Turmeric has long enjoyed tremendous popularity in the kitchen—especially throughout Asia. This perennial member of the ginger family, indigenous to India and long cultivated throughout tropical areas of South and East Asia, has been used in the culinary and healing arts, sacred rituals, personal care, as a natural dye, and more. Today, turmeric has become a part of the American gourmet scene and well beyond. From a spicy Indian Dal to summer squash with turmeric butter to the yellow mustard on your hot dog—none would be the same without it.
Both bitter and pungent, turmeric’s gingery/peppery taste perfectly complements a wide variety of vegetable, lentil and rice dishes. The earthy flavor also enhances meat, seafood, fowl or poultry. And turmeric has tremendous natural preservative qualities that can help protect against food poisoning. It can also make grilled meat safer. Adding turmeric to your meat rubs/marinades can reduce levels of cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCAs) by up to 40 percent. (HCAs form on meat when cooked over high heat, especially when grilled.)
A Natural Dye
The bright orange-yellow powder comes from the dried and ground rhizome (underground stem) or rootstock of the turmeric plant. As food coloring, turmeric’s marigold hue can range from bright yellow to deep orange, depending on the variety. Nothing will enliven bland food quicker than a dash of turmeric. Add to eggs, potatoes, soups, stews, cauliflower, or anywhere else you’d like a bit of vibrancy. It’s also long been used as a dye to tint skin as well as textiles—so be aware as working with this spice, especially around clothing.
But the major buzz surrounding turmeric has to do with its astounding health benefits. Numerous studies have documented the efficacy of turmeric’s active constituent, curcumin, in the treatment of a host of health issues. (Two hundred and fifty-six curcumin papers were published in the past year, according to a search of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Go to Pubmed.com to access these.)
An overview published in the medical journal Advanced Experimental Medical Biology states, “Curcumin has been shown to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities and thus has a potential against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic illnesses.” It may help with coughs, asthma and diarrhea—with congestion, edema and excess phlegm or mucus. It’s an excellent liver and blood cleanser. It stimulates blood circulation, removes stagnation, and, in the process, reduces inflammation.
Turmeric is used in treating a wide variety of inflammatory conditions including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, colitis (IBS), gastritis and hepatitis. It’s a skin tonic that promotes radiant skin and is helpful in clearing inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. It can help heal bruises, cuts and wounds.
It can help regulate menstruation and reduce PMS symptoms. It has even been shown to reduce uterine fibroids and tumors. And it’s an important treatment for serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, some cancers (breast, prostate, skin, colon, lymphoma, leukemia), and dementia/Alzheimer’s disease (it may prevent and slow progression by removing beta-amyloid plaque buildup in the brain). It can reduce side effects of chemotherapy. It’s also shown promise in the treatment of multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis.
Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years as an anti-inflammatory and to treat digestive and liver problems, skin diseases, and wounds. Studies have revealed that its pain-relieving properties compare with those of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs; however, turmeric doesn’t cause internal bleeding, digestive upset or liver toxicity found in some individuals taking NSAIDs. “The bottom line is that the therapeutic advantages of turmeric and its curcuminoids are almost too numerous to list,” says Andrew Weill, MD.
How to Enjoy/Use
Although turmeric can be enjoyed as a spice/in cooking, very few Americans eat enough curry/turmeric dishes to achieve the protective benefits outlined here. For therapeutic use, take turmeric powder in capsule form or mixed with other substances like milk, honey, water, ghee, oil or aloe vera juice.
Fat, along with ginger and/or piperine from black pepper (because it heats up the digestive system), are considered integral for optimal absorption of turmeric’s curcuminoids into the body. This is one reason why it’s so beneficial to use in your cooking of sweet and savory dishes that include oil or fat. However, if looking to use supplements, ensure that ginger or piperine are in the mix and ingest with your EFA/Omega 3-6-9 supplement and/or a meal where healthy fat is included. My supplement of choice is Organic India’s Turmeric Formula (organicindiausa.com) Indus also has a good powder (indusorganics.com).
Note: If you’d like to try using it therapeutically, please consult with your doctor, as dosages may differ dependent on what you’re seeking to treat. It can be powerful medicine. According to the National Institutes of Health it should not be used during pregnancy, or by those with bile duct obstruction. And be aware that it is also a natural blood thinner. There are also some contraindications with certain prescription meds to consider.
Naturally, optimal well-being goes well beyond adding this spice to your meals. But as part of an overall plan that includes stress management, healing breathwork and movement, an anti-inflammatory diet (including prudent supplementation), a daily dose of turmeric can be a valuable addition to your wellness lifestyle.