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Turmeric (Curcuma longa)


Turmeric is derived from  Curcuma longa, a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant belonging to the ginger family Zingiberaceae, native to tropical South Asia.  While a key ingredient in curry, turmeric demonstrates multiple healing properties, including the ability to reverse disease, putting it at the top of the spice list. The healing compound is curcumin and its medicinal properties are multi-fold it is/an: thermogenic, emollient, anodyne, anti-inflammatory, vulnerary, depurative, antiseptic, appetizer, carminative, expectorant, stomachic, anthelmintic, stimulant, ophthalmic, tonic. It is also used in the treatment of skin diseases, dyspepsia, asthma, cough, bronchitis, skin discoloration, inflammations, ulcers and worms (Spice Board of India). Turmeric is the most studied botanical in science.

Historical Use

The use of turmeric dates back nearly 4000 years to the Vedic culture in India, where it was used as a culinary spice and had some religious significance. It likely reached China by 700 AD, East Africa by 800 AD, West Africa by 1200 AD, and Jamaica in the eighteenth century. According to Sanskrit medical treatises and Ayurvedic and Unani systems, turmeric has a long history of medicinal use in South Asia. Susruta’s Ayurvedic Compendium, dating back to 250 bc, recommends an ointment containing turmeric to relieve the effects of poisoned food. Ayurveda is the Indian science of holistic medicine.

Uses Today

Today, turmeric is widely cultivated in the tropics and goes by different names in different cultures and countries. In North India, turmeric is commonly called “haldi,” a word derived from the Sanskrit word haridra, and in the south it is called “manjal,” a word that is frequently used in ancient Tamil literature. The name turmeric derives from the Latin word terra merita (meritorious earth), referring to the color of ground turmeric, which resembles a mineral pigment. It is known as terre merite in French and simply as “yellow root” in many languages. In many cultures, its name is based on the Latin word curcuma.

In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is thought to have many medicinal properties including strengthening the overall energy of the body, relieving gas, dispelling worms, improving digestion, regulating menstruation, dissolving gallstones, and relieving arthritis. Many South Asian countries use it as an antiseptic for cuts, burns, and bruises, and as an antibacterial agent, respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma, bronchial hyperactivity, and allergy), as well as for liver disorders, anorexia, rheumatism, diabetic wounds, runny nose, cough, and sinusitis (Araujo and Leon 2001). In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used to treat diseases associated with abdominal pain (Aggarwal, Ichikawa, and Garodia 2004).

From ancient times, as prescribed by Ayurveda, turmeric has been used to treat sprains and swelling (Araujo and Leon 2001). In both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, turmeric is considered a bitter digestive and a carminative. Unani practitioners also use turmeric to expel phlegm orkapha, as well as to open blood vessels in order to improve blood circulation. It can be incorporated into foods, including rice and bean dishes, to improve digestion and reduce gas and bloating. It is a cholagogue, stimulating bile production in the liver and encouraging excretion of bile via the gallbladder, which improves the body’s ability to digest fats. Sometimes, turmeric mixed with milk or water is taken to treat intestinal disorders as well as colds and sore throats.

Uses in Modern Medicine

Scientific research over the past 50 years, has demonstrated that curcumin (diferuloylmethane), a component of turmeric (Curcuma longa), can modulate cell signaling pathways. Extensive clinical trials have been conducted addressing pharmacokinetics, safety and efficacy against several diseases in humans. Certain promising effects have been observed in patients with various pro-inflammatory diseases such as: cancer, cardio vascular disease, arthritis, uveitis, ulcerative proctitis, Crohn’s diseae, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, topical pancreatitis, peptic ulcer, gastric ulcer, idiopathic orbital inflammatory pseudotumor, oral lichen planus, gastric inflammation, vitiligo, psoriasis, acute coronory syndrome, atherosclerosis, diabetes, diabetic  nepharopathy, diabetic microangiopathy, lupus, nephritis, renal conditions  AIDs,  β-thalassemia, biliary dyskinesia, Dejerine-Sottas disease, cholecystitis, hepatic conditions, chronic arsenic exposure and alcohol intoxication (Subash C. Gupta, Sridevi Patchva, 2013). In dose escalating studies, turmeric has been shown to be safe at as high a dose of 12 g/ day for over 3 months. Various formulations have been studied including nanoparticles, liposomal encapsulation, emulsions, capsules, tablets and powder. Some of these delivery mechanisms have managed to improve its bioavailability, metabolism and pharmacokinetics (Yallapu MM, Nagesh PK, 2015)


While turmeric is safe, it’s best to check before taking turmeric as a supplement. Turmeric supplements have not been studied in children, so there is no recommended dose. The following doses are recommended for adults:

  • Cut root: 1.5 to 3 g per day
  • Dried, powdered root: 1 to 3 g per day
  • Standardized powder (curcumin): 400 to 600 mg, 3 times per day
  • Fluid extract (1:1) 30 to 90 drops a day
  • Tincture (1:2): 15 to 30 drops, 4 times per day

One can use turmeric in soups, smoothies, curries and stir frys. A recipe using turmeric follows.

Karela Ki Sabji: Curried Bitter Melon


  • 4 medium sized bitter melon
  • 2 small green chillies
  • 1 tbsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp. cumin powder
  • 2 tbsp. coriander powder
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste


  • Wash the bitter melon, cut them in halves and scoop the white seeded part and discard.
  • Take the whole side, placing the external side up and using a knife, slice thin going horizontally.
  • Slit the green chilles; chop the cilantro
  • In a double walled stainless steel pot, heat the pan, add the olive oil
  • Put the cumin seeds letting them pop at low heat.
  • Add the slit green chillies, keep the pan covered.
  • Add the sliced bitter melon and stir.
  • After a minute add half the turmeric, cayenne, cumin and coriander powders and cilantro.
  • Stir and close the lid, cooking on low. After a few minute add the remaining powders and cilantro.
  • Cover and cook on low heat for 5 minutes, add sea salt to taste.

Health Benefits

  • Bitter Melon  named “Karela” in India, has been used commonly for many years to manage Type II diabetes. It controls the blood sugar levels. The above preparation is inspired by the North Indian cuisine.
  • Turmeric: Turmeric contains curcumin, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
  • Cumin: called “jeera” in Indian cuisine has many healthy attributes including as a powerful antioxidant.


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