clove, name for a small evergreen tree (Syzygium aromaticum or Eugenia caryophyllata) of the family Myrtaceae (myrtle family) and for its unopened flower bud, an important spice. The buds, whose folded petals are enclosed in four toothlike lobes of the calyx, are gathered by hand, dried, and marketed either whole or ground for culinary purposes. Clove oil, obtained by distillation, is widely used in synthetic vanilla and other flavorings as well as in perfumes; it is often considered medicinal and antiseptic.

Cloves have been found among ancient remains (c.1700 b.c.) in Syria, and the spicy fragrance of cloves was used by the Chinese (c.3d cent. b.c.) and by the Romans. The source of the spice was unknown to Europeans until the Portuguese first visited the Spice Islands (the Moluccas) and found clove trees growing wild. The Portuguese and then the Dutch held the clove trade in monopoly, eliminating the tree from all but a single island, until the late 18th cent. Today cloves are products also of other tropical areas, e.g., the West Indies, islands off E Africa such as Madagascar and Zanzibar, and Sri Lanka.

Clove is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Myrtales, family Myrtaceae.

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