What are cloves? Where do they come from? A tree? A bush? –Dave, wondering in New Mexico
This rock-hard, nail-shaped nub of spice is the dried flower bud of an evergreen tree, syzygium aromaticum, of the Myrtaceae family, which is native to Indonesia’s Spice Islands (click here to see pictures of living trees and their fruits). In addition to Southeast Asia, cloves are harvested in Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India and Madagascar. The tree grows up to 60 feet tall. Its flower buds are collected when they turn bright red. The unopened petals form the hard ball part of the whole dried spice.
Cloves, long treasured for their intoxicating smell, are used for culinary purposes around the world. In addition, they are very healthy. Cloves are said to lower blood sugar and cholesterol, thus they are often recommended for people with diabetes or heart disease.
A few years ago, I met the founder of a madrassa not far from Kota Bharu in northeastern Malaysia. He was 84 at the time and suffered heart problems. He kept a little dish of cloves by his side at all times. “I eat at least 10 every day,” he said, claiming they were good for the heart, the eyes and the brain.