Tumeric, a boldly flavored spice known for its yellow color, is one of the earliest recorded plants used for medicine, and it is still being used for health purposes. Around 4,000 years ago it gained popularity as a culinary spice used in cooking in India. To this day, it still has a special role in Indian culture, where it is known as haldi.
The Indian Ayurveda system of herbal medicine has used turmeric as a way to strengthen and warm the body since around 500 BCE. The term Ayuverda means “science of life,” and the name fits, because it is a natural form of healing. Ayurvedic practitioners believe that inhaling burning turmeric fumes is a cure for digestion and that its juices could be used for healing bruises and wounds. They also use turmeric paste to treat shingles. Ayurvedic literature values turmeric so much that there are over 100 different words it uses to describe it.
The Hindu religion views turmeric as a symbol for fertility and prosperity. On wedding days, people spread turmeric paste on the face and body of both the bride and groom. Also, instead of instead of giving out a ring like western cultures, the groom ties a necklace dyed with turmeric paste around the neck of the bride. In southern parts of India, turmeric is used to fend off evil spirits, while it is sometimes used to adorn gods as well.
Some people use turmeric as a clothing dye and it is a very common dye for Indian and Bangladeshi clothing. It is actually used to dye the robes of Buddhist monks, as it gives off a yellow color. In Kerala, a southern state in India, children are given turmeric-dyed robes to wear during Onam, a traditional Hindu harvest festival.
History shows that around 800 AD, turmeric had already spread across most of Asia, and was beginning to be traded across Africa. By the 18th century, it began to reach tropical locations such as Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Hawaii. It took until the mid 20th century for the Western world to start to realize the benefits of turmeric.
The reason why turmeric has gained so much popularity in the health and nutrition community is the fact that it contains curcumin, a valuable substance that provides turmeric’s distinct yellow color. Curcumin is a super antioxidant and is known to protect the body’s cells. It is so powerful and has so many uses that some view turmeric as the most effective nutritional supplement in existence. Here are just a few of the proven benefits of turmeric and curcumin, which can
- Serve as nature’s aspirin: Scientists have found the turmeric might serve as an anti-inflammatory. This is helpful because inflammation contributes to many Western diseases.
- Lower the risk of heart disease: Inflammation and oxidation (stress that can harm cells) can contribute to heart disease. Turmeric and curcumin might help in both of these areas. As a matter of fact, some doctors believe that they can be just as important as exercise.
- Possibly prevent and treat cancer: Studies have shown that curcumin reduces the growth of red blood cells in tumors, stops the spread of cancer, and can even help kill cancerous cells.
- Potentially fight depression: In a controlled trial, researchers compared the effects of taking curcumin and Prozac and found that curcumin appears to have antidepressant effects. Curcumin is also helpful in boosting neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.
- Provide a cure for hangovers: Turmeric can help fight alcohol detox side effects by reducing inflammation and calming the digestive system. It can help fortify the liver and stomach and help the body process alcohol.
The turmeric plant itself stands at about three feet tall. It is a highly branched plant whose colors range from yellow to orange and contains flowers and rhizomes, which are horizontal plant stems. The actual spice comes from the rhizome and looks very similar to ginger. India is the largest producer of turmeric, but it can be grown anywhere with a tropical climate.
About the author: About the author: Connor Hayes is a graduate of Michigan State University. Currently, he is freelance writer focusing on the topics of health, addiction, and recovery. In his free time, Connor enjoys watching sports, cooking and reading.