I keep a bottle of cloves handy by my reading chair in the living room. I chew on a few every day, especially if I eat something in the evening before bed. It increases digestion and therefore decreases the amount of undigested food sitting in your GI tract as you fall asleep.

Cloves are one of the most loved and well-utilized spices in the entire world. Its distinct sweet and spicy aroma lends dishes and pastries a unique depth in flavor that you can pinpoint once you take a bite. But while cloves are usually relished for their taste and fragrance, they are also packed with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are absolutely essential for the body.

Cloves are the dried flower buds of the Syzygium aromaticum tree, an evergreen that grows up to about 30 feet. Its name originates from the Latin word “clavus,” which means “nail,” because of the shaft and head that it closely resembles. Syzygium aromaticum trees usually grow in warm and humid climates, typically in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Brazil. Tanzania leads the market, producing about 80 percent of the world’s clove supply.

Like other spices, the story of how cloves were distributed throughout the world spans over hundreds of years, starting with the establishment of the trade routes. Together with pepper, cinnamon and hazelnut, cloves were one of the spices that were highly sought-after in both Europe and the Americas, especially by noblemen. These four spices were known to be the “Big Four” because of their rarity and value.

In the Moluccas, or the Spice Islands, clove spice trees were used to represent the lives of each child born into a family, an important symbolism that reflected their children’s survival. When the Portuguese and the Dutch learned of the existence of spices, they sought to control the monopoly of the trade. This led to the Dutch burning down clove trees to raise its price, which then triggered to numerous wars and battles against the locals.

However, the high demand for the spice eventually died down once the spices were successfully cultivated in other parts of the world. While cloves are now easily available in the market and doesn’t require the thousand-mile journey to reach our shores, it remains to be one of the most expensive spices in the world, placing fourth behind saffron, vanilla and cardamom. Because of its numerous health benefits and medicinal uses, it’s a wise decision to invest in a small container of cloves to use for your food and in your home.

Cloves are used in the culinary world as a spice for different dishes and pastries. It adds a sweet and earthy taste to desserts, stews and meats. But aside from its use in the culinary world, it can be utilized as a treatment for numerous conditions and ailments as well. Here are some of the health benefits you can get from cloves.

The high amounts of eugenol, a compound with both anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties, can help your body deal with infections and inflammation. It also contains kaempferol and rhamnetin, flavonoids that share the same properties as eugenol.

As an expectorant, cloves can help reduce inflammation and expel mucus. It helps reduce coughing fits by soothing the throat.

Cloves contain high amounts of antioxidants, which aid the immune system in fighting off oxidative damage and free radicals. Eugenol also has the ability to help ease infections and fight disease-causing bacteria in the body.Aside from freshening your breath, cloves can help treat oral conditions like gingivitis and periodontitis as well. The antibacterial property of cloves helps minimize the spread of bacteria inside the mouth.

Cloves promote the production of gastric acids, which helps in better digestion of food. It minimizes indigestion and dyspepsia, as well as reduces gas pressure in the stomach, lessening discomfort.

The importance of clove as a spice transcends its flavor.Because of the eugenol found in cloves, cloves can be used to help prevent acne breakouts. You can make a mask with ground cloves, honey and a few drops of lemon juice. Keep it on your face for around 20 minutes and then rinse.

If you’re tired of the chemical aftertaste that mouthwashes leave in your mouth, you can switch to cloves as an all-natural alternative. Cloves will not only freshen your breath, but will give you anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits as well. Natural clove mouthwashes usually consist of a mixture of equal amounts of water, cloves and other herbs like rosemary and mint.

Clove oil can be used as a natural painkiller for toothaches. This is because of its natural anesthetic property that helps alleviate pain and discomfort that arise from cavities as well as other dental and gum problems.

Mountaineers, climbers and other sportsmen usually suffer from altitude sickness because of the sudden change in atmospheric pressure. Taking two cups of a clove infusion can help relieve altitude sickness by thinning the blood and improving the oxygen supply to the brain.

For a more natural and safer alternative to chemical-based fresheners, you can make your own all natural air deodorizer with oranges and cloves. Boil orange peels with a few pieces of cloves in water and let it simmer. The scent will get rid of uninvited smells and pungent odors in your home.

You can also put a few pieces of cloves inside a clean sock and use it to freshen up musty closets and drawers. It will leave your clothes smelling sweet and fresh.

Cloves are available in either whole or powder form, but note that whole cloves maintain their freshness longer. Spices don’t usually spoil easily as long as they are stored in a cool, dark and dry place. Unfortunately, cloves can lose their aroma and flavor when stored incorrectly.

While you can store them in glass containers, make sure that cloves do not get exposed to sunlight or intense heat. Direct light and heat can make the cloves lose their flavor and color, while steam can make them moist and cake together. Place cloves, as well as other spices, in drawers or storage cabinets that are far from the stove but close enough to be accessible.

When measuring out cloves, make sure that your measuring instruments are dry to keep the containers free of moisture, which may lead to a faster rate of decay.

Clove bud oil is generally utilized for oral health due to its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, which help against bad breath and other mouth problems. It also has potential benefits as a digestive aid, skin care product and aromatherapy oil. Topically applying clove bud oil can address warts, acne, sagging skin and wrinkles, too. However, make sure that you dilute this essential oil with a carrier oil to avoid allergic reactions.

Keep in mind that the oil of cloves should be used moderately. Because of the high content of eugenol, excessive use may cause nausea, vomiting and blood problems. Other contraindications for this essential oil include the following:

Phototoxicity: Do not use this oil before going out into direct sunlight, as it can lead to severe burns and other skin problems.

Aspirin or anticoagulants: Clove bud oil can slow down platelet activity, which can interfere with these medications and cause adverse effects.

Allergic reactions: Topically applying clove bud oil on damaged skin may cause severe allergic reactions and can further damage the skin.

To make sure that you’re using this oil correctly and you have the right dose, consult a health practitioner first. This is to make sure that you’re not unknowingly harming yourself in your pursuit of improving your health.