Turmeric, the Multipurpose Herb
Although I love making Indian food for its myriad colors and flavors, I must admit I never knew why turmeric was used in just about everything – in desserts, in chutneys, in the main course, and in the bedtime mug of milk. Now I know it’s because turmeric is the most beneficial herb you could add to any dish. It cools the stomach, purifies the blood, eliminates toxins, and aids digestion. It’s also an antioxidant. And there’s more.
Turmeric is a golden-yellow slightly bitter powder derived from the boiled, dried, powdered rootstock of a plant that looks very much like ginger. It is the flavoring agent that is most often held responsible for curry stains that don’t wash away easily. But that can be forgiven, as it lowers your risk of cancer, reduces inflammations, is used to treat asthma, arthritis, skin infections, anemia, and several other disorders.
Just as good as an external medicine, turmeric is said to be effective against many, if not all, germs that invade the body. It is used in sunscreens and gets rid of acne without leaving behind scars. It is applied over wounds to prevent infections. It is a fungicide and keeps bugs away from stored grains. Not surprising then that it is the physician’s favorite herb and the subject of several patent wrangles.
Curcumin: Concentrated Turmeric
The main constituent of turmeric is curcumin. This element has been shown to prevent several kinds of cancers in tests on animals. Curcumin can prevent a tumor from growing and spreading through the body. This has been confirmed in studies on animals afflicted with tumors in the colon, prostate gland and breast.
Curcumin’s antioxidant properties destroy free radicals that affect our cells and result in premature aging and several disorders. It strengthens the liver and rids it of toxins. And those at risk of heart diseases can incorporate a pinch of turmeric in their meals to prevent any damage to the arteries. Turmeric also lowers cholesterol levels, and does not allow clots to form in the arteries.
Anti-aging Brain Spice?
Curcumin has also been shown in animal studies to protect the brain as it ages. Asian Indians have at least half the age related brain diseases (like Alzheimer’s disease) of those in the rest of the developed world. One possible explanation is their almost daily consumption of turmeric in dishes like curry.
While curcumin is the concentrated extract of turmeric and can be purchased as a supplement, the ethnobotanist James A. Duke theorizes the synergistic effects of food are more important than just consuming what appears to be the active ingredient.
- Asthma: Add I teaspoon of turmeric powder to a glass of milk. Let this boil over a slow flame for a couple of minutes without spilling over.
- Sore throat: A milk-turmeric drink can be used by those with a sore throat from a cold. If you add a teaspoon of powdered pepper to this (only if you can handle the spice), it acts as an expectorant and clears up the nose.
- Intestinal worms: You will need a teaspoon of fresh juice from raw turmeric first thing in the morning. Add a pinch of salt and sip this before you eat or drink anything else.
- Muscle strain: Take equal quantities of ginger paste and turmeric paste and apply it over the affected area for at least 30 minutes.
- Stomach upset: After a meal that didn’t agree with you, take a cupful of yogurt. Add a spoonful of turmeric to it and eat it.