Clove oil is the essential oil of Syzygium aromaticum, the clove plant. It is derived through a steam distillation process from the clove bud. Eugenol, the active ingredient in clove oil, sometimes comprises as much 95 percent of clove essential oil. Consequently, clove oil is sometimes simply referred to as "eugenol".
According to "Western Herbs for Martial Artists and Contact Athletes", clove oil's most common use is for mouth injuries and infections. Even Western dentists use the oil for this purpose. Clove oil has has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and anaesthetic properties. It also has some complications associated with its use, and according to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), can produce liver failure in children if too much is used.
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Clove oil and drug interactions
Clove oil is an antithrombotic. What that means is that it inhibits blood clotting. If you are taking a blood thinning drug such as warfarin or heparin, anti-platelet drugs such as clopidogrel, or Plavix, or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen, clove oil may compound the effects of these drugs and increase the risk of bleeding.
MedLine Plus, a resource of the National Institutes of Health in the U.S., also warns that clove may change the way that the liver breaks down some drugs. It cites "antifungals, anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, antineoplastics, and drugs taken for cardiovascular conditions" as drugs that may interact badly with clove oil.
Clove oil and skin irritation
Eugenol, the active ingredient in clove oil, is an irritant. The "PDR for Herbal Medicine" recommends that you dilute clove oil with water to a 1 percent to 5 percent solution before using it in your mouth. Anything stronger than 5 percent can irritate skin and possibly damage the sensitive mucous membranes of the mouth. A 5 percent dilution is roughly one teaspoon (about 5ml) of oil in 100ml of water, and the MHRA states that even volumes less than this have resulted in serious side effects in children.
Clove oil and stomach irritation
Clove oil is also irritating to the lining of the stomach. According to Andrea Pierce in her book "American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines", most of the documented problems with clove oil have been associated with taking the oil orally. Any more than minute amounts can cause nausea, vomiting and other symptoms of stomach irritation. These symptoms are more pronounced in children, who are more sensitive to clove oil's effect than are adults. As clove oil has traditionally been used in the U.K. for soothing the pain of toothache, the dangers of oral use should be taken note of.
Clove oil and cytotoxicity
A 2006 study published in the journal Cell Proliferation provides evidence that clove oil might have some cytotoxic properties. Cytotoxicity is the characteristic of being harmful to cells. In this study, the cells being studied were human cells. Researchers found that the eugenol in clove oil damaged fibroblast cells, which are involved in healing, and endothelium cells, which line the inside of blood vessels. This study, however, is the only one that provides evidence for cytotoxicity.
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- "Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association"; Antithrombotic activity of clove oil; S. A. Saeed; May 1994
- MedLine Plus: Clove (Eugenia aromatica) and clove oil (eugenol)
- "American Pharmaceutical Association practical guide to natural medicines"; Andrea Pierce; 1999
- "Cell Proliferation"; Cytotoxicity of clove (Syzygium aromaticum) oil and its major components to human skin cells; A. Prashar 2006
- FDA: CFR - Code of federal regulations title 21
- Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency: Clove oil: life-threatening reactions on overdose