Turmeric, a Medicine Cabinet in a Bottle

Turmeric, a plant in the ginger family, has been heavily cultivated in Asia for at least 6000 years. As an example of its importance in India, you’ll find more than 53 different names for turmeric. It’s used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine for ailments from the common cold to helping cure cancer. It’s also a mainstay remedy in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In recent years turmeric has been recognized to be a safe herb, and one with no known drug interactions. It’s been proven to have several beneficial anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties. Western medicine is finding that the promises of Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine are accurate. Turmeric is universally seen as one of the most important herbs for health and healing.

Turmeric, a Medicine Cabinet in a BottleYou might know turmeric from seeing a bottle in the spice rack at your local grocery. The darkly rich golden powder comes from the root of the plant. The root is boiled and dried, and the powder processed to be sold as a spice or to make turmeric supplements. It’s also an ingredient in other natural remedies. For example, it’s sometimes used in burn ointment and sunscreen products. It’s also used as a dye in products like cheese and mustard. When used as a spice, turmeric doesn’t add a strong or distinctive taste to food, but rather adds a somewhat bitter and astringent flavor. It’s what gives curries their yellow color, and in fact is sometimes called Indian saffron and used as a replacement for saffron because it’s much less expensive.

In India turmeric is eaten by almost everyone at one or more meals a day. For example, people add the spice to dahl, which is made from beans or lentils and usually served over rice. In North Africa turmeric is added directly to rice to give it a rich color. Turmeric is also used in pickles and condiments such as chutney.

Turmeric, a Medicine Cabinet in a BottleIn India turmeric is a go-to herb for a variety of health concerns. A common use is for muscle and ligament pain and swelling. For example, people add a teaspoon to warm mild before bed, or mix it with other herbs to create an ointment that’s spread on the painful area and then covered with a bandage. It’s an effective treatment for regulating menstruation, reducing painful arthritic joints, and helping improve digestion. It’s even used as a beauty aid with a paste applied to the skin. Reports are that turmeric makes skin glow. There might be something to this because cosmetic companies are studying applications for turmeric in beauty products. If you want to add turmeric to your diet, an amount of around a teaspoon a day will give you benefits. Or you can take a supplement and follow the directions on the bottle.

If you have access to the finger-sized fresh root, you can grate it and add it to food. For example, besides curry and dahl, you might try adding turmeric to smoothies and tea, to egg salad or homemade split-pea soup, or use it in stir fries. But be careful, the powder and the fresh herb can stain your hands and utensils. Kitchen gloves and bleach will help.