Common Names

Turmeric , Curcuma, Indian saffron
Botanical Name
Curcuma longa L.

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What is it?

This is the root that gives the familiar intensely yellow spice that colours curries and flavours a great deal of Asian and Indian cooking. Turmeric itself comes from a long lived plant that produces copious amounts of these roots that can be harvested from the plant each year. Turmeric needs much heat and water to thrive and is grown exclusively in tropical or sub-tropical parts of the world such as India, Haiti, Jamaica, Indonesia and the Philippines.




How has it been used?

Turmeric is such an integral herb to ancient Indian medicine and culture that it is difficult to know where to begin describing its traditional uses. It has long been honoured in Ayurvedic medicine as a whole body cleanser and a medical herb for infections, dysentery, arthritis, fevers and digestive diseases.

Physicians from ancient China likewise highly regarded Turmeric to treat liver and gallbladder problems, menstrual disorders and for chest congestion.

Turmeric is one of a group of herbs that seem to have actions on so many systems that you could say the whole body must feel its effects. The Immune system and blood health in particular are clearly benefited by Turmeric. Liver and gall-bladder disease are traditionally treated with it, as is high cholesterol. Diabetes has been traditionally treated using Turmeric. Heart and blood clotting disorders are also seen as part of its field of action.


Science on Turmeric

Rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation in general sees many historical applications for Turmeric and in recent years modern science has become particularly interested in these ‘anti-inflammatory’ effects. There are now literally hundreds of studies into the main active ingredient of Turmeric (Curcumin) which appears to have many potent actions as an anti-oxidant and inflammation modulator with the added benefit of being extremely safe to take in large amounts.

~ In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, treatment with Turmeric (2 grams daily for 7 days) was significantly better than placebo for patients with dyspepsia (Thamliktkul MD, Bunyapraphatsara N, Dechatiwongse T et al. J Med Assoc Thai 1989;72(11)613-620)

~ In a placebo-controlled study Turmeric (1.5 grams per day for 30 days) significantly reduced the excretion of urinary mutagens compared to the placebo group - mutagens in the urine are used to measure the toxicity of the ingested substance (Polassa K, Raghuram TC, Krishna TP et al. Mutagenesis 1992;7(2):107-109)

~ When postoperative inflammation was used as a model for evaluating anti-inflammatory activity, curcumin (1200mg per day) was found to have greater activity than phenylbutazone or placebo in a double-blind clinical trial (Satoskar RR, Shah SJ, Shenoy SG. Int J Clin Pharmacol 1986;24:651-654)

~ In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial, patients with osteoarthritis received a preparation containing Turmeric, Withania, Boswellia and zinc or a placebo for 3 months. Treatment with the herbal group produced a significant drop in severity of pain and disability (Kulkarni RR, Patki PS, Jog VP et al. Ethnopharmacol 1991;22(1-2):91-95)

Safety of Turmeric

Turmeric is an extremely safe herb that may be used by the very young or elderly and by pregnant women (it is given to allay nausea of pregnancy in Ayurvedic medicine) and whilst breastfeeding (it is used in Fiji to encourage the production of milk)

The German E commission advises not to use Turmeric when there is obstruction of the biliary tract or the presence of gall-stones. It is recommended not to use very high doses (over 10 grams a day) if taking anti-coagulant or antiplatelet medicines.


Personal experiences

I use a great deal of Turmeric in my practice and frequently include it into herbal formulae from a liquid extract that we make ourselves (with astonishing bright yellow cloths and glassware to prove it when the deed is done!).

Whilst it is widely used as a natural 'anti-inflammatory' I think a better understanding of Turmeric is that by warming and cleansing the body it naturally supports the body in what it is trying to do, in effect helping to resolve the need for inflammation as opposed to trying to stop it.

If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or if you have your own reasons to want to understand this plant at a much deeper level then I warmly encourage you to take a tsp of dried Turmeric which is quite possibly already sitting in your kitchen panty, then slurry it up with a little warm water and drink. It's really not that hard to get down like this and you will certainly have taken a strong enough dose for your body to fully notice its 'arrival'. This old way of experiential learning can do more to show you the 'action' of the herb than any amount of academic study. If you do this with an open and attentive mind I think you may well get a visceral sense of your own of just how deeply Turmeric can penetrate when it is needed- but I guess the only way to know is to try and see for yourself!

Dosage is a bit tricky when it comes to Turmeric. There are now quite a few products of concentrated Turmeric extracts on the market. These are not your usual herbal extracts in a pill but rather extremely concentrated selected ingredients from the herb.

To put this into perspective, an example is that one of the ones I tried out contained enough ‘curcuminoids’ in just one pill that you would have had to have taken 50 normal pills of Turmeric to get the equivalent amount of those particular chemicals!

In many ways this is an exact replica of how drugs first came into existence. Only a few hundred years ago virtually all medicine was made from herbs but with the explosion of scientific development in the Renaissance there came the ability to concentrate individual ingredients from herbs to make more powerful substances that could be taken in much smaller quantities. Aspirin, from Willow bark and Meadowsweet, was one of the first to do this.

I did give quite a few of these concentrated products a try and I certainly did so with an open mind! There is always some degree of doubt in medicine whatever you do. If people get better then you know it was the combination of everything that was responsible. Likewise when they don’t improve the reasons can be many, varied and complex, not just down to one product or another. Having said that you can still read patterns and get a clear feel for what works reliably, I won't say that I wouldn't be willing to give them another try but at the time of writing I have decided that I prefer the messy 'Galenical' (whole-herb) Turmeric treatments over the concentrates. They whole herb just seems to work more reliably for more people...

Turmeric is a potent herb that seems to particularly help when people have stuck 'heat' (inflammation) in their body. Turmeric combines perfectly with Licorice for general inflammation, with Devil's claw for deep arthritis and with another intense yellow root, Golden Seal, to help clear stuck 'heat' from the liver and so help the body get on top of its self-repair.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Turmeric is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Turmeric can particularly offer its benefits when a cleansing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.

Further facts on Turmeric.

  • The turmeric plants were cultivated by Harappan civilization earlier in the 3000 B.C.
  • It is basically a tropical plant of ginger family is the rhizome or underground stem, with a rough, segmented skin.
  • The maximum production of Turmeric (approximately 90%) is in India.
  • Turmeric is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic agent.
  • The ancient Greeks were aware of Turmeric but, unlike its close relative Ginger, it did not catch on in the West as a medicinal or culinary herb and was really only used to make dyes. ,
  • In recent centuries Turmeric was used to make Turmeric paper which was the precursor to Litmus paper for testing how acid or alkaline a substance was.


Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd