Most people are familiar with turmeric (scientific name: Curcuma longa1) as a yellow spice that's used in Indian cuisine and has a peppery, warm and bitter flavor.
Traditionally called "Indian saffron," turmeric is actually a root herb with a tough brown skin, deep orange flesh and fragrance that resembles a combination of orange and ginger. However, there's more to this vibrant spice than meets the eye.Through the years, studies have been extensively conducted on the potential health benefits of turmeric, and the results were consistently positive. These breakthroughs eventually led to turmeric being given its well-deserved nickname: the "Spice of Life."
There are many ways you can incorporate this spice into your daily life. Learn more about turmeric and see how you can reap these benefits and how it can help improve your health and well-being.
Turmeric's Health Benefits
The health benefits turmeric offers can be attributed to curcumin, a well-studied bioactive compound that can:2,3,4
- Help maintain your healthy digestive system
- Modulate around 700 of your genes
- Positively control more than 160 various physiological pathways
- Make your cells' membranes more orderly
- Affect signaling molecules, because curcumin can directly interact with inflammatory molecules, cell survival proteins, DNA and RHA, carrier proteins and metal ions
As mentioned earlier, turmeric is known as the "Spice of Life," and curcumin has a role to play in making turmeric earn this moniker. This compound has shown promise in helping combat diseases such as:
• Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease: curcumin acts as a neuroprotective agent against these illnesses, although further analysis is needed to confirm this.
• Osteoarthritis: results from a 2011 study5 showed that patients who added 200 milligrams of curcumin to their daily treatment experienced less pain and increased mobility.
An earlier study also revealed that turmeric extract blocked inflammatory pathways and efficiently prevented the occurrence of a protein that triggers swelling and pain.
• Cancer: curcumin actually has the most evidence-based literature that supports its anti-cancer capabilities compared to other nutrients.
According to Dr. William LaValley, a leading natural medicine cancer physician who I have interviewed before, curcumin appears to be useful for just about every type of cancer, because the compound can affect multiple molecular targets via many pathways.
Curcumin is also non-toxic, and does not target healthy cells — instead, it selectively targets cancer cells.The antibacterial properties of curcumin are nothing short of extraordinary as well, as it is effective against gastritis, peptic ulcer and gastric cancer, which are all caused by Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) bacteria.
This was proven in a 2009 study, wherein curcumin was able to effectively inhibit the growth of H.pylori in vitro in mice, regardless of the genetic makeup of the bacteria strains.6 This is vital, because H.pylori is a group 1 carcinogen according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and affects more than half of the global population.
Curcumin also works well in tandem with other bioactive compounds in turmeric, which can help:
Support healthy cholesterol levels, and thrombosis and myocardial infarction
Enhance wound healing
Prevent low-density lipoprotein oxidation
Protect against cataracts, liver damage, pulmonary toxicity and fibrosis, and radiation-induced damage
Curb symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and those linked to type 2 diabetes
Suppress thrombosis and myocardial infarction
Turmeric's Many Uses
Turmeric has a long history of medicinal use for Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Evidence has linked turmeric to the healing of wounds, joint pains, liver and skin diseases, sprained muscles and respiratory or gastrointestinal problems.Aside from being a common ingredient in various Indian dishes, turmeric is used for making mustard. In fact, the distinct yellow color of this condiment comes from this spice.7
Turmeric also works as a dye for textiles and other articles of clothing. It is said that Buddhist monks who travelled all over the world used this spice to dye their robes.8 Children from Kerala, a state in southwest India, were given turmeric-dyed clothing to wear during the Onam Festival because the color of the spice is said to be associated with Lord Krishna, a prominent figure in Hinduism.9
Turmeric is a significant part of a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony. The groom ties a turmeric paste-dyed string called a mangala sutra around the bride's neck, signifying that the woman is married and capable of running a household. This tradition still continues in Hindu communities today, and is the equivalent of exchanging wedding rings in the Western world.10 In some parts of Southern India, people still wear a piece of the turmeric rhizome as an amulet to protect themselves from evil spirits.11
Growing Turmeric at Home
You can grow turmeric in your backyard or in indoor containers. Just like ginger, this spice is grown from rhizomes or root cuttings, and does not propagate seeds.12
All you need are high-quality soil or growing material and a turmeric root that you can purchase at a local health store. The plant will benefit from bi-monthly feedings of organic fertilizer or compost. Follow this simple step-by-step method by the DailyHealthPost if you want to grow turmeric:13
- Break a larger rhizome into a smaller piece with two or three buds.
- Fill your pots or containers with rich organic soil that is lightly moist but still well-drained.
- Place the rhizome about 2 inches below the surface of the soil, with the buds facing up.
- Water the plant.
Edible turmeric rhizomes take around eight to 10 months to mature. Once the rhizomes are large enough, dig them up from your pot or container. Ideally, matured roots should be harvested all at once. If you want to plant some more for the following season, save a few pieces for planting. Remember to change the soil too, because some nutrients may have been depleted by the grown plant.14
According to The Rainforest Garden, turmeric is best planted during spring once the threat of frost is gone. If you live up north, it's ideal to start planting in a container. The plant can also grow under full sunlight, but make it a point to keep the soil wet and/or provide mid-day shade. Too much sun or drought can make the turmeric leaves dry and burn the tips.15
Cooking With Turmeric
Want to add turmeric into some of your dishes? Take your pick from either fresh or dried turmeric. Fresh turmeric rhizomes or roots look like gingers. You can find fresh turmeric root in your grocery's produce section, health stores and/or Asian and Indian grocery stores. Pick roots that are firm and avoid soft, dried or shriveled pieces.
