Clove: Health Benefits

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on October 22, 2023
6 min read

Cloves are a fragrant spice made from the dried flowers of the clove tree. In the past, 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 a key part of local cuisine. Today, cloves remain a popular spice that gives many dishes a subtly sweet warmth.

What are ground cloves?

Cloves can be used whole or ground. You might 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, chai, and Chinese five-spice blends. They also offer some health benefits.

Cloves contain a lot of manganese, a mineral that 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 harmful free radicals (unstable atoms that cause cell damage).

Cloves are also a great source of:

Nutrients per serving

One teaspoon of cloves has:

  • Calories: 6
  • Protein: Less than 1 gram
  • Fat: Less than 1 gram
  • Carbohydrates: 1 gram
  • Fiber: 1 gram
  • Sugar: Less than 1 gram

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

Some health benefits of cloves include:

Lower inflammation. Cloves contain many compounds known for their anti-inflammatory properties, with eugenol being the most important. It's been shown to reduce your body's inflammatory response, which can lower your risk of health issues such as arthritis and help manage symptoms.

Fewer free radicals. Cloves are full of antioxidants, including eugenol. Antioxidants help your body fight free radicals, which damage your cells. 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 studies show that cloves may help protect your stomach from ulcers. Most ulcers are caused by thinning of the layers of mucus that protect your stomach lining. Early research shows that eating cloves in large amounts can thicken this mucus, lowering your risk of getting ulcers and helping to heal ulcers that you already have.

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

Throughout history, people have used clove oil to soothe toothaches. Some cosmetics and medicines use eugenol for its antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral abilities.

Cloves for toothache

Clove oil has been used to ease toothache as far back as 1649. It's still a popular treatment today, thanks to eugenol. Eugenol is a natural anesthetic (numbing agent). Although clove essential oil is good for treating pain, there isn't enough proof that it also kills the bacteria causing the issue.

Treating dental erosion

Some high-acid foods and drinks may break down your tooth enamel (the hard, outer layer of your teeth). One study found that the eugenol in clove oil, when applied to teeth, may reverse or lessen these effects. But more research is needed to fully explore clove oil as a treatment or way to prevent tooth enamel erosion.

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 this medication, it's best to avoid clove oil and 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 to safe levels. But too much clove can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) which can be harmful.

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 at high doses can damage your liver or trigger allergic reactions in some people. So, it's important to take clove oil only in safe doses and keep it out of reach of babies and children.

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 (feeling irritated, tense, or confused), 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's eaten. Babies are most likely to experience liver damage.

Allergic reactions

Even when used on the skin or mouth, eugenol can cause allergic reactions.

For more than 100 years, dentists have used eugenol mixed with different compounds for many procedures, like making molds of your teeth. Eugenol has been shown to cause mild to severe allergy symptoms in some people. Signs of an allergic reaction to dental eugenol can include redness and soreness where it was applied to your gums. Some people react with a rash or welts on other parts of their body.

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

They can lose their strength quickly once they’ve been ground, so it's best to buy whole cloves and keep them in an airtight container. If you need ground cloves, you can grind them with a pepper mill or a mortar and pestle right before you use them.

Cloves add a healthy boost to your diet. Here are some 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 in a curry.
  • Make mulled wine with a heavy sprinkle of cloves.
  • Use cloves in rubs to season meats.

Clove water

Some people also soak cloves in water to create clove tea or clove water. But there's no proof that this provides health benefits. And as there's no way to tell how much eugenol you're getting this way, there's a chance you could take in an unsafe amount.

Cloves are a fragrant, dense spice that can be added to both savory dishes (such as curries) and sweet desserts (such as pumpkin pie). They're full of powerful nutrients that help protect your cells from damage. Some natural compounds in cloves interfere with medicines or cause side effects that can be life-threatening. So, it's safest to only cook or bake with cloves and enjoy this spice's health benefits that way.

What diseases can cloves cure?

The FDA hasn't approved clove extract as a treatment for any medical condition. Many more studies are needed before we understand all the health benefits of cloves. Talk to your doctor before you take cloves in any form. Doing so can interfere with other medicines you take, cause an allergic reaction, or lead to severe side effects.

Who should not drink clove water?

Too much eugenol can be harmful, especially to children, pregnant or nursing women, individuals with blood clotting issues, diabetes, or those who are within two weeks of surgery.

What are the benefits of eating cloves at night?

Some websites suggest that eating cloves at night can help with several issues including upset stomach, diarrhea, and coughing. But there's no data to support these claims.