In Asia Cloves are known as 'Flowers of the Gods'. Although native to the Spice Islands and the Philippines, Cloves have long been known and traded in the West. Until the 16th century the Arabs were the chief importers and traders of spices from the East. But once Portuguese explorers discovered the true origin of precious, exotic spices, wars were waged over the dominion of the spice islands - the tropical climate produced an abundance of wonderful exotic spices and Europeans were crazy for them: Cloves, Nutmeg and Cinnamon were among the most precious substances of commerce in those days, and a man's fortune could be made or lost depending on the outcome of their adventures in the East. The name 'Cloves' actually derives from the Latin 'clavus', meaning 'little nail', which survives in the Dutch name 'Kruidnagel' - Herbnail. In Asia, garlands of Clove flowers are placed around children's necks for protection. It keeps evil spirits away and protects against nasty gossip. In Indonesia, one of the traditional growing areas, Cloves feature predominantly as a flavouring agent for cigarettes, rather than a spice. They are also commonly used as an incense ingredient. The Chinese not only use it as an ingredient in their famous 5 spice mixture, but also as medicine. In western cuisines it is mostly associated with Christmas baking, mulled wine and apple spice. When the plague raged through Europe, Cloves were in great demand as they were believed to offer protection against the deadly disease. Their anti-septic properties probably indeed saved quite a few souls. Today, Cloves are mostly known for their insect repellent properties and their usefulness as a local anaesthetic, particularly in the treatment of toothache.
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