Saturday, January 28, 2012

Turmeric: "A medicine cabinet in a curry bowl."


Turmeric

Botanical name: Curcuma longa

Plant family: Zingiberaceae

Parts used: rhizome and tuber
Western herbalists mostly use the rhizome. Chinese medicine uses the rhizome as well as the tuber. These plant parts are used differently. This article focuses on the rhizome. 

Energetics: Warming and drying, bitter and spicy/pungent

Actions: Analgesic, blood mover, cholagogue, antioxidant, astringent, carminative, anti-inflammatory, hemostatic, vulnerary, antispasmodic


My mentor, Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, is sometimes called “Haldi Baba", which, in India, means "Sir Turmeric". Everyone who knows KP knows this is his favorite herb. And I can see why! This potent yellow root is helpful for so many different ailments it’s no wonder he calls this “the medicine cabinet in a curry bowl.”

Turmeric has been used for thousands of years for countless ailments. In recent years it has also caught the attention of western researchers and there are many studies touting its many benefits. 


In this article we’ll look at turmeric’s benefits for 


  • Digestion and the liver (Ulcers, diverticulitis, flatulence, leaky gut)
  • Heart heath (High blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol) 
  • Immune support (Cancer, colds and flu, bronchitis)
  • Musculoskeletal strength and flexibility (Joint disorders, arthritis, pain)
  • Nervous system (Pain, Alzheimer's) 
  • Wound healing and healthy skin (Eczema, psoriasis) 
  • Diabetes and Menstruation difficulties

Turmeric is pretty astonishing! Let’s take a closer look. 

Digestion and the Liver
Turmeric is a warming herb that promotes digestive secretions. It helps to relieve gas and has strong anti-inflammatory abilities to soothe the inflammation in the digestive tract. These attributes explain why it is used for diverticulitis, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. 

Its astringent qualities tighten and tone the digestive tract, making it a great ally in cases of a leaky gut. Turmeric is often used for ulcers because it tones the surface of the ulceration, decreases inflammation, stops bleeding, and helps to prevent infection. These same qualities make this a great herb for inflammation and pain associated with hemorrhoids and anal fissures. It can be used externally and internally for this. Be warned that turmeric will stain everything it touches yellow! 

Turmeric is a cholagogue, which is an herb that promotes bile secretion from the gallbladder and liver. Using turmeric regularly can help prevent gallstones although it is recommended by the German Commission E to avoid using turmeric if gallstones are present. 

The doctrine of signatures tells us that yellow herbs benefit the liver and indeed turmeric has been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda and is one of their most highly used herbs for the liver. According to Ayurvedic herbalist David Frawley, combining turmeric with barberry (Berberis vulgaris) will move a stagnant liver in a similar way to the often used bupleurum (Bupleurum chinense) of China. 

Turmeric will stimulate bile flow in the liver. Bile is an important part of the digestive process and notably helps with the digestion of fats. It contains hepatoprotective properties that can help to prevent cirrhosis and other harmful processes in the liver. 

Turmeric is an amazing antioxidant. One of the ways we benefit from taking turmeric regularly is that it acts against harmful carcinogens like cigarette smoke and other environmental toxins.  Using turmeric regularly can help our liver to efficiently process metabolic wastes. 

It also supports healthy intestinal flora, aiding healthy digestion and a healthy immune system. It is used by some herbalists in cases of yeast infections or candida overgrowth. 




Heart Health
Turmeric can help to normalize cholesterol levels. It prevents cholesterol from oxidizing, which is a process that can damage blood vessels. Scientific studies say that turmeric reduces blood clotting, increases circulation and decreases high blood pressure. My mentors recommend it following heart surgery such as angioplasty and bypass surgery. 

Immune support
There are countless studies showing that turmeric can prevent cancer as well as stop cancer from metastasizing. I recently saw a TED talk where angiogenesis researcher William Li explained how we can eat to starve cancer. Angiogenesis is the growth of blood vessels, something that happens normally in humans. However, sometimes this process is too little (resulting in wounds that won’t heal for example) while too much angiogenesis can result in many chronic diseases, notably cancer. 

Li highlighted turmeric as a substance that beneficially effected angiogenesis by inhibiting the growth of cancers. Like so many herbs, turmeric has the ability to normalize function. While it can stop excessive angiogenesis it can also promote angiogenesis when necessary! Besides regulating the growth of blood vessels, turmeric can also promote the growth of blood cells, making it a good therapy for anemia. 

