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Ask the Herbalist: Is Turmeric Really a Miracle Spice?

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:


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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