A plant vital for good health

Tumeric powder that is cooked before use

Tumeric powder that is cooked before use

One of the most popular of the Indian spices, turmeric is also known as halad or haldi and its botanical name is Curcuma longa. Turmeric is a perennial herb with short and thick stem and multiple branches with unforgettable aromatic smell. The stems are underground (called rhizomes) and have food, medicinal as well as ritual value.

Turmeric is regularly included in Indian cookery for giving musky mouth watering flavour and beautiful yellow colour to recipe. See the Golden Milk recipe below.

The use of turmeric starts from day 1 in Indian life. A mixture of turmeric+ split gram floor+ milk is used to give bath to new born baby. Wet turmeric powder is applied to a bride and bridegroom before holy bath and ritual performances of wedding in a view to give them lustrous and smooth skin.

Powder of turmeric is called haldi which is yellow in colour and processed powder of turmeric is called kumkum which is red in color. Both these forms are used in different worships and are accepted as sign of purity, holiness, innocence, auspiciousness in all sacred performances. It is a social belief that haldi and kumkum bring prosperity in life.

Turmeric has secured a important place in ayurved because of its antiseptic properties. Turmeric is applied to any minor wound or abrasion as a first aid. It also has some analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect. A poultice prepared from turmeric powder with few other medicinal herbs is applied to sprained and/or swollen body part. A luke warm paste of similar group of medicines is a popular anti-inflammatory paste, used externally.

"Turmeric not only works on the physiology, but also has a big impact on your energy system. It purifies the blood, body and energy system. For external purification, just take a small pinch of turmeric, put it into a bucket of water and pour it over your body – you will see, the body will be vibrant and glowing." Sadhguru

Turmeric can be taken internally also. A powder mixed with honey or a powder mixed in warm milk is given to sufferers of stomatitis, oro-pharyngitis, laryngitis etc. It is a good medicine for voice culture and many vocalists prefer to take it before public performance, which helps in improving their voice. A decoction of turmeric can be used for gargling when nightmare cough is a cause of sleep disturbance. It is effective household remedy for asthmatic bronchitis, bronchial asthma, pulmonary tuberculosis etc. where chronic cough is a problem. In measles where ‘locked’ cough is a problem, turmeric is a drug of choice. In catarrhal infections (in this mucous membranes are inflamed) like allergic rhinitis, sinusitis etc. steam inhalation of decoction, by nose is found effective.

Turmeric is used in treatment of boils, furuncles, carbuncles etc. where repeated infections are observed. An integrated approach like treating the condition with antibiotics for ruling out infection and giving decoction of turmeric for 15 to 20 days as a follow-up to avoid recurrence is worth trying. I have noted good results of this integration in my general medical practice. Turmeric can be used for external application also and proved helping effective suppuration.

Modern science says, turmeric is rich in iron. Ayurved has advised to include turmeric in diet of pregnant ladies, growing children and patients in a stage of early recovery, must be because of this reason. It should be taken on an empty stomach with honey early in the morning. Honey helps in masking bitter taste of turmeric in addition to increasing its effects. Turmeric is seen included in many herbal tonics also.

Turmeric acts good on digestive tract. Here it is claimed to have antiflatulant and digestive antibiotic properties. One ayurvedic school of thoughts has recommended this medicine in escaping from chronic diarrhea. I have given trials in few HIV positive patients and found mixed results.

Few traditional healers claim results in skin conditions like tinea infections, sore skin condition and scabies. External use in these conditions can improve the situation. We can say this is a harmless way and may benefit a few at least for avoiding relapse.

In short, the herb has antiseptic properties. It is effective in respiratory troubles like common cold, cough etc. It is rich in iron so can be added to diet where there is need of ‘natural’ iron. It has nutritional, medicinal as well as religious status in Indian life.

For best absorption, powdered turmeric requires a good source of fat and another herbal addition like ginger or black pepper, to be absorbed properly along the gut lining. Therefore cooking in ghee as in making curry with ginger and other spices provides medical support as well as a nutritious meal. When making golden milk, add some black pepper or ginger. When using fresh tumeric, grate it finely and consume cooked or raw with black pepper as this contains bioperine which facilitates absorption.

Eating curry containing turmeric once or twice a week could help to prevent Alzheimer's disease according to a 2009 study. Prof Doraiswamy said: "Studies seem to show that you need only consume what is part of the normal diet – but the research studies are testing higher doses to see if they can maximise the effect. It would be equivalent of going on a curry spree for a week. "Don't expect an occasional curry to counterbalance a poor lifestyle. However, if you have a good diet and take plenty of exercise, eating curry regularly could help prevent dementia."

By Dr. Satish Kulkarni


Golden Milk (Tumeric Milk)
A classic comforting warm and boldly spiced turmeric milk with a hint of sweetness.

  • 2 cups of milk - you can use a home made nut milk
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • a small pinch of ground black pepper
  • optional extras
    • grated ginger (fresh is best)
    • 1 tablespoon coconut oil or ghee
  1. Mix ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to a boil as you stir.
  2. Simmer for up to 20-30 minutes.
  3. Serve while still warm and add honey to sweeten or a dash of cinnamon for added flavour.

When cooking, a ratio of about one inch of tumeric per serve is optimal depending on personal taste.


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