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Turmeric

Latin Names: Curcuma longa

Other Names: Asabi sufr, Uruq al-sabbhaghin (Arabic); Kaf maryam, Zard-chubah (Persian); Haldi (Hindi); Haridra (Sanskrit); Jiang Huang (Yellow Ginger – Chinese)

Taxonomy: Vegetable Kingdom, Zingiberaceae (Ginger) family

Part Used: Root or rhizome; Curcumin extract

Basic Qualities: Hot 2, Dry 2

Other Qualities: light, penetrating, scraping, dissolvent, dispersing.

Taste: Pungent, bitter, aromatic

Humoral Dynamics: Sanguine – invigorates and vitalizes the blood, improving its circulation; nourishes and promotes the generation of blood; scrapes the blood of excess fats, cholesterol and sugar; stimulates and procures the menstrual flow in women; benefits the skin and complexion.  Phlegmatic – dissolves and attenuates thick, tough accumulations of phlegm through its heating and drying properties; cleanses and purifies the plasma and lymph.  Choleric – a cholagogue and choleretic that increases the production and flow of bile in the hepatobiliary system; relieves spasms of the gall bladder and biliary ducts; relieves jaundice.  Melancholic – has antirheumatic and antiarthritic properties; relieves colic and spasms in the biliary and digestive tracts.  Avicenna calls Turmeric a dissolving drug which, by virtue of its heat, gradually dissolves, evaporates and dislodges tough, thick humors until they are gone.

Tropism: The skin; the blood, plasma and lymph; the liver, gall bladder, bile and hepatobiliary system; the bones and joints; the uterus and female reproductive system; the large intestine; the pelvic cavity and its organs.

Constituents and Pharmacology: The chief active constituent of Turmeric is Curcumin, as well as other phenylpropanoids, such as Curcumenone, Curcumenol and various yellow pigments.  Turmeric also contains various essential oils, such as Sesquiterpene Ketones, Zingiberene, Phellandrene, Borneol and Cineole.  It also contains Glycans such as Ukonans.  Curcumin, the chief active constituent in Turmeric, is known mainly as an antirheumatic and an anti-inflammatory for the bones and joints.

Medicinal Properties: Alterative, antifungal, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, antilipidemic, antimicrobial, antirheumatic, carminative, cholagogue, choleretic, depurative, emmenagogue, hepatic, stomachic, tonic, vulnerary

Cautions and Contraindications: The intense heating and drying properties of Turmeric can make it provocative of excess heat and choler in the body, which often manifests in sores and ulcers of the tongue or mouth. For this reason, Turmeric often combines well with bitter, cooling herbs. Curcumin, the extract and chief active ingredient of Turmeric, seems to be much more temperate and balanced, and not so heating. This hot, dry nature of Turmeric is kind of paradoxical when one considers that it, like its botanical cousin Ginger, is also anti-inflammatory. The emmenagogue and blood thinning properties of Turmeric also make it contraindicated, except in small culinary doses, in pregnancy, or for those who are taking prescription blood thinners. Check with your doctor before using Turmeric, especially in large and/or continuous doses. Because Turmeric stimulates the flow of bile, some have advised caution in its use if gall stones are present – check with your doctor.

