Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum, syn. Eugenia aromaticum) are the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae. It is native to Indonesia and used as a spice in virtually all the world's cuisine. The name derives from French clou, a nail, as the buds vaguely resemble small irregular nails in shape. Cloves are harvested primarily in Indonesia and Madagascar; it is also grown in Zanzibar, India, Sri Lanka, and the "Spice Islands" (Moluccas, Indonesia known as the Bandas Islands).
The clove tree is an evergreen which grows to a height ranging from 10-20 m, having large oval leaves and crimson flowers in numerous groups of terminal clusters. The flower buds are at first of a pale color and gradually become green, after which they develop into a bright red, when they are ready for collecting. Cloves are harvested when 1.5-2 cm long, and consist of a long calyx, terminating in four spreading sepals, and four unopened petals which form a small ball in the centre.
Cloves can be used in cooking either whole or in a ground form, but as they are extremely strong they are used sparingly. The spice is used throughout Europe and Asia and is smoked in cigarettes (also known as kreteks) in Indonesia and in occasional coffee bars in the West, mixed with marijuana to create marijuana spliffs. Cloves are also an important incense material in Chinese and Japanese culture.
The essential oil of cloves has anesthetic and antimicrobial qualities. Clove oil is used in the traditional blend of choji (1% clove oil in mineral oil) and is applied to Japanese sword blades to prevent tarnishing of the polished surface.