Turmeric is often found in our kitchen cabinets, with us not realizing the benefits of using it. The aromatic spice is a common constituent of curry powder. It is a perennial herb that is a member of the ginger family.
It grows to nearly 3 feet tall, mostly in tropical regions. The thick rhizome is the part most commonly used. A rhizome is usually an underground stem that often sends out roots and shoots from its main rootstalk. The rhizome produces a yellow-orange dye, still used for dyeing purposes in India and China. It has also been used for coloring butter, cheese, pickles, mustard and other foodstuffs.
A Strong Antioxidant ,the active constituent in turmeric is known as curcumin. It has been shown to have a wide range of therapeutic actions. It protects against free radical damage because it is a strong antioxidant. An antioxidant is a substance (such as vitamin E, vitamin C) thought to protect body cells from the damaging effects of oxidation. It reduces inflammation by lowering histamine levels and possibly by increasing production of natural cortisone by the adrenal glands. Curcumin seems to have a protective effect on liver tissue exposed to toxic compounds like liver-damaging drugs. There are also test-tube studies showing inhibition of metastasis (uncontrolled spread) of melanoma (skin cancer) cells or lymphoma tumor cells. This may be attributed to its antioxidant activity in the body. Animal studies from Rutgers have shown a possible use in prevention of tumor development, as well.
Turmeric is now being found in blends that help support joint issues with animals. It combines beautifully with Sarsaparilla. Its other properties are antifungal, astringing and blood cleansing. It helps to stimulate bile production, thereby strengthening liver function. A preliminary trial in people with rheumatoid arthritis found curcumin to be somewhat useful for reducing inflammation and symptoms such as pain and stiffness. In animals, turmeric may be administered orally, and may help to protect against ulcers caused by irritating drugs or chemicals.
Used in the recommended amounts, turmeric is generally safe. However, at high doses or with prolonged use, turmeric may actually irritate or upset the stomach. It has been used in large quantities as a condiment with no adverse reactions. Some herbal books recommend not taking high amounts of turmeric during pregnancy as it may cause uterine contractions.
Magic and Medicine of Plants, Reader's Digest Association, 8th printing, 1996.
The Healing Herbs by Michael Castleman Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA, 1991.