Turmeric (About): Amazing Flavor and Medicinal Spice

Turmeric root and powder

By Cat, Sept 2019

This was originally included on Herbs and Spices, G – Z. Image, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Turmeric is in the same family as ginger, and like ginger, it is the rhizome (root) that is used in cooking and medicinally. The best source of turmeric is from fresh root.  It resembles ginger, but has a warmer, golden-orange color.

Use it as a seasoning for braised greens and meats; also for beverages such as Ginger & Turmeric Latte and Golden Milk (Turmeric Tea): Several Recipes. It can also be found in some healing remedies.

See also: 1. Dr. Mercola’s excellent article on turmeric: How this spice can potentially improve your health (1a); 2. Mercola’s article on curcumin (turmeric’s major component);  includes cautions for better absorption (1b); 3. Green Med Info: A Guide to Using (pdf), file too large (5.2MB) to provide a link here, but I saved a copy : HEALTH-NUTRITION > GREEN MED INFO / Turmeric-GuideToUsing-GMI_2.0;)

Turmeric (About)

  • Prep: Scrape off the root’s peel, then grate, chop, cube, mince or juice the root. Add to juiced veggies, smoothies, sauteed veggies, sauces, Golden Tea, etc..  Or peel and slice the root, then dehydrate it for grinding into powder, but use within a few weeks of grinding, as it loses potency with time. Mercola cautions (1a), “A major caveat of dried turmeric is that while the flavor and color are there, the essential oils and turmeric’s pungency are lost during the drying process.”
  • Storage: To store the rhizomes, place in a plastic bag or airtight container. They can be stored for at least a week or two, or freeze them for several months. (1a) Store turmeric powder in an airtight container, in a cool and dark place for up to a year. (1a)
  • Turmeric/curcumin supplements: Alternative Daily article (3) recommends taking them with black pepper to increase the amount of absorption by up to 2,000%, because it is not readily absorbed. An easy way to take the black pepper is to swallow 2 peppercorns after swallowing the supplement.

Dr Mercola recommends purchasing organic supplements of turmeric (1c), but I think we should keep supplements to a minimum; I prefer to get my spices by cooking with them.  However, I do agree with his admonition to use only organically grown herbs and spices.

Culinary uses: The most common is in curry powder, blending well with cumin and coriander for curries and other Indian and south Asian dishes (see also my post Curries & Blends). It compliments members of the cabbage family (see my post A Cauliflower-Curry Feast), and is delicious in deviled eggs. (2) It is an excellent ingredient for rubs or marinades. Slice the fresh peeled root and add to a salad. (1) Be sure to include some good fat (lard, duck/goose fat, ghee, olive oil, coconut oil and/or avocado oil) with the food.

It is great in beverages such as Golden Milk (Turmeric Tea) that I drink before bed, or Mercola’s Ginger-Turmeric Latte (1), both delicious ways to add turmeric to your daily regimen.

Nutritionally, it is an excellent source of manganese and iron, and a good source of vitamin B6, fiber, copper, and potassium. (2) It is also rich in curcumin, an amazing herbal remedy, especially for its anti-oxidant properties.

Historically turmeric has been used:

  • as a food preservative
  • to relieve digestive disturbances including nausea
  • as an anti-inflammatory agent, especially for relief from arthritis.

From Learning Herbs and K. P. Khalsa (4):“Turmeric can…

  • Help you heal the natural way, and sleep like a baby
  • Give yourself more alertness and stamina without caffeine
  • Improve your cardio-vascular health
  • Reduce pain & inflammation through-out your body
  • Strengthen your immune system to prevent colds and flu
  • Reduce the effects of joint pain and arthritis
  • Help you safely and easily detoxify
  • Heal and beautify your skin
  • Improve your blood pressure
  • Treat sinus infections and asthma
  • Improve digestive problems & heal your digestive tract”

All of these can be attributed to turmeric’s  antioxidant, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties.  In Oriental medicine, it has been used as a stomach tonic and blood purifier, and to treat a variety of skin conditions (probably by acting as a liver tonic) and minor injuries (2, 5).

Turmeric includes curcuminoids, substances with amazing anti-oxidant properties.  The most abundant curcuminoid in turmeric is curcumin, which promotes liver and gallbladder health.  It induces flow of bile, which breaks down fats; and has been used as an external antibiotic to prevent infection of wounds.