Medicinal Uses: Being a rather potent herb, Turmeric is mainly used as a powder or as an alcoholic extract or tincture in small doses, formulated with other herbs. It is known and used mainly as an alterative or blood purifier that stimulates the circulation of blood and procures or brings on the female menstrual flow. It also cleanses the liver and improves the production and flow of bile. In Ayurvedic medicine, a milk decoction of Turmeric is made as a tonic to treat skin rashes and blemishes, and to treat rheumatic and muscular aches and pains, and to speed recovery from an athletic workout. Ayurvedic medicine also recognizes Turmeric’s properties in scraping accumulations of excess sugar, fats and cholesterol from the blood in type two diabetes, high cholesterol / triglycerides and metabolic syndrome. In Chinese Medicine, Turmeric is used as an antirheumatic herb, being recognized chiefly for use in arthritic and rheumatic aches and pains of the shoulders, arms and upper extremities, either internally or topically. Turmeric stimulates the menstrual flow and procures a woman’s courses as an emmenagogue, and helps dissolve gynecological fibroids, cysts, endometriosis and other growths, by dispersing tough, stagnant accumulations of excess blood and phlegm. In combination with other herbs, Turmeric is a good vulnerary herb in topical liniments to treat sprains, bruises and other traumatic injuries. Avicenna considers Turmeric to be useful in treating obstructive jaundice, especially when taken with Anise and white wine. He also recommends Turmeric extract, presumably topically, for improving eyesight, and for removing corneal opacity and water covering the pupil of the eye. Chewing a piece of Turmeric, he says, is useful for treating toothaches. Avicenna recommends Turmeric for treating the nerves and protecting them against injury; in Chinese Medicine, Turmeric is recognized as an herb that opens up the meridians, or subtle energy channels of the body.

Other Uses: Turmeric is probably best known and used as a culinary herb, where it is the chief ingredient of curry powder, giving it the bulk of its flavor and aroma, as well as its distinctive yellow color. Because of all its valuable health benefits, those who eat a lot of curry and Turmeric in their diets enjoy better health overall than people who don’t, with the chief benefits being blood purification, better blood circulation, and better liver, female and intestinal health. One of the reasons that Turmeric was used as the main ingredient in curry powders is that it has antimicrobial properties, and also helps the liver detoxify from foods that may be toxic, impure, or less than perfectly fresh. And so, spicing food up in curries in tropical countries like India can be seen as a kind of prophylactic against food spoiling and poisoning. Turmeric can also be used for its intense yellow dye, to stain fabrics and other things yellow; those who have spilled their curry on their white clothes know all too well what I am talking about! Another interesting use of Turmeric is to get medicinal leeches to release their sucking grip on the body – just dust the area around the leech with a little Turmeric powder and the leech disengages.

Preparation and Dosage: Because it is a rather potent herb, Turmeric is best used in small doses, and in medicinal formulas with other herbs. And for Choleric types with a lot of heat and choler in their bodies, I would recommend using it very judiciously, and only in small doses, preferably in combination with other, more cooling herbs. Sebastian Pole, in Ayurvedic Medicine, recommends using from one to ten grams per day of the dried root (much less for Choleric types, I would say) or 3 – 15 ml. per day of a 1: 3 alcoholic tincture. Listen to your body and how it responds, and adjust the dose accordingly.

Herbal Formulation: As I said, because it is a quite potent herb, with strong heating and drying properties, Turmeric is usually best used in small doses, formulated with other herbs. It combines well with bitter tonics or aperitifs to treat the liver, with emmenagogues to regulate the menstrual flow, with antiarthritics and antirheumatics to treat arthritis and rheumatism, and in vulnerary formulas to speed the healing and recovery from traumatic injuries. The light, penetrating and dispersing properties of Turmeric make it an ideal herb for “lightening up” and improving the circulation and assimilation of other ingredients in herbal formulas which would otherwise be too rich, heavy or cloying in nature.

Classic Combinations: With Cape Aloes to cleanse the liver and the blood, stimulate the menstrual flow and promote the healing of traumatic injuries. With Neem to lower blood sugar and cholesterol in type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. With Frankincense and/or Myrrh as a vulnerary to treat traumatic injuries, and to act as an antirheumatic and anti-inflammatory for the bones and joints. With Picrorrhiza / Kutki to treat jaundice and hepatitis, and to relieve congestion and bilious conditions of the liver. With Fenugreek seeds to liquefy and disperse phlegm, and to improve the metabolism and generation of the Four Humors in the liver.

