Healing from the Pantry: Turmeric
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is one of those easily overlooked spices that may be gathering dust in your pantry. Maybe that should change. Turmeric is a mustard-yellow powder made from the dried, ground roots of a subtropical plant related to ginger. It imparts an earthy flavor and a fluorescent-yellow color to a variety of savory dishes. Like ginger, it grows in Asia and has been used as both a food and an important healing herb for thousands of years.
Even the Ancient Romans treasured this curiously yellow rhizome. In fact, it’s modern name comes from its original name in Latin, which roughly translates as “valuable earth”. Turmeric is most familiar to Americans as a foundational ingredient in Indian curry dishes. Barring that, it’s probably familiar to you as the ingredient that puts the yellow pop in prepared classic American-style mustard. But like ginger, turmeric deserves another look. And way more respect.
Chemicals in turmeric, known as curcumin, are among the most amazing in the plant kingdom. Scientists have been studying curcumin for a number of years now, and findings about the amazing properties of this rhizome continue to accumulate in the literature. The majority of findings show that curcumin is a powerful, safe substance with a wide range of beneficial properties.
For instance, some curcumin compounds offer great promise as cancer-preventing agents, while others have anti-viral, antibiotic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A recent study reported that curcumin even works in concert with modern antibiotics to make them more effective against potentially dangerous infections. Another research team reported recently in the Alternative Medicine Review that curcumin is an exceptionally multifunctional chemical “capable of interacting with numerous molecular targets involved in inflammation.”
Curry dishes are a good way to add this inflammation-fighting functional food into your diet, but you can also add turmeric to soups, stews and other dishes for a subtle, earthy flavor.
Jurenka JS. Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent of Curcuma longa: a review of preclinical and clinical research. Altern Med Rev. 2009 Jun;14(2):141-53.
Schaffer M, Schaffer PM, Zidan J, Bar Sela G. Curcuma as a functional food in the control of cancer and inflammation. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011 Nov;14(6):588-97. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834bfe94