Turmeric to the Rescue

May 06, 2011
*Special to asia!
-A +A

The price of turmeric is rising as its health benefits become better known around the world.

730 Turmeric rhizomes and powder

In 1995, two Indian doctors working in the U.S. were granted a patent on the use of turmeric in wound healing. According to S.J. Beers, author of “Jamu”, there was an uproar in India, where turmeric and its healing powers are considered common property.

She said, “The row became a major legal battle, which the doctors lost. In this way, the medicinal value of turmeric was thrust into the limelight in the West.”

Turmeric is an underground storage stem or rhizome which, when sliced open, reveals bright yellow flesh. It is what colours curry yellow. It has added flavour to Asian cooking for thousands of years. Turmeric smells musky and tastes pungent with a hint of ginger and a touch of citrus. The darker the skin of the rhizome, the better the quality.

There are numerous health benefits to ingesting the rhizome. Turmeric has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties; it also contains an active chemical called curcumin, which can reduce inflammation by up to 50%, even outperforming steroids.

To date, the U.S. National Institutes of Health has registered 548 studies for curcumin’s effect on conditions as diverse as colon cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Type 2 diabetes. Osteoarthritic patients are often prescribed a formula based on turmeric. It is also taken for rheumatism. As with certain vitamins, curcumin functions as an antioxidant. Science has proven that curcumin can help protect living cells from substances that cause cancer.

On April 26 this year, the prices of turmeric surged in New Delhi on fresh buying by stockists and exporters amid low stocks. There must be some correlation between the prices and the fact that the curative powers of turmeric have been endorsed by modern science.

Traditionally, turmeric has been prescribed for liver problems and jaundice. Again, modern scientists agree as turmeric increases the flow of bile that helps prevent the formation of gallstones. Secondly, extra bile means fat in the intestine is digested more efficiently, thus turmeric reduces cholesterol and cleans the blood. In India turmeric is eaten almost daily as it is one of the basic ingredients of curry. It has been said that the incidence of liver cancer in Indians is low because of this.


Cultural Background

731 Indonesian traditional medicine or jamu is sold by street peddlers

Under the Malaysian herbal cure system called ramuan, turmeric is used for post-natal care: the new mother is massaged with medicated oil containing turmeric, manjakani (oak galls), nutmeg and coconut oil. This concoction is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and emollient. It hastens healing.

Indonesians have always believed in turmeric. They call it ibu kunyit, or mother turmeric. In the country’s thousands of villages, turmeric is known by 80 different names, which shows you how important it is to the people.

Millions of people swallow a glass of the turmeric-rich Jamu Kunir Asem daily. This lines the system with a mild, antiseptic wash which counteracts stomach infections, stomachache and diarrhoea often caused by eating food which has been prepared in the morning and left under a cover all day as is the custom in Indonesia.

Indonesian traditional medicine or jamu manufacturer Sari Ayu makes as many as 16 jamu containing turmeric for women. In fact, according to S.J. Beers, turmeric is found in almost every jamu, since Indonesians rightly believe that it is anti-inflammatory and a painkiller that both cleans the blood and improves circulation. It can reduce bleeding, and heal wounds, itchiness, ulcers and abscesses. Burnt and inhaled, it relieves a stuffy nose and plays a role in treating asthma, angina, hypertension and fever.

The list of beauty benefits are a radiant complexion, slimming, rejuvenation, post-natal health and hair beauty. Turmeric is also used in poultices and compresses that cleanse and deodorize.

On the Western beauty front, on April 30, one of the U.S.’s leading experts on natural remedies Letha Hadady extolled the virtues of turmeric on her blog. She mentioned in particular an Indian product called Vicco Turmeric Skin Cream. She said, “It gives a cooling matte finish and protects against blemishes and dryness. You might use it as a make-up base. One stylist I know does when making up celebrities who work under bright, hot television lights.”

vivienne khooOnce a lifestyle editor at a website, a newspaper journalist and a food editor, Vivienne Khoo writes about luxury hotels, food and travel whenever she is not sub-editing. The perfume industry and essential oils are her pet topics at the moment.

Contact Vivienne