Bright, warm, and vibrant, a deep yellowish-orange, with a bitter and pungent taste, turmeric, or Curcuma longa, has been assisting people with their health for generations. In ancient India, turmeric was used for Ayurvedic medicine, in dyes for fabric and henna paint on skin, and spices in cooking. From folklore medicines to modern day application, this amazingly versatile herb can be used to aid in the treatment of countless health ailments.
Turmeric belongs to the Zingiberacea (ginger) family, and similar to ginger, it is the rhizome, or root, that holds the medicine. The turmeric plant is a flowering perennial, leafy and stem-less, with yellowish oblong leaves. The plant typically grows 3-5 feet tall, with pale-purple, pink, or white flowers stacked like a spiral ladder at its stalk; which originates from its orange-yellow rhizome, the source of its potent medicine. .
The volatile oil of the turmeric root is comprised of turmerone, atlantone, zingiberone, curcumin and monosaccharides: glucose, fructose, and arabinose and contains various resins, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, and polysaccharides ukonan-A and ukonan-D. Curcumin is what gives the root its deep yellow pigment and is the main active constituent of the turmeric root. Curcumin is the topic of many current studies on cancer prevention. Unfortunately, 40-85% of an oral dose of curcumin passes through the gastrointestinal tract unchanged because of its low absorption rates. When formulated with bromelain, a pineapple enzyme, oral absorption is increased.
It is believed that the earliest origin of this plant is from India and south Asia. Long use of turmeric dates back 10,000 years in India’s Ayurvedic medicine. It was used in folk remedies for hepatitis, flatulence and menstrual cramping. Gradually, trade brought this root to China, the surrounding south Asian countries, and the African continent. Turmeric grows best in tropical climates and it is widely cultivated today throughout the equatorial regions of the globe. In ancient India, turmeric was used for Ayurvedic medicine, in dyes for fabric and henna paint on skin, and spices in cooking. There are many uses in the current day, including food and fabric dyes and a key spice in curries. Medicinally, the list goes on and on:
Turmeric is anti-inflammatory (decreases tissue swelling), antiseptic (kills germs), anti-arthritic (helps arthritis symptoms such as swelling), aromatic, antioxidant (scavenges free radicals), astringent (tones tissue), analgesic (pain reliever), alternative, hypotensive (reduce blood pressure), cholagogue (stimulates hydrochloric acid secretion), choleretic (stimulates bile secretion), emmenagouge (pelvic blood flow stimulation), carminative (expels gas), hepoprotective (liver protective), vulnerary (wound healer), anticoagulant, and cardioprotective. It has also been used to lower cholesterol, stimulate digestive enzymes, for anti-fertility action, and tumor preventing activity. Externally, turmeric is a topical antibacterial and an anti-fungal.Turmeric affects the digestive, reproductive, and cardiovascular systems.
Perhaps turmeric’s most widely recognized action is its anti-inflammatory property, which has been scientifically proven to reduce inflammation in tissues. It is considered helpful in pain management by alleviating the inflammation associated with swollen tissues. It is a powerful antioxidant; 5-8 times more potent than vitamin E, giving protection against free radicals and abnormal cell activity. Turmeric also serves as an anticoagulant by inhibiting platelet aggregation. It is considered hepatoprotective because it detoxifies and decongests the liver and assists in dissolving gallstones and treating hepatitis, jaundice, and other liver issues. In addition to the health benefits above, turmeric is an effective external oil/liniment for bruises and injuries. It also has been used to prevent cataracts, treatment for gastric ulcers, flatulence, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, PMS symptoms, gallstones, hemorrhage, toothache, bruises, colic, irritable bowel, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes (lowers blood sugar), protein digestion, sprains, wounds, and as an anticancer preventative agent. Lastly, it stimulates the Blood circulation and Qi in Chinese medicine. For more information on the values of Turmeric, visit this link to the World’s Healthiest Foods: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78
Turmeric is contraindicated during pregnancy due to the uterine stimulant effect or if woman is trying to become pregnant. Also, because turmeric’s blood thinning effects, it is not recommended to anyone currently taking anti-coagulant/anti-platelet medications.
There are several ways to introduce turmeric into your diet to reap the benefits: Add ground turmeric root to spice up your veggies, meats, and stews. Add powdered turmeric to your diet in the form of capsules for a higher dose or use an alcohol-extracted tincture. If you are feeling adventurous, find fresh turmeric at your local co-op, peel and dice it and add to stews, root vegetable hash, smoothies or juice it!
At Human Nature, we carry ground turmeric root powder from Mountain Rose Herbs and Turmeric capsules. Turmeric root is a truly well rounded herb that has many medicinal benefits. Please contact us to ask if using turmeric is right for you!
-Erin Liljegren, Jan. 2014
Pedersen, Mark. “Nutritional Herbology. A Reference Guide to Herbs.” Wendell W. Whitman Company. 1987, revised 1998
Tierra, Leslie. “Healing with the Herbs of Life.” Crossing Press. 2003. pg. 124
Tierra, Michael. “The Way of Herbs.” Pocket Books. 1980, revised 1998. pg. 200
Tierra, Michael. “Planetary Herbology.” Lotus Press. 1988. pg 162
Tilgner, Dr. Sharol Marie. “Herbal Medicine: From the Heart of the Earth.” Wise Acres LLC. 2009. pg 156.
The World’ Healthiest Foods. Turmeric. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78