Turmeric (Curcuma longa, C. domestica) is an herb with a reputation. Even people who don’t use herbs for anything beyond flavoring their favorite dishes often know that Turmeric can be used to help reduce chronic inflammation, relieve pain, and help to improve overall health and well-being. I have one friend who is very involved with western medicine and loves to use Turmeric for her gut health, and another who uses it alongside her normal medications to help reduce the severity of painful symptoms related to her chronic medical condition. Turmeric is a user-friendly food herb that people easily recognize. It’s also immensely valuable in the apothecary.
Turmeric is an invigorating, warming herb that contains a wide variety of constituents, including the well-known curcumin, yields an essential oil that contains turmerone and zingiberene, among other constituents, and also contains sugars, protein, bitters, resins, and even vitamins A, B, C, E and K, flavonoids, and minerals like calcium, iron, potassium and zinc. The rhizome is the part of the plant that is most often used in cooking and in the apothecary. I grew Turmeric in my garden this year and it grew happily alongside my Ginger plants throughout our warmer months.
Turmeric boasts a wide variety of therapeutic effects, including the following: analgesic, antibacterial, anticarcinogenic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antimutagenic, antioxidant, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent, blood moving, carminative, cholagogue, emmenagogue, hemostatic, hepatoprotective and vulnerary. As you can see, it’s quite a versatile herb.
For the Digestive System
Turmeric’s doctrine of signatures accurately points to its value as a liver supportive and liver protective herb. One veterinarian who uses Turmeric in his practice says that Turmeric stimulates the flow of bile and can increase its output by as much as 100% whilst also increasing its solubility.(1) Turmeric is commonly indicated for a wide variety of liver ailments as well as gastrointestinal issues and a plethora of other digestive complaints. It supports the digestive process, helps us to better absorb and use the nutrients in our food and helps improve gut flora. Its carminative effect is valuable for alleviating gas and associated discomfort as well.
For the Respiratory System
While many may not think of Turmeric as the first herb to turn to when dealing with a respiratory issue, it is an excellent immune supportive, antiviral(2,3) herb to use when facing a cough or cold and flu symptoms. It is one of the ingredients in the famous Fire Cider remedy. Golden Milk, which features Turmeric as its main herbal ingredient is another traditional remedy that is often taken when the first sign of symptoms appears. Taking Turmeric in a formula that also includes black or white pepper is thought to increase its overall effectiveness.
Turmeric's Other Talents
Turmeric is also used to support the health of cardiovascular system, reduce anxiety levels
(especially in people who tend toward a cold constitution), support healthy menstruation, and is used in a variety of skin care applications. Its antifungal properties are employed in formulas meant to address skin issues such as athlete’s foot, eczema, psoriasis and ringworm and its anti-inflammatory properties are sometimes considered when formulating daily-use skin care products. Topical use blends that are used to help aid recovery after injury or trauma also make use of Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Blends that are formulated for topical use on wounds, insect bites and stings and scrapes and bruises often include Turmeric as an ingredient.
Rosemary Gladstar says that Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effect is accomplished by sensitizing the body’s cortisol receptor sites and speaks of studies that have revealed Turmeric as being stronger acting than hydrocortisone without its harmful side effects.(6)
Its cardiovascular effects include improved circulation and cholesterol levels, anticoagulant properties and protection against heart disease.
Turmeric's Test Results
One trial showed that Turmeric improves the memory of people who had early signs of prediabetes and Alzheimer’s.(5)
Multiple studies have found that Turmeric (and curcumin) has an anti-cancer effect, inducing apoptosis in cancer cells and helping to protect the body’s healthy cells. Pancreatic cancer,(7) head and neck cancers,(8) ovarian cancer,(9) breast cancer,(10,11,12,13,14,15) colon cancer,(16,17) prostate cancer,(18,19) skin cancer(20) and esophageal cancer(21) have all been examined in these studies.
One study found that the anti-inflammatory properties of Turmeric compare with the anti-inflammatory effects of hydrocortisone acetate and phenylbutazone (an NSAID drug used in the treatment of animals).(4)
Turmeric’s herbal extract was found to be as effective as ibuprofen for the treatment of knee arthritis.(23)
When combined with white pepper, Turmeric was found to be able to decrease inflammation.(24)
The essential oil shows promise as a mosquito repellent, especially in combination with a few other essential oils.(25)
Curcuma oil protected mice with hepatic injury from inflammatory and oxidative stress and inhibited hepatoma cell growth in vivo and in vitro.(26) Turmeric’s extract inhibits gastric acid secretion by blocking H(2) histamine receptors.(2)7 It also inhibits entry of all hepatitis C virus genotypes from entering liver cells.(28)
Turmeric’s antiviral effects have been demonstrated in studies involving Zika(29) and other viruses, HIV,(30) and the Herpes simplex virus,(31) among others.
