|Cloves, by David Monniaux|
We shall see.
They aren't thorns, but buds. Dried flower buds. The tree they grow on is called Syzygium aromaticum. I was curious what that 'syzygium' came from, thinking it might be named after some famous Hungarian botanist, but no, it's just Greek--syn as in "with" and zygot meaning "yoke", as in yoked or joined, because the petals merge to form a kind of cap. Cloves come originally from the legendary Spice Islands, also known as the Maluku Islands, perhaps more familiar to us as the Moluccas. Anyway, a subgroup of the many islands that make up Indonesia.
The Dutch, as you doubtless already know, played a big roll in Indonesia, and in the case of spices, it wasn't one that casts them in their best light. They attempted a monopoly on cloves, much like their very successful ones around nutmeg and mace. Apparently, though, nutmeg only grew on one island, while cloves grew on many, so their export was a bit harder to control. Nevertheless, in Britain in the 17th and 18th century, they were worth their weight in gold, or so says Wikipedia.
|Map by Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638)|
There is an intriguing story about one Monsieur Poivre smuggling some seedlings off the island, which ended up in France, the Seychelles, and ultimately in Pemba and Zanzibar, with Pemba being the current top producer. Zanzibar? Now why does that name sound familiar?
But that's not all there is to the story. Poivre is said to have gotten the seedlings from a tree named Afo, believed to be the oldest clove tree in the world, and now between 350 and 400 years old. Check out Simon Worrell's BBC story on his own quest to find Afo, the 'rogue clove'. Afo's survival is something of a mystery, as the Dutch moved to eradicate all clove trees not in their own possession. And that's not all--anyone found growing, possessing or stealing clove plants without authorization could be put to death.
And we thought marijuana laws were tough.
"Clove" is not Indonesian. It derives from the Latin clavus, or nail. Because apparently where I see thorns, more people see nails. In fact, the nail imagery is prevalent in many languages when it comes to cloves, as you can see here, on this really thorough article on cloves by Gernot Katzer. Worth checking out the rest of his spice library, too. Or at least check out his personal home page...