Prior to using fresh turmeric, make sure to scrape off the peel, depending on how mature or tender the roots are. Once done, turmeric can be chopped, cubed, grated and even juiced.16 If using them for later, make sure to store them properly. Place the rhizomes in a plastic bag or airtight container for at least a week or two, or you can freeze for several months.17
On the other hand, dried turmeric is usually sold ground or whole, and they are made by peeling, boiling and drying the rhizomes. Ethnic and specialty shops are the best places to look for dried turmeric, since they have fresher stock and a faster turnover time compared to grocery stores.18
When buying dried turmeric, make sure to smell it, as aroma is a good indicator of freshness. Keep it in an airtight container, and store in a cool and dark place for up to a year. A major caveat of dried turmeric is that while the flavor and color are there, the essential oils and turmeric's pungency are lost during the drying process.19
You can use fresh or dried turmeric as an ingredient for rubs or marinades, just like in these Satay Chicken Skewers and Turmeric Cauliflower recipes. You can also chop fresh turmeric and add it into a salad, similar to what I did with my lunch recipe. If you’re a fan of dips, you can try this turmeric-ginger tahini dip from EatingWell to add flavor to your favorite vegetables.20
Turmeric-Ginger Tahini Dip
• 1/2 cup tahini
• 1/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar
• 1/4 cup water
• 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
• 1 teaspoon grated garlic
• 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt
• 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1. Whisk tahini, vinegar, water, ginger, turmeric, garlic and salt in a bowl.
2. Serve with vegetables or as a topping.
Golden Milk: How This Colorful Drink Can Help Boost Your Health
Golden milk, also called haldi doodh or turmeric milk, is usually ingested to alleviate sore throats and colds. But thanks to its unique flavor and very attractive color, it has managed to enter the market, with cafes and restaurants now starting to offer this beverage to their customers. In fact, because of its increasing popularity, it was deemed as 2016’s drink of choice by The Guardian.21
Turmeric is already very beneficial for human health, but together with coconut oil, ginger and honey, its positive effects may be amplified. If you’re planning on giving golden milk a try, here’s a recipe from Epicurious to help guide you in making your first mug of this healthy and creamy beverage:22
Golden Milk Turmeric Tea
• 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
• 1 3-inch cinnamon stick
• 1 1-inch turmeric, unpeeled, thinly sliced, or 1/2 teaspoon dried turmeric
• 1 1/2-inch piece of ginger, unpeeled, thinly sliced
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 tablespoon coconut oil
• 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1. Whisk coconut milk, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, honey, coconut oil and a cup of water in a small saucepan.
2. Bring the mixture to a low boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.
3. Strain the mixture through a sieve and serve in mugs. Serve with a dash of cinnamon.
Try Turmeric Essential Oil, Too
Turmeric essential oil is used as an ingredient in certain drugs and ointments, since it exhibits anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-fungal and antiseptic properties.23 Some of the beneficial chemical compounds in this oil include:24
Sesquiterpene alcohol (50 percent)
Zingeriberene and other sesquiterpene hydrocarbons (30 percent)
d-a-phellandrene (4 percent)
Cineol (3 percent)
d-borneol (2.5 percent)
d-sabinene (2 percent)
Valeric acid (0.1 percent)
Turmeric oil could be combined with other essential oils like frankincense to prepare pain-relieving formulas for arthritis, muscle pain and/or joint pain.25 If you're struggling with hair loss or male pattern baldness, this essential oil can help prevent this from happening. You may also find turmeric essential oil in skin formulas because it helps in improving your skin and makes it look younger.26
Please remember that there are necessary precautions if you're using turmeric essential oil either orally or topically. According to Turmeric for Health, this oil is highly concentrated, so take it with either water, tea or honey, and refrain from ingesting more than five drops at a time. If you plan on using this essential oil topically, I advise you to take a skin patch test first to check for allergic reactions.27 You may also encounter side effects with turmeric oil, such as:28
- Stomach problems: patients who take large amounts of turmeric essential oil for a lengthy amount of time may experience nausea, upset stomach, sweating or even diarrhea.
- Low blood pressure: turmeric essential oil could react with medication taken for high blood pressure. If you plan to take turmeric essential oil along with this type of medicine, consult your physician first.
- Excess bleeding: results from animal studies showed that turmeric could lead to excessive bleeding, so if you're a hemophiliac, be cautious when turmeric essential oil.
Pregnant or nursing women are advised to avoid using turmeric essential oil. This also applies to people who have gallbladder problems and are taking anticoagulants and anti-platelet medication, since the oil might worsen these conditions. If you're scheduled to undergo surgery, do not use turmeric essential oil, as this can slow down the blood clotting process and trigger excessive bleeding during the procedure.29