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Ask the Herbalist: Is Turmeric Really a Miracle Spice?

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You’ve got questions and she’s got answers! Lissa is a Stop Aging Now Nutrition Expert who knows more than a thing or two about herbs. She happens to be a practicing herbalist who specializes in women’s health. This post is the first in a regular weekly series.


The question of the moment appears to be, “What’s so hot about turmeric?” Well, turmeric actually is hot — both literally and figuratively. Turmeric is a warming spice that gives curry its yellow color and from which curcumin, turmeric’s main active constituent, is derived. Although turmeric has been used for centuries in Eastern cultures, curcumin has recently gained immense popularity in the West due to its many health benefits, most notably its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions.

Curcumin’s ability to inhibit several inflammatory mediators is one of the reasons why many are using it  to decrease joint pain associated with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis1.   In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, this yellow-orange pigment also boasts antioxidant benefits, which are actually directly related to its anti-inflammatory action. Research has shown that curcumin provides potential protection against Alzheimer’s and other diseases often deemed to be age-related2.

Like garlic, I consider turmeric a “wonder herb” because of how it promotes whole body health. Herbalists often recommend that their clients take turmeric for its hepatoprotective, choleretic, carminative and depurative properties, in addition to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions. Put simply, turmeric has been shown to protect the liver and aid it in eliminating toxins, protect against gastric ulceration, decrease flatulence and aid digestion.

If the aforementioned benefits still don’t impress you, how about this? You can use turmeric to fight infection. Turmeric has been used topically for centuries as a remedy for insect bites, wounds, ringworm and other skin diseases. Dabbing some of the dry, powdered herb on a cut or insect bite protects against microbial infection. Yes, turmeric is antimicrobial as well.3 With all that turmeric is able to do, it makes sense to eat the spice or take a curcumin supplement, particularly because there are no known side effects.  Turmeric is an herb worth keeping both in your spice cupboard and in your medicine cabinet.

Not a fan of spicy curry dishes? Well, no need to fret. There are plenty of other ways to consume turmeric! You can make an invigorating tea (use the whole root, available from some Asian and natural food stores), add it to rice, hummus or try it out in my recipe for Raw Kale Salad with Mango.

Jean Carper often wrote about the benefits of adding turmeric to your food, and this recipe once appeared as part of her EatSmart column in USA WEEKEND Magazine.

“Tumeric Cocktail”

Ingredients:

1/2 c. fruit juice such as apple or pineapple

1 heaping T. of turmeric

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)

1 T. apple cider vinegar

1 T. fresh lemon juice.

Directions:

  • Stir all together. Drink once or twice a day.

References:

  1. Bone, K. (2003). A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs.  London: Churchill Livingstone
  2. Pari, L., Tewas, D., and Eckel, J. (2008). Role of curcumin in health and disease. Archives of Physiology and Biochemistry, 114(2):127-49
  3. Queen, B.L. and Tollefsbol, T.O. (2010). Polyphenols and ageing. Current Aging Science, 3(1):34-42

Lissa’s passion for educating people about the healing powers of herbs led her to obtain a Masters of Science in Herbal Medicine from the Tai Sophia School of the Healing Arts. She has also studied nutrition and women’s health extensively, and has trained as a doula.

Have a question for Lissa? Send her an email and she’ll get back to you!

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7 responses to “Ask the Herbalist: Is Turmeric Really a Miracle Spice?”

  1. JoshCorn says:

    I started taking a curcumin supplement about 2 months ago to help with inflammation and to try recover from an old knee injury that had resurfaced. I was actually already getting a good amount from our Multi Nutrient GOLD multivitamin as well as our Brain Energizer. However, curcumin is very safe, and I knew I could benefit from more. So far, I've noticed a big improvement and I think I am hooked. Plus there are so many other benefits, that this supplement just makes good sense.

  2. casieLee says:

    It’s such a shame that the western diet doesn’t utilize this spice as much as they do in other countries. India actually has the significantly lower cases of Alzheimer's than other countries and its possibly because of their curry intake! Curcumin is just so beneficial in so many ways. I need to discipline myself to take it more consistently.
    I’ve always been a big fan of curry so I can’t wait to try that recipe! Do you think I could use chicken and rice and simmer the ingredients for an entree?

    • Lissa says:

      You can definitely simmer it as an entree. the kale while add nice color to the plate whether you include it in your rice or keep it separate. Also consider changing the Kale Salad into a sautee and leave out the mango. That would be delicious. It's meant to be played with and make it your own.

  3. ElyssaD95 says:

    The anti-inflammatory and age-related benefits of turmeric are so interesting. Are there any guidelines to receiving all the same benefits when you use it in food rather than take it as a supplement (i.e. should you buy organic turmeric, etc?)

    • Lissa says:

      Buying organic for almost anything is the best way to go because studies are now beginning to show that organic foods, spices included, are higher in antioxidants, nutrients and so forth. Organic also tends to be richer in color (for turmeric) and have a fresher flavor. I definitely suggest using turmeric in food regularly so you'll get all the benefits from it, both what we have learned about and what still remains a mystery. When eating the whole turmeric instead of the standardized curcumin, you will not necessarily get the same amount of curcuminoids in each serving since each serving may vary. When looking for specific relief, like from joint pain, eating the whole spice and taking a standardized supplement is one of the best ways to approach it.

  4. […] Penn State publishing in The Journal of Nutrition provide strong evidence that two such spices — turmeric and cinnamon — provide a protective shield to reduce the body’s negative responses to […]