You might think of delicious-smelling cloves as the perfect add-on to perk up a homemade apple pie or accent that beet or pumpkin dish, but this spice is so much more. It's also a healthy living powerhouse, and in some circles, it's even considered an aphrodisiac.
High up on the list of what this flower bud can do: It's great for relieving toothaches, reducing inflammation, helping to control blood sugar and supporting healthy digestion.
The magical ingredient in cloves is eugenol, an aromatic oil that contains antibacterial properties that can fight infections. The oil can be found in the bud, leaf and stem of the clove flower, which is grown in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India.
Turns out, cloves have a long history both in how we use it in cooking and how we use it to aid our health.
"Historically, clove buds were used in China," says Joelle Cafaro, a clinical nutritionist in Winchester, Virginia. "Officials were required to keep clove buds in their mouth so that their breath wasn't offensive to the emperor."
Today, clove oil is generally found in herbal formulations that are intended to help users fight colds (clove tea is excellent for loosening mucus), maintain proper intestinal flora and cleanse the bowels, says Cafaro.
"Cloves have also been a key ingredient in mouthwash and in dentistry in general for over a century to support healthy gums," Cafaro says.
And that's just the beginning.
"Eugenol can also help relieve indigestion and bloating," says Jolene Hart, a health coach and author of "Eat Pretty." In addition, cloves can help reduce nausea and flatulence. "Cloves also contain strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, both of which are incredibly valuable for healthy skin and overall wellness."
But, like most things, there are some important caveats when it comes to using cloves.
"As with many foods that have medicinal properties, more is not always better," Hart says. "Cloves have a strong flavor profile and strong benefits, so use them sparingly." And take note: For safety reasons, clove oil must be diluted either in olive oil or in distilled water before being used due to toxicity concerns.
And there are some people who shouldn't use anything that contains cloves or clove oil. That includes people with ulcers, pregnant women and anyone taking an anticoagulant.