Herbs & Plants: Turmeric – A major component of curry powder

It is a spice obtained from the turmeric plant. It is a major component of Curry Powder. For thousands of years, cultures around the world have used this delicious spice as a natural medicinal remedy and it is one of the crucial components in traditional Asian cooking and medicinal systems. 

Tumeric contains a yellow-coloured compound curcumin which is often used to colour foods and cosmetics. In fact, it is known to be one of the most effective nutritional supplements in existence made from the rhizome of the turmeric plant; scientifically referred to as Curcuma longa which is a perennial plant belonging to the ginger family of Zingiberaceae. It is a beautiful bright yellow rhizome nicknamed “the golden spice”. It has graced countless cultures around the world with its gorgeous colouring, unique aroma and unique flavour.

Used internationally as a staple spice in cuisine, an element of holistic medicine, an offering in religious ceremonies and even a colouring in cosmetics, turmeric has been providing the world with countless uses and immense health benefits for thousands of years. Interesting to note is that more than 78% of the global supply of turmeric comes from India.

Turmeric is one of nature’s most powerful healers and its medicinal properties have been slowly revealing themselves over the centuries. Traditional medical doctors have used turmeric for treatment and management of diabetes and many other diseases for thousands of years. The rhizome, which is generally the part of the plant that is most widely used can be prepared in various ways and is reputed to alleviate asthma and coughs. Hot water extracts of the dried rhizome have been taken orally in traditional medicine to reduce inflammation and also used to counteract the ageing processes.

Roasted turmeric has been used as an ingredient of a preparation used for dysentery. In some communities, turmeric is applied to the skin for treatment of pain, ringworm, sprains and swellings, bruising, leech bites, eye infections, acne, psoriasis, inflammatory skin conditions and skin sores, soreness inside the mouth, infected wounds and gum disease.

The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin which gives turmeric its characteristic yellow color and high medicinal values including the anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. In fact, as an anti-inflammatory, curcumin may help reduce the most prominent symptoms of arthritis in the body. Turmeric root or its extract can be used topically or orally to fight inflammation in and out of the body. Powdered turmeric, when dissolved in water and applied with a compress to the site of swelling can provide immediate and long-lasting relief to the site of muscle soreness, sprains, swelling, joint inflammation and even general aches and pains. Curcumin compound contained in turmeric has beneficial heart health properties by acting as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent and hence reducing the chances of one suffering from cardiovascular complications.

As an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, curcumin is thought to lower the risk of cells in the body becoming damaged, reducing the risk of cell mutations and cancer. Additionally, curcumin compound has anti-tumour properties, limiting the growth of tumours and spread of cancerous cells. Studies have also shown that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of curcumin compound in turmeric may help reduce the symptoms of chronic or long-lasting lung conditions. For a healthy living therefore, we need to start eating turmeric curry much more often. (Richard Komakech)