Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum) are the dried flower buds of a large evergreen tree in the myrtle family. Cloves have been used as a spice since antiquity, with the ancient Romans and ancient Chinese both valuing their flavor. Cloves are native to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, but are now grown in Eastern Africa and Madagscar.
The name clove comes from the Latin clavus, which means nail. The spice is shaped quite like a nail, and has an intense, warm spicy aroma and flavor, which mainly comes from eugenol. Eugenol, while toxic in surprisingly small doses, can be used as a dental anesthetic and to treat acne.
Cloves have historically been an expensive spice. The rarity and price of cloves and other spices drove a great age of oceanic exploration in the 15th and 16tn century, though in 17th and 18th century England, they were worth their weight in gold. In 1770, the French were successful in planting clove trees on the island of Mauritus, and from there, Madagascar, eastern Africa, and the West Indies.
Cloves figure heavily into Indian cuisines, but are especially beloved there as a primary addition to chai. In Vietnam, cloves are a flavoring agent in pho. The Dutch use them in baking and in some stews. In the United States, cloves are used to stud hams during the holidays and for holiday baking. Some people also use whole cloves to make pomanders, which are whole oranges studded with cloves and left to dry.