnamon, and preserved lemons and this one for slow-cooker braised beef with carrots & turnips.

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Cloves are a popular spice in cooking.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database, 2.1 grams (g) or 1 teaspoon of ground cloves contains:

  • 6 kilocalories (kcal)
  • 0.13 grams (g) of protein
  • 0.27 g total fat
  • 1.38 g carbohydrate
  • 0.7 g fiber

The same amount of ground cloves also provides 1.263 milligrams (mg) of manganese, which is 63 percent of the Daily Value (DV) for manganese.

Clove is a fragrant spice that can add flavor to many dishes. Its potential medicinal benefits are being studied, but more research is needed.

As with all herbal products, people should discuss the usage and safety of cloves with a medical professional.