Friday, December 19, 2008

Pearlfleur Passport: Cloves of Christmas

Last month we wrote about the herb sage (see Got Sage? post). This month we focus on the spice we call cloves. As you take this spice out of the cupboard to stick into a pomander or a ham, take a good look at it. The word cloves is derived from the French word "clou," which means "nail." Fitting, isn’t it? And it really does poke right into that orange or ham when you push it hard enough.

Cloves are actually a dried flower bud taken from an evergreen tree called the clove tree. Traces of cloves have been found in trading vessels dating as far back as 1721 B.C. There are stories that as early as 226 B.C. the Chinese would chew on cloves when they spoke to the emperor so they would not have bad breath (old version of the breath mint).

Cloves came to Europe in the 4th century with Arab traders. They became such a valued commodity that they were used as currency -- reportedly worth more than their weight in gold. The clove tree grew in the Molucca Islands (known as the Spice Islands) in what is now Indonesia. The island natives would plant a clove tree at the birth of every child.

Cloves were at the center of a major struggle over trade between the Portugese and the Dutch. The Portugese conquered the Spice Islands in the 1500s and monopolized the clove trade for about one hundred years. In the 1600s the Dutch made their way to the Spice Islands and wanted to control the cloves that grew there. They started destroying all the trees that were not under Dutch control. This angered the natives, who believed this destruction would harm the child in whose honor the tree was planted. It resulted in political unrest and conflict that lasted over 40 years, and many believe it still resonates today.

Centuries later, the fragrance of cloves conjures up memories of Christmas. It is in cookies, on pomanders, in potpourri, in apple cider, on the ham. Cloves are everywhere this season. Isn’t it ironic that this delightful heart-warming fragrance originates from a dried-up unopened flower?

Cloves give us something deeper to think about this season. As December draws close we begin to feel overwhelmed. We get tired and stressed out as we try to recreate past Christmas celebrations that are tucked away in our memories. You know the ones I mean. They are there in your imagination: the days that were filled with glitter and glue and everything from Santa to the Wise Men. So we fill our plates with an overabundance of food, chores, errands, and good intentions. Then we become disillusioned when the superhero in each of us fizzles before the tasks are all finished.

Like so many of the items in our lives that seem mundane on the surface, the clove has a lesson to teach us. The beauty of the clove flower -- a perfect bloom -- was not allowed to be. Instead of a perfect flower, the clove is a dried up little brown nail. But cloves bring us something intangible, a fragrance that gives us pleasure as it touches our senses and our hearts. That little clove in our cupboard, may not be pretty, but it is that ugliness that brings forth the fragrance that warms our soul. So instead of striving for the "perfect" Christmas that ends up being more stressful than serene, go to your spice cupboard. See that this little dried up brown flower gives something that warms our hearts without all the tinsel and sparkle. Maybe a sprinkling of cloves is the perfect gift for all of us. Merry Christmas from Pearlfleur.

this is bailey. i am a pocket mouse.
i hope they leave cookies out for santa.
also, i can’t wait to jump in the stockings.
when people are asleep, i love to type, type, type.
bye for now,



Ruthie said...

I admit, I was feeling stressed, overwhelmed ant not very Chistmassy. My "clove, was the gospels. I re read the accounts of that very first Christmas and let its fragrance seep into my spirit. It was then I began to refocus and get peaceful. Thanks for another thoughtful blog.

Pearlfleur said...

Dear Ruthie,
What a beautiful comment. Thank you for stopping by the blog and for your sharing your thoughts.

Eric said...

A very interesting article about a spice that we all know about and use. Who would have guessed it has such a big history

The Rose King said...

When I was young, Cloves were used to lessen a toothache until we had enough money to go to a dentist to have the tooth extracted.

Cloves were used to spice up hot cider during the winter months in Massachusetts -- undoubtedly used by our founding fathers during the cold days of the 1770's when debating and writing our country's most precious documents