Prized for its aromatic spiciness, the deceptively small clove has held a crucial role in Asian, African and European culinary traditions for centuries: a single clove bud can easily flavor a large apple pie.
But a clove's potency extends beyond its flavoring for fruit, meats and mulling spices. Because pungent clove oil contains antibacterial and antiviral compounds, cloves are also well-known for their mild medicinal use, especially for toothaches. Although nowadays we wouldn't necessarily stuff our mouths with cloves and skip a visit to the dentist, the use of clove oil for numbing and treating abscesses was the norm not so long ago.
Cloves, as an herbal hero, even appear in history during the bubonic plague in 15th century Europe. The legendary Thieves Oil, believed to serve as a prophylactic against the plague, prominently featured clove oil; the mixture still gets put to the test in modern-day "green" household cleaners.
Really, we can't attest to cloves' efficacy in the midst of an epidemic, but we can assure you that a bit of clove tea does wonders for the sinuses when you have a cold. And keep a few extra buds on hand for that ham!