Turmeric also shows promise for use in a number of eye conditions.(32)
Applications and Uses
I love incorporating Turmeric into my skin care routine. I use the hydrosol as a facial toner and I often include the powdered herb in an exfoliating face powder recipe with powdered Rose petals. I also like to combine it with a bit of honey, Turmeric hydrosol, and clay to make a face mask that can be painted onto the skin and left for a few minutes (don’t let it dry out) before rinsing off.
Turmeric is famously used as an herbal dye that produces a vibrant yellow color. It’s no secret that Turmeric likes to stain everything it touches! Because it is so effective at sharing its color with everything around it, it’s often employed as a substitute for saffron in dishes where that brilliant color is desired. It makes fried rice and stir fry dishes beautifully colorful and can make for a fun addition to bread making.
When used for its flavor, Turmeric is perhaps the most noticeable ingredient in curry spice blends. Curried peas and curried roasted cauliflower are favorites in our home. I also love to include a bit of it when making fermented veggies!
Turmeric can be brewed alone as a tea, but is more effective when a bit of black or white pepper is added to the brew. It’s especially tasty when prepared as Golden Milk with a few more pungent, warming spices and bit of honey. I also like to include it in smoothies or use the fresh juice combined with the juice of carrots and lemon in the mornings.
The leaves of the Turmeric plant are used to wrap and steam-cook fish. The rhizome is beautiful in soups and is one of the ingredients in Fire Cider, a traditional herbal remedy. The powdered herb can be used to season grilled meats and add color to a variety of dishes, including potato salad (yum!).
Turmeric is most effective when used steadily over time, so try incorporating it into a variety of dishes to discover how you like it best.
Turmeric for Dogs
Turmeric is also a useful herb to use when caring for animals, especially dogs. It can be sprinkled into their food to assist with / help prevent liver, digestive and cardiovascular ailments. It can also be used topically (infused into a carrier oil or Aloe or used as a hydrosol) for wounds, eczema, and other skin-related issues.
One of my pup’s favorite treats is a scrambled egg cooked with a pinch of Turmeric powder sprinkled into it. I’ll sometimes add Turmeric to her food when I’m cooking up the rice that I include in some of her meals. It turns the rice a brilliant yellow color and adds a bit of flavor as well.
Growing Turmeric in the garden is so easy and so enjoyable. The plants are happy growing next to my Ginger and Plantain and I can’t believe how vibrant Turmeric is when I use it just after digging it up. There’s something special about using an herb therapeutically when it was a living plant just a few moments ago.
Growing: Turmeric can be grown outdoors in partial shade or partial sun during the warmer months and potted up and brought indoors to go dormant for the cooler months (if your growing zone is below 7 or 8; otherwise it can overwinter outdoors in areas where you ground doesn’t freeze). It prefers a moist soil and a humid environment, but I’ve heard reports that it will even grow in dry soil. To plant it, lay the rhizome flat on top of the soil and top-sprinkle with a bit more soil (bits of the rhizome should still be visible). Don’t bury it completely or it could rot. The plant is very easy to grow; I highly recommend planting some in your own garden, greenhouse or sunroom.
Harvesting: Turmeric can be harvested in the fall with other fall-harvested roots, after the leaves have started to lose their color and lushness. The rhizomes can be stored in the fridge for a few months and enjoyed while fresh, but for longer storage, you’ll want to dry them.
Turmeric has the potential to exacerbate signs of excess heat in the body, so if you already tend toward a hot constitution, you’ll want to avoid overusing it. Therapeutic doses should generally be avoided when pregnant or while taking blood thinning medications, but use as a food herb in reasonable amounts is generally regarded as safe.
Essential Oil and Hydrosol
Turmeric essential oil is rich in turmerone and zingiberene, among other constituents. Its therapeutic properties include: analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, aphrodisiac, cholagogue, digestive, restorative, stimulant, stomachic and tonic. It is commonly used to support healthy digestion, relieve muscular cramps, spasms and aches and pains, and to soothe skin ailments with symptoms of excess heat. It is contraindicated for small children and women who are pregnant and may irritate sensitive skin, so use it at a proper dilution and after testing it on a small area before widespread application.
The hydrosol is used topically for skin ailments and in digestive support preparations and is sometimes used internally (in cooking or otherwise) to help support healthy digestion.
How about you? Have you made friends with Turmeric yet? What stands out to you about it?
- Dr. Kidd’s Guide to Herbal Dog Care by Randy Kidd, D.V.M., Ph.D
- Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs, a Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar