Turmeric has a rich and colourful history with records of its use dating back over 4000 years. Originating from Southeast Asia, it is one of the most beneficial spices known on this Earth for health and wellness. Turmeric is grown both as a kitchen spice and for medicinal purposes.
With its peppery, playful and somewhat bitter flavour, it comes into its element in a myriad of exciting dishes, especially when combined with other gentle spices and elements.
Turmeric is usually responsible for that rich, golden colour that you so often see in curries and spicy dishes. It is most commonly used in its dried, powdered form, although the fresh ‘root’ has become rather easy to find in food markets and shops these days.
The health benefits of this plant are nothing short of remarkable.
It is thought to be just as powerful as pharmaceutical drugs but WITHOUT the side effects.
Turmeric is a flowering plant, related to the ginger family. It thrives in warm humid climates of between 20°C and 30°C (68°F and 86°F), needing plenty of water.
Tumeric is actually a rhizome, not a root
(but let’s call it a root anyway)
Strictly speaking, turmeric is a rhizome, although most of us refer to it as a root (and probably will keep calling it a root because it grows underground). Think of a rhizome as a sort of stem growing below the surface of the soil… roots then shoot from that.
If a rhizome is broken apart then that piece is able to send off its own shoots and grow a new plant. Starches, proteins and other nutrients are stored in the rhizome, very handy when the plant creates new shoots. When a plant with rhizomes dies back in wintertime this concentration of nutrients acts to keep the plant alive until it can shoot up again. Apparently, turmeric is dormant in the winter, even in tropical climates.
Ginger, bamboo, dandelion, and asparagus are also examples of edible rhizomes.
The health benefits of turmeric
Turmerics vibrant orange pigment curcumin
One of the primary healing agents in turmeric is thought to be derived from its yellow/orange pigment curcumin. Many people use curcumin in isolation with admirable benefits. However, in true holistic style, I feel that for daily purposes, using the ‘whole’ turmeric spice, in fresh or ground form, is optimal for ongoing health and wellness. Fresh turmeric tends to taste less bitter than the dried stuff.
The whole spice contains all sorts of other complimentary phytonutrients that work in collaboration with curcumin.
A powerful natural anti-inflammatory
With modern lifestyles choices, chronic inflammation is a very common issue that people are having to confront. Inflammation plays a role in virtually every modern disease.
Turmeric (and its curcumin) has been said to be more effective than even the most powerful of anti-inflammatory drugs. Another noteworthy benefit being that with turmeric, you do not have to contend with the myriad of side effects that tend to come with pharmaceuticals.
Turmeric is an antioxidant superstar
Antioxidants are the compounds in food that are said to help stop damage to our cells by free radicals. Free radicals are scavengers in the body that can harm our cells if they go unchecked. When everything is in balance then the human body naturally removes normal levels of free radicals from our body. Pollution in addition to less healthy food or lifestyle choices can increase free radicals in our bodies a heck of a lot. In turn, this can lead to most western disease, such as cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, asthma, arthritis, psoriasis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes etc. Free radicals are where it all starts, so we definitely want to keep them in check.
Antioxidants dramatically help to remove free radicals whilst, at the same time, enhancing the natural antioxidant abilities of our own body. Their rather helpful abilities slow down the aging process, whilst warding off disease and illness.
Turmeric is said to be a plant with one of the highest levels of antioxidant power known on this planet. Studies have shown that the curcuminoids in turmeric are very effective at finding and neutralising free radicals. It is also thought that turmeric can help to prevent the development of free radicals.
Regular use of turmeric in our daily lives (preferably along with other healthy lifestyle choices) could literally stave off all sorts of illness and disease thanks to its remarkable properties.
A promising alternative to Prozac – turmeric may help against depression
One of the unfortunate things about pharmaceutical anti-depressant drugs is the side effects. Whilst they can be essential at times, they can also be a bit like taking a sledgehammer to crack open a walnut! So I am very interested to learn in long-term alternative and preventative measures.
