Shaped a bit like a nail or a pushpin, the diminutive dried buds became a commodity prized and fought over by land-grabbing empire builders.
In the early 1500s, Spanish and Portuguese ships invaded the Maluku Islands, and Portugal went on to monopolise the global clove trade for decades. Holland coveted the cloves, there were a series of bloody wars, and eventually the Dutch pushed the Portuguese out, although the English continued to battle them for control.
All this warmongering was considered worth it because people were willing to pay extortionate prices for spices, which were valued for both their taste and their medicinal powers. In Tree Medicine, Peter Conway reports that Samuel Pepys handed over a sack of gold in 1665 in exchange for a small pouch of nutmeg and cloves, spices that had been claimed to cure disease and increase virility.