Turmeric is also used for many symptoms of the cold and flu, bronchitis and sore throats, including prevention. KP Khalsa says that turmeric provides broad immune system support.

Fresh turmeric rhizome

Musculoskeletal health, strength and flexibility
Turmeric is an exceptional herb for the musculoskeletal system. It is commonly used for chronic joint conditions such as arthritis. 

Turmeric is a strong anti-inflammatory herb. It can rebuild joints and even decrease pain. It can be used in acute injuries as well to improve circulation to the area, reduce any excessive inflammation and reduce pain. 

For those with chronic arthritis and other joint problems who also have a lot of dryness, it is recommended to combine turmeric with ghee or marshmallow root to offset its inherent drying qualities. 

Turmeric can be taken preventively to keep the musculoskeletal system healthy. Yogis take turmeric to support tendons and ligaments and promote flexibility. 

Turmeric really does stand out as a pain remedy. Besides reducing inflammation it also depletes nerve endings of substance P, which communicates the pain signal. Besides being taken internally it also has been used externally for sore joints and sprains. Be warned though, it will temporarily stain your skin yellow. To use it effectively for chronic pain and inflammation, take it daily for a period of time. 


Turmeric can also be used to heal from surgery. It can stabilize connective tissue and promote the healing of tissues while lessening scars and adhesions. 

Nervous system
Like rosemary, turmeric has been in the research spotlight recently, showing its propensity to prevent Alzheimer's. Some theorize this is why India has significantly lower rates of Alzheimer’s. 

Wound healing and healthy skin
Turmeric can be used internally and externally to promote healthy skin. It’s regularly used for acne, eczema, psoriasis, and to heal wounds. 

The powdered root can stop bleeding fast; simply apply it to the wound. 

Turmeric can heal fungal infections like ringworm and athlete’s foot. To do this a paste is made from the powder and apply externally. And, by now, hopefully you know the warning... it will temporarily stain your skin and anything else it comes into contact with.  

In India turmeric is frequently used for toothaches and to heal gums. 

Diabetes (type 1)
Turmeric is frequently used in Ayurvedic herbalism for people with diabetes. Its strong anti-inflammatory properties are important in this inflammatory disease. It further helps by lowering blood sugar and increasing glucose metabolism. 

Menstrual Pain
Turmeric is used to treat a variety of symptoms associated with menstruation. As a blood mover it moves stagnant blood and reduces clots. It also works as an antispasmodic on smooth muscle tissue, helping to relieve pain associated with cramping. 

It does all that AND...
It is said to repel ants as well. Seems like every summer people in the HerbMentor.com forums are wondering how to repel ants. I am hoping someone will try it this year so we can hear first hand how it goes. 

Remember all those warnings about turmeric staining your skin and everything else it comes in contact with? Well it turns out turmeric is a great dye. Here's an article I wrote on dying scarves with turmeric. 


Turmeric used to be employed to detect alkalinity. Chemists in the 1870’s found out that the root changed color when exposed to alkaline chemicals. For many years turmeric paper was used to test for alkalinity. Eventually it was replaced by litmus paper. 


Botanical description
Turmeric grows in the warm tropics. India grows 80% of the world’s turmeric. The United States is the largest importer of turmeric, most of which is used to make commercial mustard yellow. 

Turmeric is a perennial plant. Its flowers grow on a spike and range from white to yellow to pink. Turmeric can be 3-5 feet tall. The leaves are long and smooth and taper at the end. If you live in a warm area where turmeric is grown the leaves can be picked fresh and used to wrap food while cooking. Herbalist Susan Marynowski tells me it’s possible to grow turmeric in Florida. 

Turmeric flower

The rhizomes have a tough brown sheath covering the bright orange yellow flesh. The rhizomes are harvested in the fall and propagated through root cuttings. Most rhizomes are dried and then powdered for use. 

I have seen whole fresh turmeric for sale in health food stores around the country. You might try asking your local stores if they can carry it fresh. Besides being able to work with this plant in its whole form you can also use this for tincturing or simply adding it to meals. 

Considerations when using turmeric
Although turmeric comes from distant lands it is widely available for an affordable price. To get the most out of your turmeric add 3% black pepper to the mix. Black pepper improves the bioavailability of turmeric, making smaller doses more effective. 

It’s impossible to read about the plant turmeric without also hearing about one of its constituents, curcumin. If you walk into any health food store you will see many different options for the standardized extract of curcumin. 

