In the event of a small emergency arising due to a knife-cut or a burn in the kitchen, guess what an average Indian housewife will do! Well, no prize for answering. She will find the closest and the safest household remedy at hand – the ubiquitous Haldi (turmeric).
India has a rich history of using plants for medicinal purposes. For many years awareness on turmeric and its use as medicine has been continuously increasing. Turmeric has been used as a herb and a spice in our country for thousands of years. This yellow rhizome became the focus of world attention when an American pharmaceutical company moved to get a patent on it.
At first sight, it looks like a field of ornamental plants –
a little wild and unkempt with fat yellow-green leaves but undoubtedly
beautiful. This is the turmeric plant, a native of South Asia. And, since time
immemorial, it has been grown in India. West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra
are its chief commercial producer states.
Turmeric, botanically called Curcuma longa, belongs to the plant family Zingiberaceae. It is known by many names in India – harirda, Nisha and kanchani in Sanskrit and haldi in Hindi and Urdu. I fact, the word turmeric comes from the Latin terra merita which means ‘merits of the Earth.’
The turmeric plant grows up to a height of 3-4 ft and has a short and stout stem. Its leaves resemble newborn banana leaves and are up to 2 ft long and about 6 inches wide. They emit a mango-like fragrance. Its flowers are yellow. The roots or underground rhizomes are fleshy, thick and hard. The roots are ready for market when they are cleaned and boiled for a period of 30 minutes to six hours, according to its different varieties. Then these roots are dried and sold in the market. On grinding, they yield a yellow powder having a strong aromatic odour and a pungent taste.
Scientific analysis of the turmeric powder shows it to contain carbohydrate (69.4 per cent), moisture (13.1 per cent), protein (6.3 per cent), fat (5.1 per cent), minerals (3.5 per cent) and fibre (2.6 per cent).
Its mineral and vitamin contents include calcium, iron, phosphorus, thiamine, niacin and carotene. Its calorific value is 349. Chemically, turmeric contains an active constituent called curcumine which is an essential oil. It has been shown to have a wide range of therapeutic effects. It is a known antibacterial, anti-allergic, carminative, diuretic and anti-oxidant in nature.
The antioxidant property of curcumine protects us from cancer and atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries).
A recent study conducted at the Life Science Department, Mumbai University, has found that turmeric in its alcoholic extract has hypolipidemic effects. Biochemists have extensively studied the unique combination of its properties like its anti-oxidant, hepatoprotective and potential anticancer effects. There also seems to be reasoned speculation that it holds promise against HIV.
While studying the effects of turmeric on people suffering from submucus fibrosis it was seen that the serum total cholesterol levels of these cases were decreased. Turmeric extract may prevent gall stone formations and incidence of colon cancer. Some of the currently used allopathic drugs, apart from their innumerable side effects, are also very expensive. The drugs prepared from turmeric may be cheap and with minimum side effects.
Turmeric is not just a yellow ingredient used in cooking; it is a medicinal plant with countless therapeutic benefits. In Malaysia, turmeric paste is spread on the mother’s abdomen and umbilical cord after delivery for its antiseptic properties. In Himachal Pradesh, fresh roots of turmeric are used as a vegetable to help people traverse the difficult hilly routes. A particular region of Japan where turmeric tea has been consumed traditionally and regularly is also coincidentally the place where the highest numbers of centurions live.
Healing Qualities of Turmeric
Ayurveda credits turmeric with aiding digestion, fighting infections, treating liver and stomach problems and inflammatory disease including arthritis and ulcers and other conditions such a aches, pains, wounds and sprains. Turmeric also reduces heartburn, and is used as a topical ointment for healing wounds and eczema.
A study showed that turmeric has beneficial effects in patients of allergy, asthma, respiratory problems, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, neuro-degenerative diseases, diabetes and cancer. It can modulate the immune system and is known to have anti-viral and antifungal activity.
Curcumin has been shown to inhibit or stop the formation of many different types of cancers in animals exposed to known carcinogens.
