Clove oil Health Benefits, Uses, Quality & Best Products Compared

Author: Dr. Michael Tyler
Date: 01.10.2020
Reading time: 11:27 min

Clove oil is an extremely popular kitchen spice, and is a natural remedy for gum infections and for toothache. In 2010, it was chosen as the medicinal plant of the year.

Name Clove
Lat. Name Eugenia caryophyllata
Synonyms Carnation, Eugenia aromatica, Caryophyllus aromaticus
Origin Cloves originally come from the Moluccas (Spice Islands), an Indonesian group of islands between Sulawesi and New Guinea
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Psychological impact

Clove oil stimulates the mind. To improve concentration, and to counteract drowsiness, many inhale this essential oil’s aroma. Animal studies have shown that clove oil improves memory and learning ability - by reducing oxidative stress. In addition, clove is said to promote positivity and strengthen the nervous system.

Clove oil is an invigorating fragrance. It is used in aromatherapy as both a base and core note. The intensely spicy smell creates a pleasantly warm feeling and can be combined with numerous essential oils.

Physical effect

The main active ingredient in clove oil is eugenol. This inhibits the growth of bacteria, viruses and fungi. The results of several laboratory studies were able to demonstrate, for example, the germicidal effect of eugenol for salmonella and staphylococci.

Studies by the pharmaceutical faculties of the Universities of Porto and New Delhi also showed that eugenol can also be used effectively against fungi. Research has shown that clove oil has a negative effect on the cell membrane of fungi such as Candida albicans. 

In addition to its antiseptic properties, the main active ingredient in clove oil is also known for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. Eugenol inhibits prostaglandin synthesis by inhibiting the enzymes required for this, the cyclooxygenases (COX). Prostaglandins are tissue hormones that are responsible for mediating pain and inflammation. Because of its effect as a COX inhibitor, eugenol therefore reduces inflammatory reactions and pain.

The pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effect of eugenol is accompanied by a numbing effect that can even compete with conventional local anesthetics. Clove oil activates chloride and calcium channels within ganglion cells - nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system. 

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All of these channels are involved in the transmission of information and stimulus transmission. In principle, clove oil leads to a bio-electrical short circuit at the nerve cell level. This prevents the nerves from perceiving pain. Dentists at the Faculty of Dentistry in Kuwait examined the effects of clove oil as a local anesthetic in comparison to benzocaine - and both were equally effective.    

Antioxidant

Gallic acid renders free radicals harmless by releasing an electron. Free radicals are atoms or molecules that lack electrons in their outer shell.

They pull electrons from wherever they find them. They quickly wreck intact cells, and can cause massive tissue damage. An excess of free radicals, known as oxidative stress, poses serious health risks. Numerous diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases and neurological diseases, are associated with oxidative stress. In addition to gallic acid, clove oil contains numerous other plant substances that also release free radicals by releasing electrons and therefore reduce oxidative stress. These include coffee and ferulic acid as well as kaempferol and quercetin. Kaempferol also helps prevent cancer by inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. Quercetin reduces inflammation and strengthens the immune system.

Toothache and inflammation of the mouth

Due to its combination of antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and numbing effects, clove oil is a popular remedy for the treatment of toothache and gum infections - such as stomatitis or gingivitis.

A research team from Shanghai University was able to confirm the antibacterial effects of eugenol in a laboratory study and thus show that clove oil is a mild alternative to conventional antiseptics such as chlorhexidine.

For periodontal disease

The analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effects of clove oil are also of great use in dentistry. Dental practitioners use eugenol - contained in clove oil - to treat periodontitis. It is also an effective prophylactic dental cement.

Bad breath | Halitosis

Clove oil is ideal for prophylactic oral hygiene. Due to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, the essential oil as an addition of toothpaste or mouthwash prevents inflammatory changes in the mouth and throat mucosa. In addition, the main active ingredient Eugenol ensures fresh breath. In ancient China, bad breath was combated by chewing cloves.

