Tamil Nadu is the largest producer of clove in the country with Kanyakumari district contributing a sizeable portion to the total production. Clove was introduced in India around the 1800s by the East India Company in its spice garden in Courtallam. The dense wooded areas of Maramalai, Karumparai and Vellimalai in the Western Ghats of the Veerapuli Reserve Forest and Mahendragiri in Kanyakumari district produce nearly 80 percent of the total production of clove in India. This area is at an elevation of 700 m and the warm and humid climatic conditions with well-distributed annual rainfall and the rich humus content in the soil contributes significantly to its colour, shape, dimension and quality.
Clove is a medium-sized tree which grows up to a height of 10 – 20 m and can live for 100 years or more. The tree begins to yield 7 – 8 years after planting and buds are harvested before they open up when the base of the calyx turns green to pink. The farmers say that the stage and time of harvest of the flower buds determines the quality of the final dried product.
Traditional manual practices are used to pluck the clove stems with flower buds. The stems need to be carefully removed in such a manner as to not cause any damage to the branches. Generally, rope stilts are used by the farmers to start plucking from the top of the tree and gradually work their way down.
Buds are removed from the stem by hand and the clove buds and stems are segregated in separate piles for drying. It is necessary to sort out the buds to remove overripe cloves and flowers. Drying is done soon after the buds are separated from the clusters to avoid fermentation and a white shrivelled appearance that the dry clove may gain.
The cloves are spread out in mats and dried in the sun. The green buds are spread out in a thin layer on a drying floor and raked regularly to ensure even drying, development of a uniform colour and to prevent mold formation.
The completely dried cloves will lose around two-thirds of their green weight and turn brown. The dried cloves are sorted to remove the mother cloves, headless cloves and khoker cloves and then stored in gunny bags in a dry place. The stem is also dried similarly to avoid mold formation. As drying happens at high altitudes and at a temperature of 20 – 35 °C, concentration by weight of essential oils increases making Kanyakumari cloves the preferred choice in Ayurvedic preparations and perfumery.
Kanyakumari cloves have a higher percentage of essential oils in the range of 19 – 21 percent and this volatile oil concentration increases the content of Eugenol and Eugenol Acetate which lends it a distinctive aroma, flavour and quality. The dried flower buds Syzygium Aromaticum, are reddish brown to blackish brown in colour with a strong heady aroma.
Cloves are used in Ayurveda to treat respiratory and digestive ailments as well as toothache and dental decay. It is used either in whole or as a powder for culinary purposes. Clove oil is used as an antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic. It is widely used in aromatherapy and in the perfumery industry. It is now being extensively used as a biopesticide.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)