Curcuma longa – Rhizoma (Zingiberaceae)
Common name: Turmeric (E), Haldi (H)
Turmeric was traditionally popular with yogis to help stretch their ligaments and repair injuries. Its traditional Indian uses are many but it is famed for keeping the skin pure, the blood clean and the life long. The word ‘Haridra’ literally means ‘yellow’; the strong yellow colour of this herb also signifies its use as a liver tonic, good at drying damp and moving stagnation in the blood.
Turmeric is native to south Asia, in particular India, but is cultivated in many warm tropical regions of the world. It is a tall, stemless herb that can grow up to 1.5m in height and has characteristic large, pale green and elongated leaves. Turmeric flowers are a pale yellow colour and its roots are tuberous, juicy, branched and a bright yellow colour under the skin. It is the roots of this plant that are valued for their medicinal properties.
How it Works
Tumeric is a potent anti-inflammatory, specific for pain, whilst also enhancing circulation, protecting the brain and rejuvenating the liver and heart. Turmeric contains over 300 compounds that display biological activity. Curcuminoids are considered to be the most biologically active compounds in turmeric and there are approximately between 2-5% curcuminoids present in a raw turmeric root. Curcuminoids are particularly distinctive because it is this constituent that gives turmeric roots their bright yellow colour. These constituents significantly down regulate the pro-inflammatory enzymes COX-2 and LOX-5, inhibit inflammatory cytokines and stop the activation of certain transcription and growth factors in the body. This makes the range of activity of turmeric very diverse, but it is certainly a significant anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, hypotensive and hepato (liver) protective.
Into the Heart of Turmeric
- Turmeric is a superb anti-inflammatory which actively inhibits certain inflammatory pathways within the body, significantly impacting upon external and internal inflammation. This has made turmeric a first choice for inflammations of the musculoskeletal system and the digestive system.
- Research has shown that turmeric impacts upon certain pain receptors within the body and reduces substance ‘P’ acting as an analgesic. It has been demonstrated as being particularly effective for chest and abdominal pain, frozen shoulder and menstrual cramping. This, along with its strong anti-inflammatory actions, makes turmeric a fantastic remedy for inflamed, swollen and painful conditions.
- Turmeric contains some very potent antioxidants which will not only provide further anti-inflammatory protection, but also have the ability to protect cellular DNA and repair any existing cellular damage from environmental carcinogens for example.
- Turmeric has a significant action upon the heart and the circulation. It will improve the flow of blood to the heart and encourage anti-platelet activity, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis and plaque build-up in the arteries. Turmeric also improves blood flow through the liver, improving the efficacy of liver detoxification pathways but also stimulating cellular repair mechanisms in damaged liver cells. This improvement in blood flow and quality impacts significantly upon the quality of the skin and turmeric can, therefore, be an excellent remedy for any afflictions of the skin.
- In the digestive system, turmeric helps balance levels of pathogenic bacteria, helping to create a state of homeostasis and is also an effective anti-bacterial. Along with the anti-inflammatory and stimulant effects on the blood, turmeric can be very effective in treating infectious and congested conditions of the digestive tract.
- The purifying and stimulating effect of turmeric on the blood flow, makes this herb suited to treating a congested menses but also stagnant conditions of the female reproductive system.
Digestion: For all intestinal infections and mucus conditions, turmeric helps to promote ‘sweet’ intestines by reducing pathogenic bacteria and destroying ama. It has recently been proven to have an affinity for the large intestine and to play a preventative role in bowel cancer. Other clinical trials have proven its efficacy at treating dyspepsia and stomach ulcers. Its bitter and pungent flavours act on the agni of rasa dhatu and enhance its ability to nourish the plasma and blood. Traditionally, turmeric was used in diabetes to clear ama, kapha and excess fat tissue.
Liver: Turmeric has a stimulant effect on the liver and ranjaka pitta increases the flow of blood through the hepatic system, increasing bile output and helping to dissolve and prevent gallstones. It is traditionally considered a blood ‘purifier’ and is often used for beautifying the skin and clearing systemic toxaemia; eczema, urticaria, psoriasis and acne. As with many liver herbs it is also good for the eyes; a wash is used in conjunctivitis and styes.
Gynaecology: Turmeric is used to clear kapha accumulations from the lower abdomen, uterus and apanakshetra. Fibroids, cysts, endometriosis, dysmenorrhoea, amenorrhoea and leucorrhoea are all treated by reducing congestion. As a specific herb for rasa dhatu it also works on its secondary tissue stanyasrotas and is used to purify breast milk as well as to promote the flow of the menses. A poultice can be very effective in mastitis.
Inflammation: Curcumin reduces inflammation caused by arachidonic acid. It is used in dermatitis, eczema, urticaria, psoriasis, colitis, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Hence it is used in pitta-kapha conditions at low doses and mixed with other bitter herbs. It is also a renowned anti-bacterial.
Joints: Turmeric treats inflammation of the joints, alleviates pain and strengthens the joints and tendons. It is useful for treating gout, arthritis, broken bones and wounds.
Heart: Turmeric nourishes the heart by virtue of its raktavardhak and blood building quality. By increasing blood flow and reducing total cholesterol, turmeric helps the functions of the heart. It has an anti-platelet activity and scrapes accumulations from the channels (lekhaniya) that helps to prevent coagulation and reduce kapha in the blood.
Infections: Turmeric is an excellent anti-biotic useful in fevers, sore throat and septicaemia.
External: Turmeric is excellent for reducing pain as a topical application in bruises, infections, sprains and pain. Use it carefully as it is very staining to the skin and anything it comes into contact with.