A Haitian Treasure: Jirof (Clove)

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Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), coming from the Latin word for 'nail' clovus, are the dried, immature, and unopened aromatic flower buds of a tropical tree, native to the far East.  Cloves are cultivated mostly in Brazil, the West Indies (including Haiti), Tanzania, Madagscar and India. When fresh, they are pink, and turn to a dark rust-brown color when dried. Cloves are known for having a distinctly strong flavour, making them particularly popular in certain types of cuisine, like the delicious Haitian Cuisine.  In Haitian creole, cloves are known as jirof or jiwof and in French as girofles. Cloves have great historical significance and have been important to so many cultures for thousands of years. It has been traded by people from all walks of life up until now and was once worth its weight in gold. Clove is more popular than you might know. Do you like chai tea? Well, the main ingredient in chai tea is clove. Fan of pickles? Yup, cloves. Love pumpkin pie or ginger bread?! You guessed it. Cloves. Did you use glue in kindergarten? Clove oil. In Vietnam, cloves are used to flavor the most popular soup called pho.  In Japanese and Chinese cultures and the Jewish religion, cloves are used for incense and in the Middle East, crushed cloves are used to manufacture special clove cigarettes called kretek. Are you Haitian? If so, everything you have ever eaten has cloves in it. Asides from culinary uses, Haitians use jirof as a form of traditional medicine as well. Jirof can be boiled to make a tea that is especially good at relieving stomach pain.

Cloves are arguably the most common spice used in Haitian cuisine, even though they aren't cultivated as widely as in other parts of the world.  Because cloves are so potent, only a few pieces are needed to give mega flavor to a dish. Cloves blend beautifully with a variety of herbs and spices which is another reason why they are so popular. Think about all of your quintessential Haitian treats. The diri ak djon djon, jambon, mayi moulen, griyo (for some), CREMAS, etc. As a kid and even now, I remember accidentally biting on cloves in these different dishes and literally crying with frustration because it tasted so bad. I'm sure all Haitians have had this experience! It's quite inevitable actually.  My cousins and I used to try and pick them out before eating ANY of our grandma's dishes because we knew they had to be in there somewhere! Thanks manman. But it's also so worth it because I've eaten food that hasn't been flavored with jirof and they've all been uninspiring.
Pickliz (Haitian coleslaw)
Mayi Moulen (cornmeal)
Te Jirof (Clove tea)
Some Benefits:
  • In Ayurveda (Indian medicine) Tibetan, West African (Yoruba) and Chinese medicine, cloves are believed to increase heat in the body's system, which is useful for stimulating the digestive track and treating upset stomach, vomiting, hernia and diaherra
  • Good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and omega- 3 fatty acids
  • is one of the most popular substances in toothpaste, laxative pills and local anesthetics (Clovacaine)
  • can be a natural tooth filling when mixed with zinc oxide
  • can treat respiratory ailments
  • can relieve toothaches and decrease infections in the teeth due to its antiseptic properties
  • can reduce blood sugar levels
  • can freshen breathe when chewed
  • natural anti-oxidant, anti-histamine and anti-microbial
  • historical aphrodiasic
Some Uses
  • For an extensive list of some clove home remedies, click here.
  • can be made into an essential oil, which is used as a painkiller for dental emergencies
  • can expel parasital worms. #useful
  • Aromatherapy
  • can be applied topically a an oil for hypotonic muscles (such as in multiple sclerosis)
  • popular seasoning
  • used to preserve food
  • used in perfume
  • can be made into tea and liquor

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The "Haitian Treasures" series explores the magnificent benefits and uses of Haiti's natural resources, which I call "Haitian Treasures" because they are truly national gems.  Naïka in Balance is the premiere source for information on healing herbs used by Haitians. In this series, I explore the tie between Haiti's natural resources and natural, traditional, and holistic healing.

Learn about other Haitian Treasures explored on this blog here!

The two most popular Haitian Treasures on this blog are:

Castor oil/l'huile palma christi
Wonder of the world plant/fey lougawou

Naika, the writer of this blog, has a doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine and a Masters of Science in Acupuncture as of June 2017. Please do not take the information presented on this blog, as medical advice, without consulting your certified health care practitioner. Knowledge is power and your health is your wealth!