Turmeric has been used for its medicinal and culinary purposes for over 4000 years. Its use dates to the Vedic era. In southeast Asia, it has been used as a primary spice but also as a component in religious ceremonies. The Hindu religion sees turmeric as auspicious and sacred. In the 11th Century, Marco Polo, described the beautiful spice and found that it exhibited similar properties to saffron and it has now been termed the ‘Indian Saffron’. During this time, Turmeric was introduced as a clothing dye and was used in Europe for this main purpose and was very rarely utilised for its medicinal properties.
In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, Turmeric has been used for its strengthening and warming properties. It has been used for centuries to improve digestion, eliminate worms, relieve gas and cleanse and strengthen the liver and gallbladder, as well as reduce pain and swelling associated with arthritis and joint abnormalities. It was also used as a local application for burns, cuts, bruises, and sprains. The indigenous Hawaiians also used turmeric for its astringent properties and found it was a useful medicine for relieving sinus and ear infections.
Turmeric has been eaten in both its raw and cooked state throughout Asia. Its root/rhizome is quite similar in appearance to ginger, with a vastly different flavour. Unlike ginger, it is less fibrous, but crunchy and succulent. It has somewhat of a sweet and nutty flavour with bitter undertones. Traditionally, it has been ground up in a mortar and pestle and combined with other herbs and spices to flavour curries.
India cultivates nearly all the world’s turmeric supply and consumes 80% of it as well. It is believed that Turmeric cultivated in India is of the highest quality and contains the highest percentage of its bioactive compound called, curcumin.
Although turmeric has been utilised for thousands of years in South East Asia, it’s modern use has only been present over the last 100 years, with interest being with its bioactive compound called, curcumin. Multiple studies have been conducted to determine the therapeutic activity of curcumin and many positive results have surrounded its beneficial role as an anti-inflammatory, particularly when utilised with arthritis and other inflammatory joint conditions. Curcumin has been found to mediate inflammatory cascades and by inhibiting pro-inflammatory pathways and inflammatory cellular activity. In certain clinical trials, curcumin has been found to reduce pain, inflammation and improve joint mobility.
Many studies, albeit being in very preliminary stages, have found turmeric to also exhibit antioxidant and anti-cancer properties1.
In terms of curcumin absorption, studies have found Piperine, a component in black pepper allows for curcumin to be absorbed much more efficiently and quickly, opposed to curcumin being consumed alone. This theoretically allows for a greater therapeutic outcome.
Turmeric can easily be added to many dishes as well as smoothies and consuming this beautiful herb on a daily basis, can aid with reducing general inflammation as well as benefit your digestive health and overall health. It can be included with curries as well as with other components such as bromelain, found in pineapple, to further enhance anti-inflammatory cascades in the body.
- Perrone D, Ardito F, Giannatempo G et al. Biological and therapeutic activities, and anticancer properties of curcumin. Exp Ther Med. 2015: 10(5): 1615-23
Written by Annmarie Cannone
M.Hum Nut, Grad Dip Naturopathy, B.App Sci (Naturopathic Studies)