Turmeric (botanical name Curcuma longa) belongs to a ginger (Zingiberacea) family and has been for centuries used as aromatic herb. It is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant native to tropical South Asia.
The name of the plant comes from the Latin “terra merita” – “meritorious earth”, which refers to the colour of ground turmeric which resembles a mineral pigment. In many languages turmeric is just called a yellow root, and in Asian countries it is widely known as kunyit or haldi. Fragrant odour and a bitterish, slightly acrid taste leave exciting warmth in the mouth and colours the saliva yellow.
Turmeric is valued for its yellowish-brown tuberous underground stem that has a rough segmented skin. The interior of the rhizome looks bright yellow when powdered. The plant produces root-leaves that are about 2-3 feet long and carry conical clusters of pale yellow flowers.
Turmeric requires rather high temperatures, between 20 and 30 deg. C. and a considerable amount of annual rainfall. Plant’s rhizomes (source for propagation) are gathered annually, and re-seeded in the following season.
Turmeric’s finger-like underground stems are the source for culinary and medicinal preparations. The rhizome is usually dried into powder which is taken by mouth or added as an ingredient into capsules, teas, or liquid extracts. Made into a paste, turmeric is used in topical applications for the skin.
Used as a food extract, is found an application in baked products, canned beverages, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, popcorn-color, sweets, cake icings, cereals, sauces, gelatins, and in most commercial curry powders. Medicinal forms include paste, tablets, powder, capsules and liquid extracts.
The major chemical presented in high amount in this plant is curcumin. It has been noted to limit the activity of lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase-2 – the chemicals promoting and maintaining inflammation. These properties of curcumin are able to reduce inflammation and the pain associated with it. Also, curcumin may help the immune system clear the brain of amyloid beta, which forms the plaques found in Alzheimer’s disease.
Other active components in this herb include an acrid, volatile oil, brown colouring matter, gum, starch, chloride of calcium, and woody fibre. Several promising laboratory studies show that turmeric components are able to keep several kinds of cancers from starting, growing, or spreading. The plant is also beneficial for providing antioxidant properties, protecting the brain, kidneys, and liver from damage by alcohol, drugs, radiation, or chemicals.
In herbal medicine turmeric is favored for a number of its medicinal properties. Various medicinal and natural forms of the plant are applied for a wide range of conditions. For example, turmeric is considered as a digestive enhancer that improves digestion, reduceі gas and bloating. It also improves body’s ability to digest fat.
Herbalists suggest taking turmeric for digestive weakness and/or congestion. The plant is also beneficial for liver diseases; its ability to shrink engorged hepatic ducts can be useful to treat liver conditions such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, and jaundice. Anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric help in relieving a wide range of inflammatory conditions – osteoarthritis, bacterial infections in wounds, sore throat, bronchitis and other respiratory conditions. Applied topically, it is beneficial for eczema, psoriasis and acne, being a potent detoxifier.
Women with menstrual problems use turmeric two weeks prior to menstruation to reduce menstrual cramps. In Ayurvedic medicine turmeric used as general tonic to enhance body functioning. Since it is not easily absorbed, turmeric should be used mixed together with other ingredients that would enhance the absorption.