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 turmeric. And every traditional Indian bride is layered in turmeric paste before her wedding to create a special glow.
Health 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*
- 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*
The Science of Turmeric
Turmeric has become the focus of many labs 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 it is known that 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 that could help increase the bioavailability of curcumin. In 1998, there was a study that showed piperine, the active ingredient of black pepper (piper nigrum), paired 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
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.
Turmeric and Ayurveda
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 dhatus (the blood and plasma of the circulatory system). It also kindles agni (digestive fire), helping reduce kapha and ama (toxins). As mentioned above, turmeric 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 haldi, or haridra, i, 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
Cooking with Turmeric
To cook with turmeric as a spice, just turn to any one of your favorite Ayurvedic recipes (we’ve listed some below). 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. Try it in a smoothie, use it in soups, add it to roasted veggies, greens, or rice, or try our Kitchari Spice Mix seasoning blend in your next batch of kitchari.
|Golden Honey Recipe|
|Directions: Mix 1 teaspoon turmeric powder with just enough honey to turn it into a paste. Lick it off the spoon and enjoy!|
|Turmeric Milk Recipe|
|Directions: Boil ½ teaspoon turmeric in 1 cup of milk at night and drink 30–45 minutes before bed.|
|Turmeric Ginger Tea Recipe|
|Directions: Place all the ingredients in a pot and simmer for fifteen minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pot cool. Discard the herbs and store the tea in a thermos or in the refrigerator. You may add ½ teaspoon of raw honey to each cup you drink (optional). In Ayurveda, we do not recommend that you cook the honey, simply add it to your cup of tea as needed.
Recipe courtesy of Dr. Scott Blossom.
Using Turmeric for the Skin
As part of your beauty regimen, turmeric 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. If this is your first time using turmeric paste, try a test patch on your arm or chin/neck first as some people may experience a yellow staining.
|Turmeric Face Mask Recipe|
|Directions: Start with a clean, dry face. In a small bowl, mix the turmeric powder with the yogurt. Apply the mask to your face carefully in a thin layer, avoiding the eyes. Allow the mask to sit for 5–10 minutes, then rinse thoroughly with warm water. Enjoy your glow!**
**This recipe makes enough for 2 masks. Refrigerate and use the second mask within one week.
CAUTION: be careful during application to avoid any clothing as turmeric may stain. Remove any potential staining on your skin with a mild soap and water.
Taking Turmeric as a Supplement
As a supplement, you can take turmeric powder 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 turmeric. It’s convenient, easy to assimilate, and has a long shelf life.
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.
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In addition to turmeric powder, liquid extract, and tablets, Banyan Botanicals also uses organic turmeric in several product formulas:
- Kitchari Spice Mix
- Blood Cleanse
- Immune Support
- Healthy Kapha
- Joint Support
- Sweet Ease
- I Travel Well liquid extract
- Throat Soother herbal spray
- Mahanarayan Oil
- 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.
Buying Turmeric—Know Your Source
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.
Is the supplier able to trace the herbs back to the field they were grown in?
Traceability of the herbs from field to shelf allows the supplier to know where and how the herbs were grown and when they were harvested. Banyan works with suppliers that keep a record of the journey of the herb, tracing it back right to the actual farm.
Are the plants sustainably harvested?
All herbal companies have a choice in how turmeric is gathered, and like most other herbs, they can be harvested on private farms where sustainability can be managed, or they may be wild-harvested legally from their natural habitats. Sometimes the herbs, particularly the endangered ones, are taken illegally, threatening long-term sustainability. To ensure sustainability, Banyan sources turmeric that has been cultivated on privately-owned farms.
Are the farmers looked after for their labor?
Banyan strongly believes in making sure the farmers are cared for as a part of the supply chain. The farms we source from are inspected to make sure they are following fair-trade principles.
Are the herbs organic?
As Banyan sources from private farms, it is able to ensure that organic farming methods are followed, and you can therefore rest assured that your herbs have not been treated with pesticides or other harmful chemicals. Banyan’s turmeric is USDA certified organic.
Harvesting the Turmeric Root
To learn more about our sustainable harvesting practice for the turmeric plant, watch our short video below, featuring Banyan co-founder, Kevin Casey.