11 Benefits of Cloves for Better Health

How to use clove spices, oil, tea, and traditional medicine

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Clove is a spice that is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Cloves have been used tonically in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine to strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, and aid in digestion.

Current research suggests that cloves can lower blood sugar, relieve tooth pain, and maybe even improve your sex life. The spice also has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties and can be used as a disinfectant.

Cloves are sourced from an evergreen tree (Syzygium aromaticum) that grows in Asia and South America. The spice is used in savory dishes, desserts, and drinks.

This article explores the research to support the use of cloves and clove oil for different medical uses. It also discusses potential side effects and warnings associated with cloves.

Close-Up Of Cloves In Spoon On Table
 

What Is Clove Oil Used For?

Clove is most commonly recognized as a spice used for cooking, but it has also been used for centuries to treat various health concerns. Some of these potential benefits have been evidenced by research.

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This video has been medically reviewed by Meredith Bull, ND.

Nutrition

As a spice, clove confers significant nutritional benefits. According to nutrition data, one teaspoon of ground cloves contains 30% of the RDI of the mineral manganese, 4% of the RDI of vitamin K, 3% of the RDI of vitamin C, and trace amounts of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin E. It is also a good source of fiber.

Vitamin C and eugenol are both antioxidants that can help slow the development of chronic disease. Manganese is important to bone health.

Toothache and Dental Pain

Many of the health benefits of clove oil are thought to result from its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial effects.

Clove oil is perhaps best known as a remedy for toothache and dental pain. In a 2006 study of 73 adults, for instance, researchers found that clove-based gel was comparable to benzocaine (a local anesthetic) in its ability to ease pain resulting from injections in the mouth.

The antibacterial properties of clove may help reduce oral bacteria that can lead to the development of plague, gingivitis, and cavities.

In Germany, a governmental regulatory agency known as Commission E has recommended clove for use in treating mouth and gum inflammatioin and as a topical anesthetic in dentistry.

Diabetes

There is some evidence that clove may benefit people with diabetes or prediabetes. This is based on research that suggests that clove may help reduce blood sugar (glucose) before and after eating food.

According to the 2019 pilot study, significant reductions were found in the glucose levels of healthy volunteers who ingested a polyphenolic clove extract, building off of promising results in preclinical studies regarding the effect of clove on helping to regulate blood sugar.

Further research is needed to determine whether the same effect can be achieved in people with diabetes.

Acne

Although tea tree oil (an essential oil used in aromatherapy) is better known as a natural spot treatment for acne, clove oil is sometimes also used for pimples.

According to a 2017 in vivo study, ethanolic clove extract containing eugenol suppressed activity of the bacterium P. acnes and reduced a related inflammatory response in a mouse model.

As P. acnes is associated with acne, this supports the conducting of further research into whether clove oil can be an effective treatment for breakouts.

Food Poisoning Prevention

According to a 2018 review, clove oil, and specifically the constituent eugenol, shows advantages over potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, and other chemical food preservatives in terms of antimicrobial activity, safety, and aroma, making it worthy of consideration as a substitute food preservative.

Clove oil has been found to have an antibacterial effect on common food sources Gram-negative bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella, E.coli, as well as Gram-positive bacteria such as Streptococcus, and Staphylococcus.

In lab tests published in 2009, scientists found that clove bud oil (as well as essential oils of cinnamon and allspice) also helped suppress the growth of listeria, another common bacteria known to cause food-borne illness, indicating clove oil may be helpful in protecting against food poisoning.

Sexual Health

Clove oil has been used traditionally to improve overall sexual function in men. It is purported to increase testosterone levels and improve blood flow. This is said to boost libido, improve the quality of erections, and prevent premature ejaculation. 

Animal studies suggest there may be something to these claims. A 2020 study found eugenol, a component in clove essential oil, relieves erectile dysfunction in diabetic rats. However, in the study, clove was injected directly into erectile tissue known as the corpus cavernosum.

There is limited evidence in humans to support the use of clove for sexual health.

Cancer

Though research is still in the early stages, there is some evidence to suggest clove may fight cancer. In laboratory studies, cloves were found to destroy different types of cancer cells. 

One study found clove prevents cell growth and kills colon cancer cells. Another found cloves effective again breast cancer cell lines. And yet another study showed cloves killed 80% of esophageal cancer cells in the laboratory.