In current times many people look for more natural ways that support the whole human system, holistically. According to the Psychiatry Advisor “Researchers are finding mounting evidence that an anti-inflammatory compound in a common kitchen spice might help reduce symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD).”
Once such reason that it is thought to be helpful against depression is because of turmerics ability to help against inflammatory and oxidative stress (which are associated with depression).
Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention
According to various studies, the compounds in turmeric can be helpful against Alzheimer’s disease. One component of this disease is a buildup of clumps of a protein called amyloid-beta. Studies have shown that the curcumin compound from turmeric is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and may be able to clear away these proteins.
Curcumin has also been shown to reduce neurotoxicity caused by heavy metals in the brain, another factor shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s.
Some of the known health benefits of turmeric…
- promotes healthy joint function
- encourages glowing, clear skin
- works as a powerful anti-inflammatory
- encourages a healthy heart
- improves memory
- supports the digestive system
- is an excellent antioxidant
- helps to cleanse the liver
- has antimicrobial properties
- helps prevent ulcers
- lowers blood pressure
- lowers ‘bad’ cholesterol
- improve menstrual flow
- has anti-cancer properties
Turmeric is a bit of a genius when it comes to defending itself from attack (which it passes on to us)
Phytonutrients are compounds in plants that are responsible for keeping us super healthy. Plants make these compounds themselves in order to keep themselves free from disease and attack. The turmeric plant makes a myriad of compounds to protect itself. It can stave off the elements, bugs, infections, and disease with what it creates within. Mother Nature is a genius! The amazing thing is that when we eat the plant, it passes on these benefits to us.
The list of benefits is remarkably long and we are just scratching the surface in the article with the essentials that we need to know. There are reams of studies available online to show the effectiveness of turmeric (although unfortunately a lot of the studies have been done on animals).
This amazing spice has been used successfully in Ayurvedic and Eastern traditions for thousands of years and more recently in many other traditional cultures. It is well and truly, tried and tested! For in-depth reading on turmeric, along with studies and links, check out this free publication here:
Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Chapter 13: Turmeric, the Golden Spice by Sahdeo Prasad and Bharat B. Aggarwal.
Here is another noteworthy study: Curcumin: A Review of its’ Effects on Human Health
Three ways to take turmeric to get maximum benefit from its nutrients
- Always take it with black pepper
The ‘piperine’ in black pepper has been shown in clinical trials to increase the bioavailability of turmeric and increase absorption into the cells by up to 2000%. Peperine makes it much easier for the beneficial turmeric compounds to pass the intestinal wall. Therefore, it’s strongly recommended that you always add some black pepper when using turmeric.
- Eat with healthy fat
Turmeric is also a fat-soluble food (which basically means that it dissolves in fat), so including healthy fat like avocado, olives, seeds, coconut, hemp/olive/coconut oil at the time of eating will also help better absorption of the turmeric into your system.
- Heat it up
Studies have shown that cooking or heating turmeric can increase bioavailability by 12 times.
Fresh or dried – organic or non-organic?
Fresh organic turmeric is loaded with life force and a tonne of nutritional benefits. If possible, always buy fresh (and organic). If you can’t buy it fresh then look for a good quality organic dried and powdered version.
Non-organic is actually not going to be as potent. Pesticides and chemicals make the plant a little lazy, so it doesn’t have to work so hard at defending itself and producing those incredible ‘protective’ compounds. This means, in turn, that it has less of those compounds to pass on to us.
Of course, buying turmeric treated with chemicals means that you have to contend with those also, which is not ideal.
Turmeric recipes galore “Let Food Be Thy Medicine”
Hypocrates totally had the right idea when he said: “Let food be thy medicine”…
Personally, I love to know that every bite I eat is enriched with nutritional goodness. I’ve gathered together a list of turmeric recipes here, below, to show you how easy it is to incorporate this delicious spice into your daily cuisine. It seems that there is no limit to the imagination!
Please allow the recipes inspire you to find ways to incorporate this golden spice into your life.