Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, is one of the most well-known, widely researched, and commonly used Ayurvedic spices in the world. This golden wonder is used in cooking, as a dietary supplement with numerous health benefits, and even as a topical application for beautification. No delicious curry is complete without turmeric. There’s hardly a system in the body that isn’t supported by the powerful antioxidant qualities of turmeric. And every traditional Indian bride is layered in turmeric paste before her wedding to create that special glow.
Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric, the vibrant yellowish/orange powder that comes from the root of the perennial Curcuma longa plant, has been used for centuries throughout Asia. It has a particular affinity for the blood,1 and is thereby able to circulate its powerful health benefits throughout the body. It is used to support a number of systems and functions in the body:
- Promotes digestion*
- Potent antioxidant activity keeps cells functioning optimally*
- Supports the brain and nervous system*
- Maintains comfortable joint movement*
- Supports healthy blood sugar levels already normal range (especially when combined with neem and amalaki)*
- Supports proper functioning of the liver*
- Nourishes the heart and circulatory system*
- Bolsters the immune system*
Turmeric and Ayurveda: Traditional Uses
Turmeric is used in Ayurveda to balance vata, pitta, and kapha, though in excess, it can aggravate pitta and vata. It has a particular beneficial effect for rasa and rakta dhatu (circulatory system). It also kindles agni, helping reduce kapha and ama. As mentioned above, it is traditionally used for supporting the blood, liver, joints, immune system, and digestive tract.2 Its bitter and pungent taste and heating nature enable it to have a mobilizing and cleansing energy. Turmeric, also known as Haridra, is said to give the energy of the Divine Mother, and to grant prosperity.3 A likeness of Ganesha is often carved in a whole turmeric root, and invokes the strength to overcome obstacles, again granting prosperity and success. Turmeric is also popular in yogic traditions, as it is used to cleanse the subtle channels and chakras, and is traditionally used to support the ligaments in hatha yoga practices.3
How to Use Turmeric
Turmeric is available in powder, tablet and liquid extract forms. The powder is versatile as it can be used in cooking, as a supplement, or as a paste. To cook with turmeric as a spice, just turn to any one of your favorite Ayurvedic recipes. Turmeric is almost a given in most Indian dishes. But if you are new to cooking with turmeric, start slow. It burns easily when added directly to hot oil, and too much will give your food a dark golden color and a strong bitter taste. Cooking is definitely one of the most natural and gentle ways to add the enormous benefits of turmeric to your daily regimen. As a supplement, one can take turmeric with warm water or warm milk, with honey added for taste if desired. Generally, 1–4 grams (¼ to 1 teaspoon) of powder is well tolerated.1, 2 Liquid extract is also available and provides an alternative method of taking ashwagandha. It's convenient, easy to assimilate, and has a long shelf life. And as part of your beauty regimen, the powder can be turned into a simple paste with warm water and used as a mask or a full body paste. For a more luxurious treat, make a paste from 2 teaspoons of gram flour with ¼ teaspoon turmeric, adding milk to the appropriate consistency; you can even add a drop of your favorite essential oil—rose or lavender work nicely. If you need a little extra moisture for your dry skin, add a little almond oil.
WARNING: Applying turmeric to the skin as a beauty treatment is a traditional practice in India. For Westerners with lighter skin, try a test patch on your arm or chin/neck first as some people may experience a yellow staining. If convenience is what you need from your daily supplements, then consider turmeric tablets. This can be an easier method of taking turmeric, especially for those who travel, have a shortage of time, or do not like the taste of turmeric powder. You can keep a bottle at home and a bottle at your office. Banyan Botanicals prefers tablets over capsules as there is still some mild tasting of the herb that occurs. Taste starts the digestive process, and sends signals to the body as to what to expect, already initiating your body’s own inner pharmacy.
Turmeric has become the focus of many a lab in the West, and has been widely researched for its extraordinary benefits. The following sites have good summaries of much of this research:
Of special interest when it comes to modern research on turmeric is whether you are able to derive all the benefits by taking turmeric as a whole herb (in powder or tablet form), or whether you have to take a tablet that has the active ingredient, curcumin, extracted from the whole herb. For centuries, traditional systems like Ayurveda have used turmeric, both fresh and as a dried spice powder, to promote health. In recent years, researchers have promoted the idea that the active ingredient that provides benefit is curcumin, though we don’t know if that is the only active ingredient, and the whole root does have other vitamins and minerals in small quantities.