Here’s what my mentors KP Khalsa and Michael Tierra have to say about curcumin in their book The Way of Ayurveda Herbs:

Curcumin is the compound that makes turmeric yellow. It is the most researched constituent of the herb and is mainly responsible for turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties. It is unlikely, however, that curcumin accounts for the totality of the broad spectrum action of the herb. Subjectively, herbalists say that for many conditions, they have seen better results with the whole herb than with the curcumin alone. 


Turmeric can be taken at various doses. KP Khalsa recommends 1 gram to 30 grams of the powder depending on the person and the situation. It’s always best to use the smallest dose necessary so it’s best to start low and work up. If a person takes too much turmeric nausea will result. 

I generally recommend using turmeric anywhere from 3-10 grams per day, along with the black pepper. 

Add 3 % black pepper to your turmeric to increase its effectiveness.
Keep in mind that turmeric is warming and drying and may exacerbate hot and dry conditions. It is often combined with ghee or demulcent herbs to offset this effect.

Turmeric used in curries and cooking is probably safe for everyone. However, there are some considerations for using turmeric in therapeutic doses. 

The following people should avoid turmeric
  • people who are currently taking blood thinners 
  • people who have blood clotting disorders
  • people who have known gallstones (although this is controversial) 
Turmeric will also stain everything it touches a golden yellow (your hands, cutting board, counters, etc). 

Is Turmeric okay for pregnancy and breastfeeding? 
According to the AHPA's Botanical Safety Handbook, Traditional Chinese Medicine does not recommend turmeric during pregnancy. The book also quotes other scientific studies and notes the mixed results. 

My recommendation is that turmeric should be avoided in large doses for pregnancy (culinary uses are fine). 

There is no known contraindication for taking turmeric during breastfeeding. It is plausible that if it was taken in large doses regularly then it could have a drying effect which could lessen lactation. Other symptoms could also manifest such as hot flashes, dry mouth, dry skin, etc. This is not so much of a contraindication for breastfeeding mothers, but more of an overall consideration when choosing herbs to match the person. 

The above considerations are for the whole rhizome of turmeric. Standardized extracts of curcumin would likely have different physiological effects than the whole herb. 

Some ways to enjoy turmeric

You can use it liberally when cooking or as part of a curry mix 

1 tsp powder stirred into water or warmed milk

Mix the powder with honey to form a paste

Tincture turmeric (although I recommend using whole turmeric and not the powder for this. Unless you use the percolation method for tincture making.) 

Here are some recipes I learned I learned from my mentor Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa. 

Golden Turmeric Paste
1/4 cup of turmeric
1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
water

This can then be mixed with heated milk. 

Can add it to smoothies. 

Can be mixed into honey

Can be mixed into honey plus ghee or coconut milk

Can be spread onto a sandwich
   1) Golden Milk: increase turmeric proportion if desired.  Prepare in two parts:

a) Prepare a golden yellow tumeric paste by adding a 1/4 cup of turmeric powder to 1/2 cup of pure water and boil in a saucepan until a thick paste is formed.  This paste may be stored in the refrigerator.

b) After the paste is made, for each cup of golden milk, blend together I cup of milk, I teaspoon almond oil or any vegetable oil, 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric paste prepared above (or more if necessary), and honey to taste.  While stiffing on a low heat, bring the milk just to the boiling point.  The mixture may then be blended in an electric blender to make a beautiful foamy drink.  Fruit may be added before blending.  Serve with a little cinnamon sprinkled on top.

2) Stir in water/milk/juice/tea.  Swallow quickly.

3) Stir into sweetener (honey, maple syrup) to make a paste, swallow from spoon. 

4) Mix with thick, strong tasting food (i.e. peanut butter), swallow.

5) Mix with water to form soft paste.  Spoon to the back of throat.  Swallow.  Follow with water/juice/tea.


 Turmeric Blend
    1/2 pint sesame tahini  
    2 lbsp. sesame oil (or other)
    1/4 cup honey
    1/4 cup lemon juice
    1/4 to 1/2 cup turmeric powder

Sandwich:  Make turmeric paste as in golden milk recipe.  Spread paste 1/4' thick on both slices of broad.  Add condiments: lettuce, parsley, ctc.  Include cucumber slices.  Close and eat.

This article was originally written for HerbMentor.com. If you enjoyed the article, you'll also love HerbMentor! 

38 comments:

Ashley said...

Wonderful post!!! Where do you get fresh root from?

Love your work so much!

Rosalee de la Forêt said...

Thanks Ashley! I've seen fresh root in health food stores. You might ask your grocery store if they can order it in.

