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Cloves (Ding Xiang) in Chinese Medicine


Chinese: 丁香

Pinyin: Dīng Xiāng

Parts used: Dried flower bud

TCM category: Herbs that warm the Interior and/or expel Cold

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): Pungent

Organ affinity: Spleen Stomach Kidney Lung

Scientific name: Eugenia cayophyllata

Use of cloves (Ding Xiang) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove impurities, crush before use.

Dosage: 1 - 3g

Main actions according to TCM*: Warms the Middle Warmer and directs the Qi downward. Warms the Kidneys and boosts Yang .

Primary conditions or symptoms for which cloves may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Abdominal pain Hiccups Vomiting Diarrhea Impotence Vaginal discharge

Common TCM formulas in which cloves (Ding Xiang) are used*

Ding Xiang Shi Di Tang

Source date: 1706 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Augments the Qi. Warms the Middle Burner. Directs Rebellious Qi downward. Stops hiccup.

Conditions targeted*: Morning sicknessNeurological hiccup and others

Ding Xiang is a king ingredient in Ding Xiang Shi Di Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Ding Xiang Shi Di Tang, Ding Xiang warms the Stomach, dispels Cold, and directs the flow of Qi downward, stopping hiccup and belching.

Read more about Ding Xiang Shi Di Tang

Key TCM concepts behind cloves (Ding Xiang)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), cloves are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that warm the Interior and/or expel Cold' category. Herbs in this category are used for Internal Cold with Qi Deficiency and/or Yang Deficiency. In the Yin and Yang system of thought Yang is Hot in nature. A deficiency of Yang will therefore lead to Internal Coldness since there will as a result be more Yin (Cold in nature) than Yang. In extreme cases this can lead to so-called 'Yang collapse' with convulsions or coma and these herbs are particularly indicated to treat such scenarios.

As suggested by its category cloves are plants that are Warm in nature. This means that cloves tend to help people who have too much 'Cold' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Hot in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Cold in their body are said to either have a Yin Excess(because Yin is Cold in nature) or a Yang Deficiency (Yang is Hot in Nature). Depending on your condition cloves can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Cloves also taste Pungent. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Pungent ingredients like cloves tend to promote the circulations of Qi and Body Fluids. That's why for instance someone tends to sweat a lot when they eat spicy/pungent food.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such cloves are thought to target the Spleen, the Stomach, the Kidney and the Lung. In TCM the Spleen assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body. The Stomach on the other hand is responsible for receiving and ripening ingested food and fluids. It is also tasked with descending the digested elements downwards to the Small Intestine. The Kidneys do not only regulate the urinary system but also play a key role in the reproductive system and the growth and aging process of the body. In addition to performing respiration, the Lungs are thought in TCM to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the Body Fluids that nourish the body.

Research on cloves (Ding Xiang)

It is clear that clove oil shows powerful antifungal activity; and it can be used as an easily accessible source of natural antioxidants and in pharmaceutical applications.1


1. K Chaieb, T Zmantar, R Ksouri, H Hajlaoui et al. (2007). "Antioxidant properties of the essential oil of Eugenia caryophyllata and its antifungal activity against a large number of clinical Candida species" Mycoses. Volume50, Issue5, Pages 403-406

Use of cloves (Ding Xiang) as food

Cloves are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Pulled pork with cinnamon & cloves or Pho.