Turmeric (Curcuma longa) and several other species of the curcuma genus grow wild in the forests of
In the Indian Ayurveda system of herbal medicine, turmeric is known as strengthening and warming to the whole body. Traditional uses in India include to improve digestion, to improve intestinal flora, to eliminate worms, to relieve gas, to cleanse and strengthen the liver and gallbladder, to normalize menstruation, for relief of arthritis and swelling, as a blood purifier, to warm and promote proper metabolism correcting both excesses and deficiencies, for local application on sprains, burns, cuts, bruises, insect bites and itches, for soothing action in cough and asthma, as antibacterial and anti-fungus, and in any condition of weakness or debility. (42 and 44)
According to Michael Moriarty, “The ancient Hawaiians used this herb for many things, including the prevention and treatment of sinus infections (it is very astringent and appears to pull mucus out), ear infections (swimmers ear) and gastrointestinal ulcers.” (44)
Turmeric is eaten as a food both raw and cooked throughout
Another traditional use of turmeric is as a food colorant and dye for cloth – in both cases a cheaper alternative to saffron. It was and is used in religious ceremonies and offerings – often representing life, purity, and prosperity.
The old herbals of
European and American herbalists up until the late 20th century had little interest in turmeric. For example, in all of Dr. Christopher’s writings the only mention of turmeric I can find is that it is listed as an alternative tonic. In Jethro Klauss’s book Back to
In one western herbal from the early 20th Century, I do find a discussion of turmeric. This is in Maude Grieve’s book A Modern Herbal. She gives a botanical description and the constituents of the herb as if the herb was of some importance, but then under Medicinal Actions and Uses she says: “Turmeric is a mild aromatic stimulant seldom used in medicine except as a coloring. It was once a cure for jaundice. Its chief use is in the manufacture of curry powders. It is also used as an adulterant of mustard and a substitute for it and forms one of the ingredients of cattle condiments. … Turmeric paper is … used as a test for alkaloids and boric acid.” This disregard of turmeric as an important nutritional and medicinal herb continued in western herbalism up until the late 20th Century.
However, even as Maude Grieve was writing, the roots of turmeric’s emergence as a prominent healing herb were starting to grow. Daniel B. Mowrey tells the story: “Serious research on turmeric began in
· Turmeric stimulates the flow of bile; several constituents have this property.
· The increased flow of bile depend in part on the contraction of the gallbladder and in part on the increase in bile secretion;
· The stimulation of bile depends mostly on the presence of essential oil;
· The flavonoids cause the contraction of the gallbladder and thereby increase the effective emptying of this organ.”
“While studies were being pursued in European, primarily German laboratories, Asian researchers were independently validating the same properties of turmeric. But their interest extended to the liver protective and curative principles of turmeric and in a series of brilliant papers they reported important findings in that area. 2
… So far what has clearly been demonstrated is that turmeric possesses anti-hepatotoxic activity on the order possessed by other liver-protective herbs such as milk thistle and licorice. … Other research has helped establish the effects of turmeric on the blood. For example, as many of the common curry herbs do, curcumin prevents large fluctuations in blood cholesterol after meals. … The potent anti-inflammatory activity (in the essential oil and in curcumin) of turmeric has been substantiated in other research. Like other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (such as licorice root), curcumin appears to act through some sort of adrenal mechanism (when the adrenals are removed, turmeric has no effect).” (28)
In the mid-20th century, western herbalists began taking note and considering turmeric for herbal use – initially in
Few contemporary herbalists recommended turmeric through the 1980’s and when they did it was for limited or special uses such as liver tonic or menstrual regularity. However, by the early 1990’s a chorus of prominent western herbalists (including
For a discussion of contemporary uses of Turmeric, see section F. Known Herbal Formulas with Turmeric and section G. Dosages and Applications of Turmeric.
Most common species: Curcuma longa
Number of Curcuma Species: 70
Part used: Rhizome (Root)
Names in Other Languages:
Samoan, Tongan: Ago, Ango
Hawaiian: ‘Olena (Curcuma domestica)
Literal English Translation: “Yellow Ginger”
Maude Grieve provides the following botanical information:
“Description: A perennial plant with roots or tubers oblong, palmate, and deep orange inside; root-leaves about 2 feet long, lanceolate, long, petioled, tapering at each end, smooth, of a uniform green; petioles sheathing spike, erect, central, oblong, green; flowers dull yellow, three or five together surrounded by bracteolae. It is propagated by cuttings from the root, which when dry is in curved cylindrical or oblong tubers 2 or 3 inches in length, and an inch in diameter, pointed or tapering at the end, yellowish externally, with transverse, parallel rings internally deep orange or reddish brown, marked with shining points, dense, solid, short granular fracture, forming a lemon yellow powder. It has a peculiar fragrant odor and a bitterish slightly acrid taste, like ginger, exciting warmth in the mouth and coloring the saliva yellow. It yields its properties to water or alcohol.” (19)