One of my favorite medicinal spices, turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years. It has many uses, including flavoring food, and as a dye. However, it is the medicinal uses of turmeric that are attracting increasing attention in the west.
Turmeric’s medicinal properties have been known in the east for centuries – turmeric is commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat liver and gallbladder problems, to stop bleeding, to relieve chest congestion and menstrual pain, and to treat depression.
What makes turmeric so powerful is an active ingredient called curcumin. Curcumin not only gives turmeric its bright yellow color and pungent flavor, it is also the source of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and healing properties.
While in the east there is a philosophy that if a natural substance works, you should continue using it, in the west we demand empirical evidence. Thus there has been a growing body of research to attempt to verify the medicinal benefits of turmeric.
Research so far suggests that turmeric may be very effective in treating various forms of cancer. In laboratory studies it has been shown to destroy cultures of human leukemia cells, while other research suggests that it may prevent prostate cancer, prevent breast cancer from spreading, prevent or even destroy melanomas, and reduce the risk of childhood leukemia.
Other areas in which it has shown promise include preventing and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, and helping to reduce the symptoms of psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions.
In addition, turmeric is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent, and thus can be used topically to disinfect cuts and burns. Finally, it is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory – but without the side effects of many anti-inflammatory drugs – and has been successfully used to treat arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Contraindications are rare, though turmeric is not recommended for those with gallstones or bile obstruction. Pregnant women should consult their doctor before using turmeric, as it can be a uterine stimulant.
If you want to add turmeric to your diet there are two ways. You can either take a supplement – while there is no RDA, a typical adult dosage is 250-500mg of curcumin a day – or add it to your food.
As a spice turmeric is a key ingredient in curry powder, and is widely used in Asian cuisine. Suggestions for use include:
• In chutneys, pickles, and relishes
• In Asian fish soups
• Blended with oil and drizzled over cooked vegetables, pasta, or potatoes
When cooking with turmeric be aware that this an extremely strong spice which gets stronger when cooked. Experiment with small quantities, and avoid getting it on your clothes – remember, it is also used as a strong yellow dye!