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. The spicy fragrance of cloves was used by the Chinese (c.3d cent. BC) and by the Romans, but the first instance of finding the tree growing wild was recorded by the Portuguese when they discovered the Spice Islands. 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 and islands off E Africa such as Madagascar and Zanzibar. Clove is classified in the division Magnoliophyta , class Magnoliopsida, order Myrtales, family Myrtaceae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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