Ann said...

I've been told Pacific Botanicals is a good source of the fresh root...

Anonymous said...

Fresh turmeric is also available at whole foods.

Rebecca said...

Oooh what a fantastic post, Rosalee. I get fresh turmeric root from a local grocery store, so I constantly have a big bottle of the elixir going, as I use it so often.

A pretty neat experience I had YEARS ago (which got me 'into' turmeric in the first place) was when I did one of those stupid liver flushes. Without even preparing for it, having just read something about it and thought 'oh that looks cool, I'll do it tonight'. Well I was in so much pain afterwards, I could hardly stand up straight from my liver cramping. This carried on for over a week until I went and made some really strong turmeric tea. It was better within ten minutes of that. And I've been a fan ever since :) (and I've never done one of those silly flushes since, especially after actually reading more about it!).

Winnybee said...

I am trying to get off prilosec been doing apple cider vinegar.seems to help some just found this post I am so going to try this.Is it a soft root or hard how do grind it.I have used powder in cooking but want to try it to heal my belly think it s burned have been like this from a teenager am now 51...to long...oh and how much do use? thank you so much for this post..Lynn

Moon Feather said...

Thanks for this AWESOME article! I have gallstones, and I've used turmeric when I've had an "attack," to ease the inflammation. Why is it counter-indicated? Thanks, Tamara

Earth mama @ Inside My Heart said...

Great post! I am curious as to why to avoid turmeric when breastfeeding?

Thanks!

Meret said...

Hey Rosalee, this is great! Thanks for posting this on turmeric. I was needing this info. Would you double check the herb that combines with it for liver de-stag. I think it is barberry rather than bayberry, but I could be mistaken.

Meret said...

Hi Rosalee, I want to give one of my clients this turmeric paste. She is recovering from knee surgery. If I mix it with ghee or honey, how much would you recommend daily to help rejuvenate the joint and prevent scarring, etc.? Thanks again, Rosalee!

Rosalee de la Forêt said...

Winnybee - if I want a powdered root, then I buy it powdered (rather than grinding it myself). Just be sure to buy medicinal quality turmeric. As for how that that really depends on each person. I give two different dosage ranges in the article.

Moon Feather: That's great to know about your gallstones. Most current contraindications literature says to avoid turmeric when there are gallstones because it could instigate an attack. This really depends on the person and how much they take.

Earth Mama: Turmeric is best avoid in large quantities while breast feeding because it has a drying action. Culinary uses and other small doses should be fine.

Thanks Meret! I don't know what I was thinking!

Rosalee de la Forêt said...

Hi Meret,

I often like to do a maximum dose without other unwanted effects. To do this I recommend starting with a small dose and then increasing the dose little by little each day. I generally recommend a maximum dose of 10 grams (but KP uses much higher!) or to back off if unwanted effects occur.

Sidney Trobairitz Barthell said...

Ah, Rosalee, this is terrific! I've been using a liniment with turmeric, myrhh and frankincense for cracked feet, and they are getting better. I will try straight turmeric paste.

Anonymous said...

this is a great post Rosalee. I use turmeric on a daily basis for some of the conditions you mention.

Thank you very much for this informative article.

Kieran said...

Great post, thanks!

Candace said...

I started taking a turmeric & bromelain supplement last year for very painful arthritis in my wrists. It says it has 300 mg turmeric powered extract (root) and 285 mg curcumin as well as 150 mg bromelain which I understand helps with the uptake.

The difference is nothing short of remarkable. I have no pain much of the time and very little the rest of the time. I ran out last spring and didn't take it for a while. I hadn't even realized how well it had been working until my wrists started hurting again. I immediately ordered more and take it every day. Really, the difference is astounding, and I'm not taking any ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

My cholesterol was getting a little high the last time I had it checked. I haven't had it checked since starting on the turmeric. It will be interesting to see if it has made any difference here!

Thanks for the great post. I knew it was good stuff, but didn't realize how wide an application it had.

Thanks!

Allison at Novice Life said...

Fascinating!!

gillian said...

I had the impulse to mix turmeric powder with softened (at warm room temp) coconut oil, and make balls - then when cooled, they are hard and easy to swallow, plus i get the added benefit of the coconut oil! I take them when i have joint pain which comes and goes.
I am now having a terrible eczema outbreak and now going to reach for the turmeric coconut balls - hope it works!

Evelyn Oliva said...

Enjoyed readind it, and you taught me new facts about turmeric. I love this herb, I've yet to try it fresh...I can't wait.

