One of the first things I can remember about turmeric (pronounced TER mer ic) is someone saying, “Whatever you do, don’t touch anything or spill it, etc., because if you do, it will be yellow forever. Turmeric is used as a dye.” Okay, good to know. Now, what else is there to know about this potent spice that seasons many yummy dishes? Well, let’s find out.
Turmeric is a rhizome. The golden stick is officially defined as a “rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae.” Tropical South Asia is considered turmeric’s native land, and the rhizome prefers a mild to warmer climate (from 68°F to 86°F) and frequent rainfall. It is harvested each season particularly for the rhizomes, of which some are used to begin a new crop for the following season.
Turmeric is often used fresh, but it can easily be dried and ground into the orangish-yellow powder that is then used to flavor curries, South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine, to give color to mustard condiments, and to dye anything permanently yellow – bright yellow. <yikes!> It is also used in many religious and wedding ceremonies in Southern India, sometimes to color the skin of a bride or groom or used as a thanksgiving sacrifice to the Hindu sun god.
Many studies have been done on the potential benefits of turmeric for common medical conditions:
- Indigestion or Dyspepsia – increase flow of bile to the gall bladder
- Ulcerative Colitis – studies have shown that turmeric may help patients stay in remission (greater than placebo)
- Stomach Ulcers – this is suspect, as some studies show turmeric to increase them
- Osteoarthritis – possible relief, since turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties
- Heart Disease – may help prevent atherosclerosis
- Cancer - may be helpful because turmeric has strong anti-oxidant properties
- Bacterial and Viral Infections – with lab studies (including animals) turmeric has shown to kill bacteria and viruses; no human studies done
- Uveitis – shown to be as effective as corticosteroids for this inflammation of the iris
Other issues where turmeric may be considered helpful, though not proven, are:
- Jaundice, hepatitis, liver and gallbladder problems
- Pain, fibromyalgia, headache
- Skin problems, ringworm, inflammatory skin conditions, leech bites, leprosy, and infected wounds
- Diarrhea, flatulence, abdominal bloating and pain
- Bronchitis, colds, respiratory infections, fever
- Menstrual problems
Next week, we’ll explore what may make turmeric effective and how patients use it beyond giving their food a nice strong kick.