mixture of one part of pulverized turmeric and 20 parts of
alum is very efficacious in chronic purulent discharge from the ear;
from the fumes of burning turmeric is recommended in nasal catarrh and
hysterical fits.” – J.F. Dastur, Medicinal
Plants of India and Pakistan
A superior herb hiding beneath media hype
longa, or jiang huang has
been enjoying the limelight in recent months.
It was the herb-du-jour, in the wake of the
Vioxx scandal, along with a
bit of research funding and an urban myth that Indian women never
breast cancer. Media
rarely bodes well for a single herbal agent.
The efficacy of such herbal giants as
ssp.), Kava Kava (Piper methysticum)
and Saint John’s Wort (Hypericum
perforatum), have been called into question by poorly
executed studies that followed media fanfare.
Ma huang (Ephedra
been banned from our pharmacopeia because of inappropriate applications
promulgated by mainstream news. Like the latest Hollywood starlet,
would build them up to otherworldly proportions, only to exaggerate,
fabricate scandals and falls from grace.
All of the studies that
render the aforementioned herbs
impotent have resulted in scholarly critiques.
Yet these rebuttals seem to reach the ears of
the choir only, with the
mainstream media/ pharmaceutical corporations honing in on their next
This herb has a rich and
long history in the Indian
subcontinent, China and Southeast Asia. Spice blends have employed the
powdered rhizome for its deep, aromatic nature that harmonizes so many
flavors. While its vibrant color fades much faster than saffron on
has a much stronger medicinal track record. Traditional Asian medicine
employed this herb for many blood and dermatological disorders,
disorders including irritable bowel syndrome or excess gas, and for
musculoskeletal problems, as a specific for shoulders. As
the doctrine of signatures dictates through its hue, this herb is
useful for hepatic and biliary disorders, treating jaundice, hepatitis,
Spicy, bitter and warm.
Enters the spleen and
Turmeric is a specific
remedy for shoulder pain according
to traditional Chinese wisdom.
powder, oleoresin, fresh sources
Traditonal wisdom has
been impressively substantiated and
augmented by modern research, which recognizes turmeric in benefiting
following organ systems and diseases:
Chronic and acute
production and secretion of bile)
especially against hepatitis and
Non-healing or necrotic
Shoulder pain, especially
Urinary tract tonic
Uterine Stimulant: Treats
amenorrhea and dysmennorhea
With proven effectiveness
in rheumatoid as well and
osteoarthritis, this could be a promising herb for fibromyalgia, Lyme’s
disease, and other autoimmune pain syndromes.
My research revealed a
surprising number of topical
applications for this plant rhizome.
our age topical application of herbs is a neglected area.
At times, topical application is far more
efficient and efficacious than
ingestion. Of course, it does require more commitment on the part of
enthusiasm on the practitioner’s end is in order. An acute outbreak of
or impetigo can be effectively eliminated. Turmeric can also help most
skin conditions, as well as infections, trauma and swellings. Hardly
agent has such a breadth of topical application with the research to
Turmeric essential oil is
available in commerce, and is
credited with these functions:
use essential oils topically for
the most part. This entails diluting the oil substantially (1 to 30
ounce depending on the individual oil and treatment) and its
application on a
specific area. European doctors often prescribe essential oils for
and turmeric is suitable in each capacity.
Two things to bear in mind are that essential
oils are extremely potent
and should not be prescribed internally without extensive education,
topical application can cause stained skin and clothing.
grams daily, powdered or decocted into a tea. Fresh rhizome can be used
but beware of the tenacious oleoresin dyeing everything it touches.
Cautions and contraindications
Some sources advise
caution in cases of bile duct
obstruction and gallstones, while others indicate the herb for this.
during lactation and helpful for infantile colic, its
properties make it a risk to consume during pregnancy.
This caution does not convince millions of pregnant
women to abstain from curry, I imagine.
As overwhelming it can be
to take in a list of this
magnitude, other adaptogenic herbs can boast this volume of functions.
that these are non-toxic, food-like herbs that we as a species have
with, and that they should be close personal friends.
No prescription drug could offer this breadth
with so few side effects. My guess is that an herb of this stature will
reveal its gifts over millenia, like the length of time that we have
shared a relationship.
Good-quality curry pastes
and powders. The
less-gourmet yellow mustard gets its glow from turmeric.
My favorite is the
tincture of fresh rhizome I make from
organic Hawaiian-grown turmeric. Horizon
Herbs in Williams, Oregon sells certified organic rhizomes by the pound
reasonable price. The
excellent for its shelf life, ease of use both topically and
because it retains volatile essential oils much better than a dried or
At our herb shop, we
formulate our own version of Du
Huo Ji Sheng Tang, the liver and kidney tonic that removes
cold. We have taken to augmenting this formula with turmeric extract
and find it
extremely helpful for a wide range of musculoskeletal disorders,
acute tendonitis to sciatica and of course arthritis.
CO2 extracts are an
interesting way to extract herbs for
aromatherapy or internal use. This
product is available for turmeric.
Cooking with turmeric is
another excellent way to reap its
benefits. With an
nearly every organ involved in digestion, pairing the herb with food
will be speaking the appropriate language. Grains, vegetables, legumes
all taste good with this slightly bitter and pungent spice.
My Grandmother even makes cookies that contain
Ginger rhizome, in the same plant family,
anti-inflammatory action as well. They are a wonderful spice pairing in
Pertinence of Turmeric in American Culture
This herb has a certain
luxury in its status as a culinary
herb: it will more likely enter the mainstream consciousness. Perhaps
marketers will embrace this plant, to have it
take hold as the only agent
yet known to give us the joint pain relief that we need with additional
cardiovascular-protective and anti-carcinogenic function we could only
in a drug. People with disorders involving multiple organ disorders
benefit from a single non-toxic agent. Let’s hope that their drug
not get in the way.
John Chen, a Chinese herbalist and pharmacist who is a leading expert
herb-drug interactions, using herbs and drugs together is not the blind
that medical doctors would have us believe.
Analgesics in particular have a poteniating
effect when used with herbs.
If you have any doubts about
or protocols, consult with a professional herbalist. It is a wonder
ancient time-honored herb addresses so many modern American ails gently
Looking toward the future
We who use, know, trust
and prescribe herbs are their
stewards. Big business and government beaurocracies do not have the
inclination to understand turmeric in all its facets and subtleties.
For instance, ecological
and harvesting practices are all the more crucial in a root or rhizome
since the plant gives up its life for this. The scarcity of American
Eastern forests is a sad reminder of this fact. We need to educate
the value of using the whole non-standardized, non-patented herb, and
elegance of nature’s formulations.
herb is a formula in itself, hundreds of constituents creating checks
balances that minimize harmful side effects. It is up to us to
knowledge about the depth of the art of herbalism.
Western science is one lens to focus with, and
as we have seen, it uses
herbs for functions other than the Ayuvedic and Chinese applications. Each culture has its own
take, all are valid, and even
considered together, lack absolute completeness.
Such is the finite nature of our comprehension
of this planet we call
Dastur, J.F.. Medicinal
Plants of India and Pakistan.
Treasure House of Books. Bombay: 1970
Sheppard-Hanger, Sylla. The
Manual. Tampa, Florida. 1998. Chen, John K. & Tina T. Chinese Medical
Herbology and Pharmacology.
Art of Medicine Press.
of Industry: 2004.