Healing Thyme Services said...

It's been a blessing to ready your herbal advice over the years. Thank you so much! I look forward to all your advice.

Anonymous said...

There's no problem taking turmeric while pregnant or breast feeding, it's much better taking it than paracetamol. I've been taking 3 teaspoons a day in hot water and baby absolutely fine and well.

Sundancers Farm said...

Great timing ... Turmeric is my July, herb of the month.

Thanks for the article. (and)

Thank You!

Jean said...

Reading your great article while having some of the paste in my coffee along with some coconut oil. I am learning so much from you. Thank you for sharing such wonderful wisdom.

Jean Ann

judith scott said...

thank you for the post. turmeric has been a favorite of mine now for just about a month. i have a rather silly question. i use coconut oil(about a tablespoons worth)and a tablespoons worth of turmeric in the dregs of my tea. like a tonic. this last month i used it liberally and was handsomely rewarded by reduced body pain in the weeks prior to my menses AND a less strenuous cycle. glorious glorious! my question: am i in any way robbing myself of particular nutrients by using coconut oil over ghee? i love both. ghee,frankly,i prefer to bury the taste in my food and would find it difficult to drink so early in the morning! evening,no problem,but mornings with ghee,bleech. thank you so much for this beautifully written article. the warmth and intimacy of your voice rings clear.

Rosalee de la Forêt said...

Wonderful to hear how much turmeric has helped you! Using coconut oil is just fine. Glad you found something that works for you. :)

Sue Bunis said...

Thanks for the great info on turmeric! I have a tincture going right now and I'm wondering if I should add some black pepper right in there with the turmeric and let it all tincture together, or is it better to tincture them separately?

Rosalee de la Forêt said...

Hi Sue,
I've never worked with turmeric as a tincture so I can't speak from experience. In general I like to tincture herbs separately then combine them later.

Bethany McGough said...

Do you know how safe it is to take turmeric capsules for extended periods of time? I've read conflicting research and would love your input. Also, what do you know about taking turmeric while trying to conceive? I've read varying opinions on that as well. It makes sense not to overdo it DURING pregnancy, but it really helps with my headaches and would hate to stop taking it. Thanks for all your information!

Rosalee de la Forêt said...

Turmeric can be very drying to some people and in that regard shouldn't be taken for long periods of time (unless it is formulated to offset the dryness).

As far as I know turmeric is fine in pregnancy, but the health of the woman, dosage, etc, should all be taken into account. It's certainly fine in culinary amounts.

hatmama said...

Why are powdered herbs not used for tinctures?

Rosalee de la Forêt said...

Powdered herbs are used for percolation tinctures. They can be used for a general maceration, but they are not fun to strain out.

kris west said...

I have dry eye and dry mouth so when you say turmeric is drying should I avoid turmeric and curcumin?

Rosalee de la Forêt said...

Possibly. I don't know you or what's going on with you so it's hard to say definitively. The other possibility is to formulate it in a way that offsets the dryness. For example you could infuse the powder with ghee.

kris west said...

Thank you for your reply. What do you mean when you say it is very drying for some people? What are the effects? And how does Ghee offset the dryness? Thank so much for your time and insight.

Rosalee de la Forêt said...

Hi Kris,

Those are great questions but I get so many questions every day from folks that if I took the time to respond in full to all of them that is the only thing I would do all day long.

Here's an article by Leslie Tierra which addresses this subject. I hope it helps. http://www.planetherbs.com/lesleys-blog/turmeric-pros-cons-and-contraindications.html

pete sinnott said...

Thank you for this post. We have found Tumeric to be a special friend as we have gotten older. It helps keep our joints feeling young and share it with friends. My brother has postponed hip replacement surgery for several years by taking Tumeric and vitamin D.

My wife is grateful for your presentation on Fibromyalgia on herbmentor. Tumeric is a part of her regular protocol.

Thank you so much for your work!

Ross said...

Hi
Thank you for this very informative post, I am trying to glean information online about how best to take turmeric powder (organic) as a health supplement, and share this info with my friends/family.

I mix the turmeric and black pepper with a few tablespoons of light olive oil to create a paste, then add some warm water (about a quarter of a cup full) as it is easier to drink that way - the paste is pretty strong tasting on its own.

However I wonder if adding the water like this is OK - I am figuring it should be OK as the turmeric is fully dissolved within the olive oil ? Thank you for any comments!

Ross

Rosalee de la Forêt said...

Sounds fine to me Ross. Enjoy!