Turmeric

Turmeric one of the most popular seasonings in Indian cuisine and beyond, but its true benefits reach far past its pleasant, spicy taste. Read on to learn more about its fascinating history and medicinal potential.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Turmeric, curcumin, haldi (Hindi), jiang huang (Chinese)
  • Ayurvedic nameHaldi
  • Scientific nameCurcuma longa
  • Geographic distributionWorldwide Subtropical Regions
  • Plant typeHerb
  • Main producer(s)India
  • Main Economic UseFood industry, Culinary
Medicinal and Nutritional Information
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory, Carminative, Emmenagogue
  • Key constituentscurcumin, turmerone
  • Ways to useDecoctions, Tincture, Poultice, Powder
  • Medicinal rating(5) Great value
  • Safety rankingSafe
Buying
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Big online retailers, Farmers' markets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores
Growing
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsRoots
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilLight (sandy)
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
  • Growing habitatSubtropical regions
  • Pre-germination seed treatmentNone
  • Growing time8 to 10 months
  • Propagation techniquesRoot cuttings
  • Potential insect pestsAphids, Mites
Additional Information
  • Other usesCosmetics, Dye
Turmeric

One of the world's favorite spices, turmeric is a Southeast Asian native with an old and complex history: it has been used since time immemorial as a clothing dye and ritual purifier, especially among followers of Hinduism - a religious significance it still retains.

Turmeric has been a staple of Ayurvedic remedies since 1900 BCE, mainly as a pain reliever and to lower fever, although information about turmeric's culinary uses did not reach Europe until after colonization, and Western herbalists ignored its therapeutic potential until the first half of the 20th century. Modern researchers have been able to trace the herb's abilities to its anti-inflammatory properties, while ongoing research is uncovering its ability to protect brain function and regulate cholesterol.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory, Carminative, Emmenagogue
  • Key constituentscurcumin, turmerone
  • Ways to useDecoctions, Tincture, Poultice, Powder
  • Medicinal rating(5) Great value
  • Safety rankingSafe
Turmeric

Health Benefits of Turmeric

Because of its long history of use, turmeric has found many different medicinal applications.

Traditional uses of turmeric include:

  • Relieving inflammatory pain: Since it blocks inflammation responses, turmeric can help diminish the pain caused by tissue or joint inflammation.
  • Improving digestion: Turmeric has shown to speed up digestion and fight constipation.
  • Regulating menstruation: In traditional Indian medicine, turmeric is used to speed up menstruation and relieve menstrual cramps.

In addition, many recent studies have shown turmeric has additional therapeutic potential for:

  • Preventing the onset of dementia: New studies suggest some compounds in turmeric may protect the brain from aging-related damage, such as Alzheimer's disease or senile dementia.
  • Lowering risk of cardiovascular disease: Turmeric seems to lower LDL cholesterol levels, and therefore may help prevent atherosclerosis.

How it Works

The main compounds behind turmeric's health properties are turmerone and curcumins. Turmerone, or ar-turmerone, is a ketone responsible for the largest share of turmeric's anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. On the other hand, the better-known curcumin is a natural phenol that greatly complements the benefits of turmeric, as it possesses antioxidant properties, a savory aroma, and provides it with its distinctive yellow-orange or "golden" color. Other significant compounds and nutrients in turmeric include coumaric acid, zingiberones, and a minor amount of sugars and amino acids.

The full extent of turmeric's medicinal value lies in the combined action of its two main active ingredients. Turmerone is known to inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which lowers the effects of localized and systemic inflammation, protecting cells from related damage. At the same time, curcumin binds to amyloid proteins, a type of improperly-folded protein whose excessive accumulation is linked to neurodegenerative disorders. Together, both compounds can effectively reduce oxidation and protect hippocampal cells from toxicity. Furthermore, because they lower inflammation in the arteries as well, they are known to help with atherosclerosis prevention and to lower LDL cholesterol levels. Research on turmeric's cardiovascular effects is still ongoing, although it seems promising because of its lack of adverse reactions and low potential for toxicity.

“Turmeric can inhibit inflammatory processes and may help delay neurodegenerative disease.”

How to Consume Turmeric

Main preparations: decoction, poultice, tea, tincture

“Osteoarthritis patients should take ½ a cup of turmeric decoction, 3 times a day.”

For taste as well as healthful benefits, many look to incorporate turmeric regularly into a balanced diet, which can be done in different ways. Although it is possible to eat it raw by peeling off the skin around the rhizome, it is much more popular to cook it as an ingredient for a more elaborate dish.

It is also possible to find concentrated turmeric supplements, mostly in tablet form. The usual dosage is 500 mg, two to four times a day.

Turmeric Side Effects

Special Precautions
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Gallbladder problems
  • Slow blood clotting
  • Surgery

Turmeric is likely safe for most people when taken in normal culinary amounts, and it seldom causes any side effects. In therapeutic doses, however, turmeric can cause indigestion, nausea, dizziness, or diarrhea. In addition, some people with particularly sensitive stomachs of with GERD may experience minor discomfort after eating foods with turmeric or curry.

