Health Benefits of Cloves

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on August 16, 2023
5 min read

Cloves are an aromatic spice made from the dried flowers of the clove tree. Spices used to be worth their weight in gold, and cloves were no exception. Native to the Spice Islands near China, cloves spread throughout Europe and Asia during the late Middle Ages as an important part of local cuisine. Today, cloves remain a popular spice that gives many dishes that special kick.

What are ground cloves?

Cloves can be used whole or ground. People often include ground cloves in spice mixes and whole cloves in recipes to add depth and flavor to a wide variety of foods. These small dark brown pods are used in curries, seasoned meats, Worcestershire sauce, baked goods, and chai and Chinese five-spice blends. They also offer some impressive health benefits.

They're a great source of beta-carotene, which helps give cloves their rich brown color. The carotene family of pigments are important antioxidants and provitamins. Carotene pigments can convert into vitamin A, an important nutrient for keeping your eyes healthy.

Some notable health benefits of cloves include:

Lower inflammation. Cloves include multiple compounds that are linked to anti-inflammatory properties. Eugenol is the most important of these compounds. Eugenol has been shown to reduce the inflammatory response in the body, reducing the risk of diseases such as arthritis and helping to manage symptoms.

Fewer free radicals. Cloves are full of antioxidants, including eugenol. Antioxidants help your body fight free radicals, which damage your cells and can lead to disease. By removing free radicals from your system, the antioxidants found in cloves can help lower your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

Reduced ulcers. Some evidence shows that cloves may help protect your stomach from ulcers. Most ulcers are caused by thinning in the layers of mucus that protect your stomach lining. Preliminary studies show that eating cloves in large amounts can thicken this mucus, lowering your risk of developing ulcers and helping existing ulcers heal.

Improved liver function. Cloves may also help your liver work better. Some studies have shown that the eugenol found in cloves can help reduce signs of liver cirrhosis and fatty liver disease. It may also improve general liver function.

Cloves contain a lot of the mineral manganese, which helps your body manage the enzymes that help repair your bones and make hormones. Manganese can also act as an antioxidant that protects your body from free radicals.

Cloves are also an excellent source of:

Nutrients per serving 

One teaspoon of cloves has:

Things to watch out for

Cloves pack a powerful flavor. They're generally safe to use as a spice, but you may want to keep these things in mind:

Drug interactions. Eugenol can sometimes interact with certain drugs, such as the blood thinner warfarin. If you’re taking such medication, it's best not to take clove oil or clove tea. Small amounts of cloves as spice should be safe.

Hypoglycemia. This is when your blood sugar levels drop too low. If you have diabetes, the eugenol in cloves can help lower blood glucose counts to safe levels. But too much clove can cause hypoglycemia, which can be dangerous.

Essential oil toxicity. Clove essential oil has a lot more eugenol than whole or ground cloves do. Swallowing pure clove oil can be toxic and make you dizzy or cause other symptoms. Rarely, it can lead to a coma.

Eugenol is also called clove oil. Generations of people have used clove oil to soothe toothaches. Some cosmetics and medicine use eugenol for its antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.

Cloves for toothache

The use of clove oil on a toothache was first documented in 1649 in France. It continues to be a popular solution today, thanks to the powerful molecule eugenol. Eugenol is a natural anesthetic. While clove essential oil is good for treating pain, there is insufficient evidence that it also effectively kills the bacteria causing the problem.

Treating dental erosion

Some acidic foods and drinks may decalcify (break down) your tooth enamel. Eugenol in clove oil, when applied on the tooth, may reverse or minimize the effects of dental erosion, one study found. But more research is needed to fully explore the benefits of clove oil as a treatment or preventive ointment for tooth enamel erosion.

Eugenol at high doses can damage your liver or trigger allergic reactions in some people. Treatments for liver damage have gotten better. Still, it's important to take clove oil only in safe doses and to keep it out of reach of infants.

Toxic effects on the liver

Clove oil can be toxic when you take too much (typically 10-30 mL, or roughly 2-6 teaspoons). Symptoms can include agitation, decreased alertness, and coma.

You might get these symptoms within hours of swallowing the essential oil. Signs of liver injury, including jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes) can show between 12 and 24 hours after it is eaten. Babies who have ingested their parents' clove oil are most likely to experience liver damage.

Allergic reaction

Even when used on the skin or mouth, eugenol can cause allergic reactions during dental procedures. Dentists have used eugenol mixed with different materials to create impressions and fillings for more than a century.

In that time, eugenol has been shown to cause mild to severe allergy symptoms in some people. Signs of an allergic reaction to dental eugenol can include irritation where it has been applied to the gums, but some people may react with a rash or welts on other parts of their body as well.

Cloves are dried flowers, so they can be found all year long in spice shops, grocery stores, and health food stores nationwide.

Cloves can lose their potency quickly once they’ve been ground. For stronger flavor, buy whole cloves and keep them in airtight containers. If you need ground cloves, you can grind them with a pepper mill or a mortal and pestle for maximum freshness.

You can also try clove tea for a stronger dose of cloves:

  1. Grind a tablespoon of whole cloves.
  2. Steep the powder in boiling water for 3 or 4 minutes.
  3. Strain the spice out and you’ll be left with a rich, spicy tea that’s perfect for winter months.

Cloves are a soothing, healthy addition to your diet. Here are some other ways to use this flavorful spice:

  • Add ground cloves to pumpkin pie.
  • Add cloves to chai lattes.
  • Use whole cloves in a pickling mix for spicy pickles.
  • Include cloves as an essential spice in curry.
  • Make mulled wine with a heavy sprinkle of cloves.
  • Use cloves in rubs to season meats.

Show Sources


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National Institutes of Health: “Manganese.”

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