Studies require that everything is quantifiable, so that if the results are beneficial, people can be told exactly how much to take. Standardized extracts provide this convenience, as you know exactly how much curcumin you are getting, and the studies can be done at “higher doses”. What was discovered through the studies is that curcumin has a low bioavailability—meaning, it gets excreted or metabolized by the body before the active curcumin can reach the blood stream and other organs. This means that just because your supplement has curcumin extract doesn’t mean that your body will be able to get the benefits.
The search began for other substances which could help increase the bioavailability of curcumin. In 1998, there was a study that showed piperine, the active ingredient of black pepper (piper nigrum), given with the curcumin helped increase the levels of curcumin in the blood.4 So people started formulating curcumin extract with black pepper. But black pepper in high doses can be toxic;5, 6 also, black pepper can reduce the metabolism of prescription medications, which means the level of the medications can get too high in the blood stream, causing an overdose.7 So in looking for another method to increase bioavailability of curcumin, a patented formula called BCM-95 CG was found. While the details of this compound are patented, essentially, it uses the other parts of the turmeric root to make the curcumin extract bioavailable. And the conclusion of the scientists who did the initial study on BCM-95 states that the study supports the "probable" role for non-curcuminoid components of turmeric in the absorbability of curcumin.8 In other words, YOU NEED ALL THE PARTS OF THE ROOT! Enter Ayurveda, and our reason for using the whole herb, the way nature intended.
- Caution in pregnancy—use only after discussing with your health care practitioner. Generally considered safe in pregnancy when used in small amounts as a spice in cooking.
- Caution in patients taking blood-thinning and platelet-inhibiting medications.
- Avoid in cases of acute hepatitis, jaundice, gallstones, bile duct obstruction, ulcers, and hyperacidity.
Turmeric is most commonly purchased as a bulk powder or as a tablet. The advantage of buying it in bulk as a powder is that it is significantly cheaper on a per use basis, and it allows one to take the herbs in the most traditional way, including as a spice. Tablets are considered by many to be a quicker, more convenient method of taking the herbs along with providing the option of not having to taste the herbs. Many Ayurvedic practitioners feel that their clients are more likely to take the herbs if they are provided in tablet form. Banyan is excited to bring you its newest product: USDA certified organic Turmeric tablets, available February 2012. In addition to powder and tablets of Turmeric, Banyan Botanicals also uses organic Turmeric in several of its products:
- Blood Cleanse
- Immune Support
- Healthy Kapha
- Joint Support
- Sweet Ease
- I Travel Well liquid extract
- Throat Soother
- Mahanarayan Oil
When choosing a supplier of Turmeric there are a variety of questions to consider relating to quality of the herbs, the values of the company, and the impact on the environment, and the price of the product in relation to these standards of quality.
1 Pole, Sebastian. Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice. Churchill Livingston; 2006. 282-283.
2 Williamson, Elizabeth. Major Herbs of Ayurveda. Churchill Livingston; 2002. 117-121.
3 Frawley, David, and Vasant Lad. The Yoga of Herbs. Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin; 2001. 149-150.
4 Shoba, G. et al. Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta Med. 1998 May; 64(4):353-6.
5 Bezerra, D.P., et al. "In vivo growth-inhibition of sarcoma 180 by piplartine and piperine, two alkaloid amides from Piper." Brazilian journal of medical and biological research: Vol. 39, No. 6, pp. 801-807, 2006:
6 Panda S., et al. "Piperine lowers the serum concentrations of thyroid hormones, glucose and hepatic 5′D activity in adult male mice," Horm Metab Res 2003;35:523-6.
7 Atal, C.K., et al. "Biochemical basis of enhanced drug bioavailability by piperine: evidence that piperine is a potent inhibitor of drug metabolism," American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics: Vol. 232, Issue 1, pp. 258-262, 1985.
8 Antony, B. et al. A Pilot Cross-Over Study to Evaluate Human Oral Bioavailability of BCM-95 CG (Biocurcumax), A Novel Bioenhanced Preparation of Curcumin. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2008 Jul-Aug; 70(4):445-449.