Culinary Information

Best known for its use in curry dishes, turmeric's spicy flavor has seasoned traditional Asian cuisine for thousands of years, most notably in India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The tangy and slightly spicy favor of turmeric can be paired with both savory and sweet elements and works as a yellow food coloring for condiments and baked goods as well. Cooking with turmeric usually involves the rhizome, either fresh or grounded after dried, though a special Indian rice dish known as patoleo also uses the plant's leaves as a container during preparation. The spice is also featured in Middle Eastern specialty foods.

Other Uses

For Dyes

Indian and Bangladeshi clothing is often dyed using turmeric root powder, though the practice has not expanded commercially due to the dye's tendency to fade and run.

For Skincare

In India, turmeric paste is traditionally used to beautify skin and make it glow. Nowadays, it is added to sunscreen preparations.

Folkloric or Spiritual Uses

Hindu and Buddhist religious ceremonies rely on turmeric for its cultural significance and association with spiritual rites, most notably in Hindu weddings, where it is traditional to cover both bride and groom in turmeric powder for purification purposes, in a ceremony known as the Biaha Haath.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Big online retailers, Farmers' markets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores

Turmeric is sold year-round in most locations worldwide, though some varieties are easier to find than others outside of tropical cultivation zones.

Fresh turmeric root is not a common product everywhere in the world, but it can be found in some specialized grocery and health food stores as well as in ethnic markets. Consumers may have better luck finding this form during the winter months, because the root is harvested around this time. However, it is easier to buy turmeric in its powdered form available in the spice section of most supermarkets.

Turmeric supplements are gaining popularity as the root's medicinal fame grows, and are usually sold as tablets, capsules, and extracts. Capsules are most commonly available from wholesale retailers or anywhere that herbal supplements are sold. Online outlets also carry a wide selection of brands and concentrations to suit individual needs.

“The easiest way to find turmeric in the supermarket is as part of a curry blend. Fresh root may only be available seasonally, depending on where you live.”

Plant Biology

Classification

A member of the Zingiberaceae or ginger family, turmeric shares its tuberous characteristic with approximately 1,300 other aromatic flowering species distributed throughout tropical Africa, Asia, and South America. Turmeric plants reach an average of three feet (90 cm) tall and feature long, tapered root-leaves and dull yellow flowers in germinating months. The root reaches 2 – 3 inches (5 – 8 cm) long and one inch (2.5 cm) wide, with a yellow exterior and a deep orange center. It is said to have a fragrant aroma straight from the ground.

Varieties and Subspecies of Turmeric

Approximately 30 different varieties of turmeric exist, differing in crop duration, nutritional content, and color concentration. Tekurpet turmeric is said to have the most deeply hued rhizomes, good for tinting textiles, while Kasturi and Kesari types contain more curcumin, the root's antibacterial component. Mydukuru turmeric offers great yield potential, but its medicinal quality is less valuable than that of other kinds.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsRoots
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilLight (sandy)
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
  • Growing habitatSubtropical regions
  • Pre-germination seed treatmentNone
  • Growing time8 to 10 months
  • Propagation techniquesRoot cuttings
  • Potential insect pestsAphids, Mites

In countries with tropical climates, turmeric cultivation can be done year-round and with little difficulty. It is possible to grow this perennial root in temperate regions as well, but it will only flourish in summer months. Like its close relative, ginger, turmeric grows best in warm areas with ample precipitation, characteristic of tropical mountain climates.

Growing Guidelines

  • In order to flourish, turmeric requires temperatures between 68° - 86° F (20° - 30° C).
  • Turmeric planting is usually done from rhizome cuttings rather than from seed.
  • Plant each cutting around 20 inches (50 cm) apart.
  • In regions with rainfall below 59 inches (1,500 mm) per year, frequent watering will be required.
  • The plant requires between 8 and 10 months to mature. Once the plant has drooped and withered, the rhizome is ready to be harvested.
  • Make sure to protect the plant from aphids and mites.

Additional Information

Historical Information

The first evidence of turmeric use comes from residues found in pots discovered near New Delhi, which are at least 4,500 years old.

The name “turmeric” seems to come from the Latin terra merita, which means “merited earth.” Ayurvedic texts, however, refer to turmeric with over 100 different terms.

The first mentions of turmeric in Western and European cuisine date back to 1747, in Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. It is estimated the first curry powders appeared around the same time.

Economic Data

Representing a substantial portion of spice trade worldwide, turmeric is of great importance to several countries as an exported material. India is particularly invested in its cultivation, producing 78% of the world's supply and counting the root among its top three spices sold abroad. This is centered around Tamil Nadu, a region in the southern tip of India. Pakistan and other Asian countries also benefit financially from its growth, and new producers in Nigeria as well as the Caribbean are starting to plant the root on a commercial scale.

Popular Beliefs

Turmeric is seen as auspicious in Hindu culture. In southern India, some people wear pieces of the rhizome as an amulet against evil spirits.

Bibliography

DISCLAIMER: The information provided is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician. Information contained in HerbaZest.com is based on pharmacological records, scientific research, traditional knowledge and historical data, both old and modern. HerbaZest.com cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of the information provided.