However, the research has a long way to go before cloves are trialed for use in humans. 

Inflammation

Cloves also have anti-inflammatory properties that may help to relieve pain. A small study showed consuming cloves may lower certain inflammatory blood markers.

The researchers tested blood levels of TNF-a, IL-1a, and IL-6 before and after seven days of supplementing with different spices. Clove, ginger, rosemary, and turmeric all covered levels of TNF-a.

Cleaning Agent

Clove oil contains phenols and terpenes that can be effective against viruses, bacteria, mold, and other germs. Eugenol is a powerful germicide. Caryophyllene is an antimicrobial agent. Research shows clove oil is an effective disinfectant when used in cleaning.

Liver Disease

Compounds in cloves may also help to promote liver health, according to animal studies. One study found both clove oil and eugenol improved liver function, reduced inflammation, and decreased oxidative stress in rats with fatty liver disease. Another animal study found eugenol in cloves helps reverse signs of cirrhosis of the liver. 

More research is needed before clove oil or eugenol can be recommended for the prevention or treatment of liver disease in humans.

Pesticide

Clove oil is also used as a natural pesticide, so it may indirectly help protect you from certain bites.

Eugenol is a fast-acting contact insecticide that is effective against ants, cockroaches, dust mites, fleas, spiders, and wasps. It is gentle enough to use on plants to kill aphids, mites, and thrips. 

Possible Side Effects

While generally recognized as safe for topical use, clove oil has been found to impact the diversity of the intestinal microbiota when ingested due to the sensitivity of even some helpful bacteria in the gut biome to eugenol, as shown in a 2012 study.

It is generally recommended not to ingest clove oil in large amounts. If swallowed, cloves may cause a burning sensation. Applying clove oil to the skin or gums, or using it as a mouthwash, is recommended instead. Clogard Clove Mouthwash is one commercial rinse preparation that is available.

Pay special attention to prevent infants and children from swallowing clove oil. In 1992 there was a case report detailing a child who ingested clove oil and experienced disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) and hepatocellular necrosis. Another case report from 1991 describes central nervous system depression in an infant who swallowed clove oil.

While a direct link between clove oil use and these issues is not certain, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Due to insufficient research regarding the effects on pregnancy and breastfeeding, it is best to avoid clove products during these periods.

Caution for Children

Clove oils can be toxic to children. Store products that contain clove oil away from children.

Contraindications

Eugenol slows blood clotting and can lead to an increased risk of bleeding. It should be avoided by people with bleeding disorders, those scheduled for surgery, and people on anticoagulant medications.

Cloves have been shown to lead to lowered blood sugar levels and should be avoided by people who are hypoglycemic.

Selection, Preparation & Storage

Clove oil is available at most health food stores and supermarkets. When preparing clove oil remedies for younger children, cutting the clove oil with a carrier oil such as almond oil or olive oil helps mitigate any irritating effects.

According to the review on cloves in the Commission E Monographs, detailing the German authority's approved preparations of clove oil, 1% to 5% essential oil solutions are recommended for mouthwashes, and undiluted oil is recommended for official dental use.

As a spice, clove has a history as a healing additive in Ayurvedic medicine, said to balance the Kapha dosha.

According to a 2011 study, clove buds that had been cleaned, ground to a fine powder, and stored in air-tight containers at room temperature indicated significant anti-microbial activity after being added to a meat emulsion at the level of 0.1%.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does clove oil have an impact on blood sugar?

    Possibly. A small study found clove extract can help to reduce post-meal blood sugar spikes. However, the research was performed on healthy volunteers and not people with diabetes.

  • Can I grow my own clove spice?

    Growing cloves requires a hot and humid climate. This evergreen tree does best in USDA Zones 9b through 12. Clove trees can be grown in pots and taken indoors in temperate zones during the winter, if needed. Clove trees prefer partial shade and can be propagated from either seeds or cuttings. It takes 15 to 20 years for them to reach their full flowering potential.

  • Are clove cigarettes safe?

    No. Clove cigarettes, also known as kreteks, typically contain 60% to 80% tobacco and 20% to 40% ground clove buds and clove oil, along with some other spices. The numbing action of the eugenol in clove cigarettes allows for longer and deeper inhaling. This may make the act of smoking tobacco less harsh in the moment, but it does nothing to prevent the risks associated with inhaling nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar.

21 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.