Description: It is a classic case of the Doctrine of the Signatures that Turmeric, with its bright yellow color, is an herb for treating the liver, the bile and the hepatobiliary system. It is a classic case of botanical family relations that Turmeric, like its botanical cousin Ginger, should be an herb for cleansing and improving the circulation of the blood and lymph, as well as stimulating digestion and the metabolic fire; paradoxically, both herbs, in spite of their heating or warming properties, also have anti-inflammatory properties. In terms of its basic properties, the heating and drying properties of Turmeric make it a good herb for dissolving and drying up stagnant accumulations of toughened phlegm. The scraping properties of Turmeric cleanse the blood and the subtle channels of the body of excess fats, cholesterol and sugar, making it an excellent herb or dietary supplement in type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and metabolic syndrome. The penetrating and dispersing properties of Turmeric make it an herb that opens up the meridians or subtle energy channels of the body, giving it antirheumatic and antiarthritic properties as well.

Turmeric works powerfully on the stomach, liver and intestines. It stimulates the digestive and metabolic fires of the stomach and liver, improving digestion and neutralizing toxins, as well as improving the metabolism and generation of the Four Humors in the liver, principally blood. Turmeric purifies the blood, plasma and lymph and thins toughened accumulations of blood, phlegm and other humors. Its antifungal and antimicrobial properties cleanse the intestines, primarily the large intestine, reducing intestinal fermentation and putrefaction and improving intestinal flora and immunity. By thinning the blood and improving its circulation, Turmeric stimulates the female menstrual flow in amenorrhea or dysmenorrheal and regulates the menses. The heating, drying and dispersing properties of Turmeric make it an important and useful herb in dissolving uterine fibroids, cysts and endometriosis, and as a female tonic and blood cleanser in these conditions, Turmeric combines well with bitter tonics like Aloe and Rhubarb.

Turmeric also improves the production and flow of bile in the hepatobiliary system, and although it relieves spasms of the gall bladder and biliary ducts, caution is advised in its use if gall stones should be present. Although Avicenna recommended its use in obstructive jaundice in combination with Anise and white wine, because of its heating properties, Turmeric is generally contraindicated in cases of acute jaundice and hepatitis with marked fever and inflammation. Nevertheless, Turmeric is a powerful hepatoprotector and liver detoxifying herb that helps the liver detoxify from food poisoning and the toxic residues of impure food. As a hepatoprotector, Turmeric is complemented very well by the bitter, cooling properties of Kutki or Picrorrhiza. In improving the overall humoral metabolism of the liver, Turmeric is also complemented well by Bitter or Cape Aloes, which attenuates or dissolves accumulations of thick, toughened humors. Perhaps the best way to use Turmeric in treating liver and biliary disorders is to use it judiciously in small doses in combination with other hepatic and bitter tonic herbs. Turmeric breaks up and disperses humoral congestion in a sluggish, torpid liver.

As a metabolic stimulant, Turmeric is also useful in lowering blood sugar and lipid levels for those who have type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol or metabolic syndrome. For this purpose, it combines very well with Neem leaves and/or Bitter Aloe. Turmeric has the ability to “scrape” deposits of excess sugar and fats from the blood, as well as from the blood vessels and channels of the body. Consumed daily in curries and other culinary preparations, Turmeric will stimulate the metabolism and keep it functioning smoothly and efficiently. In addition to opening and scraping the blood vessels, Turmeric also has the ability to open the meridians, nadis and subtle energy passageways of the body, a property which makes it very useful and efficacious in treating arthritis and rheumatism, according to Chinese Medicine. Whether used internally or topically / externally, Turmeric is especially efficacious in treating arthritis and rheumatism in the shoulders, arms and upper extremities. It is also beneficial in treating gout. In Ayurvedic medicine, a hot milk decoction of Turmeric is used to relieve pain and discomfort in the muscles, bones and joints, and to speed recovery after an athletic workout. The same preparation is also efficacious for treating skin rashes and disorders, such as urticaria psoriasis and eczema. Avicenna wrote in the Canon of Medicine that Turmeric benefits and beautifies the complexion.