Indigestion | flatulence

The digestive properties of clove oil were discovered centuries ago. Unsurprisingly, clove is often part of traditional recipes for gastrointestinal teas or bitters. The substances eugenol and beta-caryophyllene contained in clove oil are not only known for their anti-inflammatory effects, but also have an antispasmodic and digestive effect. For this reason, the healing spice is often used as a mild remedy for stomach or intestinal complaints. Especially with flatulence and a feeling of fullness, clove oil can provide very effective relief.

Against Helicobactor pylori

Clove oil is able to destroy the bacterium Helicobactor pylori. It has been known since 1983 that this bacterium causes ulcers in the stomach and duodenum. For long, it was thought that overproduction of stomach acid caused these ulcers.  

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Against herpes viruses

The active ingredients eugenol and beta-caryophyllene contained in clove oil are effective against viruses. Eugenol in particular is now increasingly being examined for its antiviral properties. Applied locally, it inhibits herpes viruses and can therefore alleviate and shorten the course of cold sores, as shown in a study by the University of Buenos Aires.

For insect bites

Clove oil can also help with insect bites in. With its broad antiseptic properties, Eugenol prevents pathogens from entering the wound. The tannic acid also contained in the clove oil also supports wound healing. The substances eugenol and beta-caryophyllene also have anti-inflammatory effects and relieve itching. 

To repel insects

You can effectively drive insects away by placing clove oil in the fragrance lamp. It is also possible to soak cotton balls with clove oil and spread them on the terrace or balcony.

Side effects

The powerful properties of eugenol also mean that clove oil can irritate the skin and trigger allergies. In addition, eugenol is cytotoxic and genotoxic. That is, it can completely destroy tissue cells.

Genotoxic means that eugenol can also change the genetic material of cells. Enzymes mainly found in the liver (cytochrome P450 enzymes) can activate these. But they can also be found in the lungs, kidneys and intestines. In any case, it is advisable to only use pure clove oil in extreme cases: for example for acute toothache. When ingested, it is advisable to always dilute clove oil. Due to possible toxic effects, clove oil is not suitable for long-term use.

Powerful herbal ingredients

Clove is 70 to 85 percent eugenol and also contains eugenol acetate, beta-caryophyllene, oleanolic acid and gallic acid. Eugenol acetate works in similarly to eugenol and can destroy gram-positive bacteria. Beta-caryophyllene is a substance that attaches to the CB2 receptors of the human endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system is an extensive network of the nervous system that affects metabolism in a variety of ways. The CB2 receptors are mainly found in cells of the immune system, in red blood cells as well as in cells of the intestine. Beta-caryophylls have an anti-inflammatory, analgesic effects, and enhance your mood, via the endocannabinoid system.

The natural substance oleanolic acid has numerous positive effects on health. It fights the growth of tumours and various types of cancer, including by promoting self-destruction of tumour cells. In addition, oleanolic acid reduces insulin resistance in patients with type 2 diabetes. In addition, oleanolic acid destroys numerous pathogens, including listeria and enterococci. The elagic acid in clove oil also prevents cancer cells from multiplying. It also counteracts inflammation and viral infections.

Application

Clove oil is used diluted in most cases and is usually well tolerated in this form. In its pure form, the essential oil can trigger intolerance reactions or even allergies. Therefore, you should always use it sparingly and carefully. 

Internal application

You should only use clove essential oil diluted. Tea infusion made from approximately three cloves and 250 ml of hot water is suitable for treating stomach and intestinal complaints. If you want to prevent flatulence, you can simply use the clove as a spice.

External use

For use in aromatherapy, let the clove oil evaporate in the fragrance lamp or diffuser. Alternatively, you can mix a few drops with an oil or cream and then massage into the skin. The spicy scent of clove oil can be combined well, for example with lavender, orange and cinnamon. Lemon, basil and fennel also complement the aroma perfectly. A gargle solution with clove oil is suitable for minor inflammations of the mouth. You can easily make these yourself by simply stirring a few drops of the essential oil into a glass of water.

To treat toothache and inflammation in the mouth or throat, the essential oil is applied locally, for example with a cotton swab. To prevent skin irritation, you can also put the clove oil on a cotton pad or cloth soaked in water and press it onto the painful or inflamed area or chew on it. Alternatively, you can chew on a clove and thus release the active ingredients of the medicinal plant.

