First Wipes, Then Cloves?

If you happened to visit the Gulf Islands last August, you might have noticed two strange things: i) a lot of people smelled like cloves, ii) there were no cloves to be found in the grocery store. Why was there a late summer run on cloves and should we start stocking up on them now?



The smell of cloves, Gulf Island locals explained, will repel wasps. As a result, you’ll see all sorts of people out on the beach nibbling on clove-infused treats and rubbing the buds up and down their arms and legs.

Locals will find backup for their cloves theories in 2013 research by Zhang and Schneidmiller in the Journal of Pest Management Science: ‘Two essential oil mixtures – 3EO-mix (clove, geranium and lemongrass) and 4EO-mix (clove, geranium, lemongrass and rosemary) – totally blocked the attraction of vespid workers….These repellent essential oils and their active compositions have great potential for efficient, environmentally sound semiochemical-based IPM of pestiferous vespid wasps.’

Cloves are treasured for more than their repellant qualities. This native flower bud of the Maluku Islands in Indonesia has long caught the attention of cooks, traditional healers and the scent-sensitive.

Ancient emperors from different cultures were said to demand that their subjects chew cloves to sweeten their breath before approaching for conversation. Saint Hildegard included cloves in her Spices that Bring Joy. ‘Cloves are extremely warm by nature,’ she wrote, ‘with a certain humidity which gives them gentleness, much like the moist gentleness of honey.’

‘One who has the hiccoughs,’ Hildegard added, ‘should chew cloves often.’



The 1866 Cook Book of Mrs. Malinda Russell – the first known book of published recipes from an African American chef – incorporated cloves in a number of recipes. In her Wedding Cake, we find:

‘Three lbs flour, three lbs butter, three lbs sugar, six lbs currants, six lbs raising, one ounce nutmeg, one ounce cinnamon, one ounce cloves, half a gill of brandy, one gill of rose water and thirty eggs.’

Her Pickled Peaches were enhanced by the warmth of cloves:

‘To one gallon vinegar add four lbs sugar; boil and scum. Take elingstone peaches, fully ripe, rub off the down, stick into each three or four cloves, put into a stone jar, pour over them the boiling liquid, cover the jar closely, set in a cool place for a week or two. Pour off the liquor and boil as before, then return it to the fruit boiling hot; cover carefully for future use.’

Mrs. Malinda Russell even provided a recipe for clove-enhanced Cologne.

‘Take oil rosemary and lemon, each 1-4th oz, oil bergamot and lavender each 1;8th oz, oil cinnamon, eight drops, oils clove and rose fifteen drops, alcohol two quarts. Mix and shake well two or three times a day for a week.’


So, if the wasps start acting up and your banana bread recipe is nothing without cloves, stock up now.

Header Photo: Kirsty Hughes

Photo 2: Laura Cortesi



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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton