Latin Name: Curcuma longa
Key Elements: Anti-inflammatory, Antioxidant
Turmeric has been called the “Superstar of Spices” and this herb certainly earns that title.
Related to Ginger, Turmeric is a perennial plant that grows up to five feet high in the tropical regions of Southern Asia, particularly India. With fragrant trumpet-shaped yellow flowers, the root has a distinctive, pleasant earthy taste. Like ginger, it creates a warming sensation when eaten. The dried roots of Turmeric are ground into a deep yellow spice commonly used in curries and other South Asian dishes.
The healing benefits of turmeric have been used for thousands of years but are just starting to be widely known in the US. The active ingredient that is has so many remarkable healing qualities is curcumin.
Think of Turmeric as an anti-cancer spice. Besides using it medicinally in a tincture or pill form, try to make it a kitchen staple. In India, the average person eats about a teaspoon per day or 500 mg.
Most of us are familiar with turmeric in its dried, powdered form, but in the East fresh turmeric is widely used. This herb has been found to be more effective than many pharmaceutical drugs, without the side effects!
Commercially it is used in the U.S. as an additive and flavoring for the bright yellow color in mustard, American cheese, color in butter, margarine, canned chicken broth, bread & butter pickles, yellow cake and popcorn.
Cooking with Turmeric
The deep orange color of chopped fresh turmeric root imparts a rich yellow to curries, soups and stews and rice dishes. It is also used along with chopped garlic and ground white pepper to flavor the delicious turmeric fried fish so popular in Southern Thailand.
10 ways to incorporate this amazing herb into your cooking:
- Heat oil in a pan, add turmeric, add vegetables and stir fry.
- Add to meat, poultry and fish. Plus it is good in stews.
- Add to fried onions –they work synergistically to protect against cancer.
- Use in cruciferous vegetables – cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts.
- Add to egg dishes for taste and color.
- Add to lentil dishes.
- Blend it in melted butter and drizzle it over cooked vegetables.
- Add a tablespoon of turmeric to a large pot of chicken noodle soup.
- Gently heat it with some olive oil or butter and add to basmati rice.
- Add 1 teaspoon to homemade chili.
Turmeric’s Therapeutic Value
Therapeutic uses of turmeric go back to traditional Chinese and Indian medicine as early as the 7th century AD. Historically, Asian folk medicine used turmeric to treat diarrhea, fever, bronchitis, colds, parasitic worms and leprosy, as well as bladder and kidney inflammations.
In India and Malaysia, homemade turmeric paste is applied directly onto the skin to resolve nutritional deficiencies typically found in cancer patients. Since the skin is the largest organ and absorbs a lot, this method makes a lot of sense. In these countries, Turmeric powder is also a home remedy for minor cuts and burns, cuts and bruises.
For many, Turmeric may very well be considered today’s most powerful healing herb. There is no shortage of research being done on this potent herb. In fact, it has so many healing properties that there are literally thousands and thousands of peer reviewed articles published showing its benefits.
The Multiple Healing Properties of Turmeric
- The most powerful antioxidant protection against free radicals of any spice
- Natural body/blood cleanser
- Anti-inflammatory and helps to ease arthritis
- Helps promote healthy skin. Many use it for acne control.
- Supports overall eye health as it protects against age related macular degeneration and cataracts
- Provides immune system support
- Aids skeletal system and joint health and pain
- Encourages healthy liver function, excellent detoxifier
- Digestive Aid
- Aids support of healthy blood and circulatory system
- Helps maintain normal cholesterol levels to support cardiovascular system
- Great for the heart (turmeric is anti-clotting)
- Assists the neurological system’s healthy response to stress
- Promotes a healthy female reproductive system
- Helps maintain blood sugar levels that are already within the normal range
- Shows promise for Alzheimer’s Disease as it seems to helps memory and brain function
- May help Parkinson’s disease
The Science Behind Turmeric
According to Cancer Research UK:
“A number of laboratory studies on cancer cells have shown that curcumin does have anticancer effects. It seems to be able to kill cancer cells and prevent more from growing. It has the best effects on breast cancer, bowel cancer, stomach cancer and skin cancer cells.”
Moreover, the American Cancer Society agrees with the promising results of using the compound for the disease and the states:
“Laboratory studies have also shown that curcumin interferes with cancer development, growth, and spread. Researchers have reported that curcumin blocked the formation of cancer-causing enzymes in rodents. Recently, curcumin has received a great deal of focus because of its ability to reduce tumor size and kill cancer cells.”
While it appears that there is conflicting information surrounding the laboratory studies on the effects curcumin has on cancer, most studies seem to indicate that there are certain types of cancer that respond better to this botanical substance. These include skin cancer, breast cancer, bowel cancer and stomach cancer.
Lowering blood sugar and reversing insulin are other benefits curcumin has to offer. In 2009, a study was published in Biochemistry and Biophysical Research Communications that showed how turmeric can help reverse diabetes. This study demonstrated that curcumin was 400 times more potent than the common diabetes drug Metformin in activating AMPK which can help to reverse type 2 diabetes. That is impressive.
Like anything else, use it in moderation, excess amounts of anything can have harmful results. Curcumin is generally said to be avoided for those with bile duct problems or gallstones.This caution stems, in part, from a small 1999 study (of 12 people) which found that curcumin in low doses stimulated contractions of the gallbladder. This means that turmeric could potentially harm a person with gallbladder problems.
American Cancer Society. Turmeric. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/herbsvitaminsandminerals/turmeric
Cancer Research UK. Can turmeric prevent or treat cancer? Available at: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/about-cancer/cancer-questions/can-turmeric-prevent-bowel-cancer.
Kuncha M, et al. Curcumin potentiates the anti-arthritic effect of prednisolone in Freund’s complete adjuvant-induced arthritic rats. J Pharm Pharmacol 2014; 66(1): 133-44.