Can cloves really cure a toothache?
Now we know: Answering the foodie questions you didn’t even know you had
Cloves, or specifically clove oil, has a local anaesthetic effect. Photograph: iStock
Have you ever thought about where the cloves that pierce the lemon in your hot whiskey comes from? These strong-scented fellows act like nature’s nails; we can pierce them into oranges and lemons for a spiced citrus effect to decorate our homes or flavour our warmed drinks. They make pretty patterns on a whole ham ready for roasting, and can gussy up an otherwise plain apple tart.
But just what are these wood-like little wonders? Upon further research, cloves turn out to be the immature, unopened flower buds of a tropical tree in the Myrtaceae family, which is native to the North Moluccas archipelago in Indonesia.
Like many of the so-called Spice Islands, Arab traders and Portuguese, Dutch and British conquerors arrived throughout the 13th to 19th centuries , irreversibly changing the political and cultural landscape of the region, and taking cloves and other precious ingredients to the other side of the world.
According to the online spice encyclopedia, The Epicentre (theepicentre.com), the word clove is from the Latin word for “nail” which is clavus. The Chinese wrote of cloves as early as 400BC, and “there is a record from 200BC of courtiers keeping cloves in their mouths to avoid offending the emperor while addressing him”.
But is there any truth to the idea that cloves can cure a toothache? Dr Sean Malone of Sandycove Dental Care (sandycovedentalcare.ie) explains: “Cloves, or specifically clove oil, has a local anaesthetic effect.
“The active ingredient in clove oil is eugenol which is how the clove oil takes the pain away. It will give you temporary relief until you deal with whatever the problem is.”
Dr Malone regularly prescribes the use of clove oil as a way to combat pain, though stresses that it is really only a temporary solution.
So it seems while cloves can’t quite cure a toothache, they can certainly soothe the pain of a troublesome tooth.