In the case of digestive problems or abdominal pain, an abdominal massage with diluted clove oil can also have a positive effect.

Side effects

In high concentrations, clove oil can cause skin and mucous membrane irritation or allergic reactions. Undiluted use should only be considered for local pain relief. The essential oil is also suspected of causing premature labour, which is why it should not be used during pregnancy.

Manufacturing

Clove oil is obtained from steam distillation of the dried flowers. Since the clove consists largely of essential oil, the yield is very high at around 19 percent.

Chemical composition

Clove oil consists mostly of the active ingredients eugenol (approx. 70-85 percent), eugenol acetate (approx. 15 percent) and the sesquiterpene beta-caryophyllene (approx. 7 percent). It also contains phenol carboxylic acids, flavonoids, triterpenes and tannins in smaller quantities.

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History

Clove and nutmeg trees originally only grew on the Moluccas. For this reason, this Indonesian archipelago between Sulawesi and Papua New Guinea has been known as the spice islands since the 16th century. Trade relations between the Moluccas and China have been considered secure for around 2500 years, and so the flower cemented its place in Chinese cuisine and medicine many centuries ago.

Antiquity

The clove must have found its way to Europe at the latest in the 1st century CE, as the Roman historian Pliny (23 / 24-79 CE) reported of a spice called "Caryophyllon". It was introduced to Rome because of its fragrance. The first import of the carnations was presumably due to the trade relations of the Romans with India. In any case, it is clear that the carnation was a precious and rare commodity in ancient times. The Roman emperor Constantine gave 150 pounds of carnations to Pope New Year's Eve as a gift in the 4th century AD.

Middle Ages

With its germicidal properties, clove oil was of particular importance in the Middle Ages. Chewing cloves was considered effective protection against plague and cholera, as well as many other diseases. A more questionable method of fighting these diseases was wearing chains of cloves. The herbalist Benedictine Hildegard von Bingen recommended cloves in her naturopathic writings Physica (between 1150 and 1160 CE) for headaches, gout and dropsy. In addition, she saw the spice as a suitable means to drive away cloudy thoughts and to strengthen the nervous system. The carnation is one of the main components of her"nerve biscuits". The doctor Paracelsus (1492-1541) praised the positive effects of the carnation on the digestive system. He also used the spice plant as a tonic and pain relieving uterine drug.

Modern day

The Moluccas had been hotly contested since the beginning of the 16th century as they were the only supplier of cloves and nutmeg at the time. In 1524 the Portuguese conquered the "Spice Islands", but the conflict over supremacy continued. In 1663 the Dutch emerged victorious in these struggles and secured a monopoly on the Moluccan spice trade for about a century. They limited the growing area of the carnations to Ambon and a few neighbouring islands and removed the valuable carnations and their roots on all other islands. Cultivation was strictly controlled and illegal export of plants or carnation flowers was punishable by death. However, between 1769 and 1779 the French missionary Pierre Poivre managed to smuggle out some plantlets and send the seedlings to the island of Reunion. This started the cultivation of cloves outside of their home country. In 1793 the first carnation tree was planted in Zanzibar, creating another important producer for the carnation trade.

Botany

Cloves from the Moluccas are still considered to be of particularly high quality. However, carnation trees are cultivated worldwide today. The trees need a tropical maritime climate. That is why they are mainly grown on islands, for example in the Philippines, Sri Lanka or the African island of Pemba. There are also significant cultivation areas on Zanzibar and Madagascar as well as on the Caribbean island of La Réunion. The evergreen plant can grow over 10 meters in good conditions. All parts of the trees smell strongly spicy. From the age of six, the unopened flowers can be harvested. Up to the age of 60, each tree provides between two and four kilograms of carnations a year. The flower buds grow in umbels. You pick them by hand when they are still closed. They have the highest content of healthy plant substances when their green colour slowly turns reddish. The fresh buds are briefly then immersed in hot water. Then they are dried in the sun. In doing so, they lose more than half their weight and take on the typical brownish-red colour.

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