According to researchers at the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad, a teaspoonful of turmeric a day can keep cancers at bay. Dr Kamala Krishnaswamy and her colleagues at the NIN have found that it can also decrease the presence of cancer-inducing elements, or mutagens, in humans.
Scientists from the Institute of Cytology and Preventive Oncology (ICPO), Noida, have found that curcumine protects the human body from the deadly human papilloma virus, the main cause of cervical cancer. Speaking to the press recently, ICPO director Dr B. C. Das said, “Curcumine was known to have anti-cancer properties. But nobody knew exactly what type of cancer it could cure, how it could cure and where it acted. For the first time, we have shown how this compound can treat cervical cancer.”
And researchers from the Rutgers’ University’s Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, New Jersey, USA, have found that curry spice turmeric holds good potential for the treatment and prevention of prostate cancer, particularly when combined with certain vegetables. They noted that in contrast to the high incidence of prostate cancer in the USA, the incidence of this disease is very low in India. This is because of the dietary consumption of large amounts of turmeric in our food.
Turmeric is very effective in the treatment of skin disease and a good promoter of complexion. The modern cosmetic industry depends heavily on turmeric. Its paste should be applied to the face and other parts of the body by mixing it with milk, cream or sandalwood paste. If you have ringworm or scabies, apply the juice of raw turmeric externally to the affected area. For speedy recovery, simultaneously take turmeric juice mixed with honey orally.
A totally new facet that has emerged in the past few years is turmeric’s ability to fight malaria. Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, have found that curcumine kills malaria parasites. On the basis of its finding, the team led by biochemist Dr G. Padmanabham, has proposed to the World Health Organization a novel artemisinincurcumine therapy to treat malaria.
The scientists have been granted a US patent for the invention which could potentially bring down the cost of treating malaria, especially the resistant variety. Malaria infects about 2.5 million people in India every year, and it is increasingly becoming resistant to commonly used drugs.
Turmeric prevents the accumulation of amyloidal proteins which lead to plaque formation and initiate disease. It may also reduce the size of a hemorrhagic (bleeding in the brain caused by ruptured vessels) stroke. According to a recent study, reported in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, curcumine is also effective against the harmful impact of arsenic, a poison that can be fatal to humans.
Arsenic, poisoning through drinking water is very common in West Bengal and eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Used both externally and internally, some of the common household prescriptions of turmeric include:
- As household first aid, turmeric powder is applied to cuts and bruises.
- Apply a poultice of the turmeric paste with ghee or sesame oil, when bearably hot. It is an effective remedy for sprains, wounds and inflamed joints.
- Turmeric powder with an equal quantity of sandalwood powder, orange peel and rose leaves is an effective paste to cure blemishes and pimples.
- A powder of equal amounts of turmeric, amla and sugar, if taken (about 1 gm.) twice a day for a couple of weeks, is a tried medicine in conditions involving chronic pruitis and uticaria.
- Persons responding to seasonal changes with flu, coughs and runny noses should take honey mixed with turmeric or boiled milk with turmeric to get relief.
- The juice of raw turmeric rhizome mixed with milk or butter, cleanses the intestines and prevents flatulence and chronic diarrhea.
- About 20 drops of raw turmeric juice mixed with a pinch of salt, taken first thing in the morning is an effective remedy for expelling worms.
- The inhalation of the smoke, after burning turmeric, is recommended in unconsciousness, hiccups and bites.
Ethnologically, turmeric occupies an important position in our life. It is a good and inexpensive substitute for saffron. It forms an integral part of our cuisine, ceremonies and rituals. There is an important function of applying turmeric paste onto both the bride and the groom in the Indian marriage extravaganza. Since the spice is easily available, buying in small amounts is recommended to enhance its medicinal effectiveness and even taste. So, are you a diehard fan of that aloo-gobi subzi made with lots of turmeric? Go, savor it! You will, no doubt, be safe from a lot of diseases.