Turmeric is also a favorite in herbal first aid medicines for traumatic injuries. Being an herb that invigorates the circulation and disperses stagnant or congealed blood, Turmeric will disperse extravasated blood in bruises and contusions. Applied topically, Turmeric can also numb pain, whether from arthritis and rheumatism, or from injuries and trauma. Avicenna recommends chewing on a piece of Turmeric to treat the pain of a toothache. Along with other popular herbs such as Aloe, Frankincense and Myrrh, Turmeric is a frequent and favored ingredient in herbal liniments, usually alcoholic extracts, that are used to treat traumatic injuries, or as wound dressings. Only one word of caution is needed here regarding the topical use of Turmeric – it leaves an intense yellow stain, so make sure that it does not stain your clothes! An old Chinese remedy for rheumatic or arthritic pains of the shoulder joint or upper extremities is to make a paste with roughly equal parts of powdered Turmeric, peanut oil and fresh grated Ginger root and apply it topically in liberal amounts. Bandage it up well to keep the medicine in contact with the affected area – and to avoid stains! In his Canon of Medicine, Avicenna calls Turmeric an herb that protects the nerves from damage; this use extends, I feel, to treating neuromuscular aches and pains due to the accumulation of melancholy and cold rheumatic humors in the muscles, bones and joints. As Chinese Medicine says, Turmeric opens up the subtle energy channels of the body, which is a property that many herbs to treat arthritis and rheumatism share. In Ayurvedic medicine, Turmeric is recognized as an herb to purge the head of superfluous humors. Avicenna recommends a topical application of Turmeric extract for treating corneal opacity and excessive fluid over the pupil of the eye. In conclusion, Ayurvedic physicians have called Turmeric a Vaidya, or herbal doctor, since it treats such a wide variety of conditions and disorders.

Related Species: There are four major types or varieties of Ginger or Ginger-like roots that are used in herbal medicine. White Ginger, which has a pale Caucasian-like complexion, is the Ginger that most people know and love. Turmeric is Yellow Ginger, as evidenced by its Chinese name, which means just that. Galangal is the hot, spicy Red Ginger commonly used in Thai cuisine. And Zedoary root is the dark, swarthy variety of Ginger that is quite close to Turmeric in its essential properties and uses, being a bit more temperate and cooler in nature. These four main varieties of “Ginger” – Ginger, Turmeric, Galangal and Zedoary root – with their four colors of White, Yellow, Red and Black, respectively, parallel in their overall complexions not only the four races of man, but also the Four Humors.

These four main varieties of “Ginger” share a lot of therapeutic properties in common. All of them stimulate the digestive and metabolic fires of the body. All of them improve the circulation of blood, plasma and lymph, with the possible exception of Galangal which seems to work more specifically on the stomach and digestive organs. In addition to these four varieties, there is another fifth variety, native to India, called Amba Haldi, or “Wild Turmeric”. In its basic properties and uses, it closely resembles both Turmeric and Zedoary root, being somewhere in between the two in its overall nature and temperament, like a cooler variety of Turmeric. Chinese herbal medicine utilizes yet another variety of Turmeric, called Yu Jin, whose botanical name is Curcuma aromatica. It is considerably cooler and blander than Turmeric, and is used to relieve the congestion and stagnation of not only blood, but also Qi, or vital energy, in the liver.

Sources: The Canon of Medicine by Avicenna, Volume 2, pp. 1094 - 1096. Compiled and edited by Laleh Bakhtiar, @2012 by Laleh Bakhtiar. Published by Great Books of the Islamic World, Inc., Distributed by Kazi Publications, Inc., Chicago, IL USA.

Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice by Sebastian Pole, pp. 282 - 283. @2006 by Elsevier Ltd.

DISCLAIMER:  The information contained on this page is intended for educational purposes only, to inform the reader as to the traditional uses of the herb or medicinal substance, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or medical condition.  The author advises the reader to consult with his or her physician before use.