Curcumin, a component of turmeric, also promotes healthy skeletal tissue and digestive system; and also protects arteries.  Other extracts inhibit gastric secretion and protect against injury by certain drugs (such as reserpine) (1d, 6). However, I believe the whole spice is more effective than its individual components (‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’) because of synergy in the whole.

Curcumin and brain health: (Oct 9, 2016 update): There have been many studies on the healthfulness of turmeric and its biochemical components; now a recent study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Curcumin boosts DHA in the brain: Implications for the prevention of anxiety disorders (7), shows the importance of turmeric may hold for vegetarians and non-vegetarians when it comes to the health of the brain. DHA is an Omega-3 fatty acid – and the most prevalent omega 3 fatty acid in brain tissue. It has  long believed could not be made in any significant quantity by humans, and must be obtained from other animal sources, primarily fish.

This research showed that curcumin enhances the biosynthesis of DHA in rat brains; could it also hold true for the human brain? “DHA deficiency is quite common and can have a wide range of adverse consequences to the optimal functioning of the brain. Its deficiency is linked to several neurocognitive disorders such as anxiety-like behavior, Alzheimer’s disease, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia with psychosis and impaired attention.“(8)

According to a Green Med Info article (14) (July 31, 2020 update),  it helps to reduce the damage done by fluoride (in drinking water) to our brain and neural tissue: “A compelling study published in the Pharmacognosy Magazine titled, Curcumin attenuates neurotoxicity induced by fluoride: An in vivo evidence (15),”adds experimental support to the suspicion that fluoride is indeed a brain-damaging substance, also revealing that a natural spice-derived protective agent against the various health effects associated with this compound is available.”

As an antioxidant and anti-tumor spice, turmeric can be used to neutralize free radicals and protect against (9, 11):

  • cancer
  • cataracts
  • atheroscleroisis (accumulation of arterial plaque) by preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol

Turmeric can inhibit tumor initiation, promotion, invasion, angiogenesis (growth of the new tumor blood vessels), and metastasis (uncontrolled spread).  It has been used to treat the following cancers (10, 11):

  • skin
  • breast (caused by chemicals)
  • colon
  • lung
  • prostate

Pick up here with updating references in red (see Herbs & Spices article, previous tab).

As a potent anti-inflammatory agent, it has been used to provide cardiovascular and liver protection, and treat (12, 13):

  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • inflammatory bowel diseases including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • cystic fibrosis
  • cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Gene modulation is another action of curcumin in turmeric, which has potential to delay dementia, and improve brain function of these already suffering from dementia, and shows promise in treatment of cystic fibrosis (12, 1E).

References (this article)

  1. Mercola on Turmeric:
    1. (1b) articles.mercola.com/herbs-spices/turmeric.aspx;
    2. (1f) products.mercola.com/curcumin-supplement;
    3. (7) organicindia.mercola.com/turmeric.aspx
    4. (1C) Healthful Herbs & Spices (articles.mercola.com/herbs-spices.aspx);
    5. (8) articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/06/23/This-Potent-Spice-Taken-as-Little-as-Once-a-Week-Can-Fight-Dementia.aspx
  2. (2f) WH Foods: on Turmeric (whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78)
  3. (39) thealternativedaily.com/eat-this-with-turmeric/ (eat black pepper to help absorb curcumin/turmeric
  4. (27) Learning Herbs and K. P. Khalsa’s Culinary Herbalism class (culinaryherbalism.com)
  5. (10) nutrasanus.com/turmeric.html
  6. (5) completewellbeing.com/article/a-nutty-affair
  7. (29) NIH study: “Curcumin boosts DHA in the brain: Implications for the prevention of anxiety disorders,” (sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925443914003779)
  8. (30) Food Revolution (foodrevolution.org/blog/turmeric-may-boost-vegetarian-brains-omega-3-dha-levels-nih-research-reveals)
  9. (3) school-for-champions.com/health/fleming_spices.htm
  10. (10) nutrasanus.com/turmeric.html
  11. (11) ezinearticles.com/?Discover-Turmeric-Health-Benefits&id=669182-that-defend-you-against-aging.aspx
  12. (2F) whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78
  13. (12) sixwise.com/newsletters/06/09/20/the_six_healthiest_staple_foods_in_middle_eastern_cuisine.htm
  14. Green Med Info:
  15. NCBI article: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3969660/

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