In cooking, herbs and spices boost the flavor of our food. But did you know these same spices and herbs can also deliver health benefits that, in some cases rival our strongest medications? Turmeric, known in the west for its use in Indian cooking, is often referred to as the “Queen of Spices”. It comes from the dry ground root of Curcuma longa, typically found in India and Indonesia. It has a deep yellow-orange tinge, from which it earns one of its nicknames, “Indian saffron”. Health benefits of turmeric include antiinflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, anticarcinogenic, and antioxidant properties. In India and China it has been used medicinally for centuries. In the Western world, however, turmeric is best known for its culinary prowess. Turmeric gives American yellow mustard its bright yellow color. Also, it is one of the main ingredients in curry dishes. It has a bitter, peppery flavor and smells like a mixture of orange peel and ginger. Turmeric´s health benefits are well-known and documented.
The history and the discovery of the benefits of turmeric are fascinating. Both India and China claim to have been the first to use it medicinally. Ancient Polynesians carried turmeric with them on their voyage across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. In 1280 AD, Marco Polo recorded information on the benefits of turmeric in his diary. “There is also a vegetable which has all the properties of true saffron, as well the smell and the color, and yet it is not really saffron.” Even in modern times, in Hawaii turmeric is still used, known to Hawaiians as “Olena”.
Undoubtedly, the most powerful ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin gives turmeric its characteristic yellow color. It is a substance that is non-toxic and is found in turmeric along with other nutrients. These nutrients are included in the list below. The nutrients and quantities in 2 teaspoons (4.52 grams) of turmeric powder is as follows:
Dietary Fiber – 960 mg
Manganese – 0.36 mg
Vitamin B6 – 0.08 mg
Iron – 1.88 mg
Potassium – 114.48 mg
Turmeric has been used for centuries not only in cuisine, but also as an integral part of Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine. (The former relies on turmeric for many external treatments as well as in Java, it is featured prominently in the “Lulur”, a pre-wedding body treatment given to all new brides on their wedding day to beautify the skin). Recent research is beginning to back up many of these time-tested uses with scientific data. The most well-known benefit of turmeric is its anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has been shown to produce anti-inflammatory effects that rival those of ibuprofen and hydrocortisone. As an added benefit, curcumin does not have the potential toxicity that pharmaceutical drugs exhibit.
According to scientific studies, conditions for which turmeric may be beneficial are numerous. These include, but are not limited to the following conditions:
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