Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. It is native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, and requires temperatures between 20 and 30 °C (68–86 °F) and a considerable amount of annual rainfall to thrive. Plants are gathered annually for their rhizomes and propagated from some of those rhizomes in the following season.
The use of turmeric dates back nearly 4000 years to the Vedic culture in India, where it was used as a culinary spice and had some religious significance. It probably reached China by 700 ad, East Africa by 800 ad, West Africa by 1200 ad, and Jamaica in the eighteenth century. In 1280, Marco Polo described this spice, marveling at a vegetable that exhibited qualities so similar to that of saffron.
Turmeric appears in some of the earliest known records of plants in medicine. It was reportedly listed in the Ebers Papyrus from Egypt, circa 1500 BC, for use as a dye and in healing wounds. This is one of the earliest surviving records of medicinal plant use. It is believed to have been cultivated in the Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, possibly as early as the 8th century BC. Closer to its origin, Turmeric was an important herb in Ayurvedic and Unani medicine and was listed in an Ayurvedic compendium text around 250 BC where it recommends an ointment containing turmeric to relieve the effects of poisoned food. Some four centuries later it was included in what is considered to be the world’s first pharmacopoeia, the Tang Materia Medica, compiled in China around in 659 AD.
Ayurvedic medicine employed Turmeric for the digestive, circulatory and respiratory systems. Here it is used to treat indigestion, purify the blood and quell intestinal gas, cough and arthritis. Chinese medicine uses Turmeric for moving Qi and blood in the treatment of epigastric and abdominal pain, various menstrual irregularities and swellings and trauma.
Another of Dr Red's initial ingredients it began with is Turmeric. In the early days, sourcing enough of this wonderful plant led to a major production issue for our continued use. This led to the planting of own one fields as well as a contract grower to assist with the level of raw turmeric root that we required. Extraction processes led to many orange coloured hands in the production area.
With turmeric being one of the base raw ingredients, we had to find alternative options than the raw rhizome for some of the formulations. With associated companies moving into food capsules, we were able to source powdered Alleppey Turmeric which more closely resembles the flavour of fresh turmeric and has a somewhat earthy aroma with surprisingly delicate top notes of lemon and mint, reminiscent of its cousin, ginger. The texture is ‘oily’ due to the higher curcumin content.
New product development is underway in a new fruit and vegetable infusion which will include the turmeric as a main star.
India produces nearly all of the world’s turmeric crop and consumes 80% of it. With its inherent qualities and high content of the important bioactive compound curcumin, Indian turmeric is considered to be the best in the world.
The turmeric plant is identifiable by both its characteristic tuberous root and the leaves that extend upward from erect, thick stems arising from the root. Turmeric, like ginger, is propagated by planting rootstalk cuttings and has been under this type of cultivation for so long that it no longer goes to seed. Harvesting is done simply by lifting the rhizomes from the soil, cleansing them, and drying them in the sun.
Turmeric root is actually a fleshy oblong tuber 5-10 cm in length, and close to 2.5 cm wide. It is tapered at each end, and its exterior can be yellow, tan, or olive-green in colour. The interior of the root is hard, firm, and either orange-brown or deeply rust-coloured, with transverse resinous parallel rings. M. Grieve, in A Modern Herbal, states that the root is dense and breaks into a powder that is lemon yellow in colour. Turmeric root has a fragrant aroma and a somewhat bitter, peppery, biting taste reminiscent of ginger. When eaten, it colours the saliva yellow and leaves a warm sensation in the mouth.
In Australia, plant turmeric in September or October, into a warm soil. The rhizomes should be planted 5-7 cm deep. The crop is planted by setts (small rhizomes) with one or two buds. In cooler areas of Australia turmeric can be grown in glasshouses. Like all herbaceous perennials clumps of turmeric need to be broken up and fresh pieces planted every 3 to 4 years.
A Google search into scientific research into turmeric lands 13.7 million results. Needless to say that turmeric, like ginger and green tea are amongst some of the most studied foods in the world.
More than 100 components have been isolated from turmeric. The main component of the root is a volatile oil, containing turmerone, and there are other coloring agents called curcuminoids in turmeric. Curcuminoids consist of curcumin demethoxycurcumin, 5’-methoxycurcumin, and dihydrocurcumin, which are found to be natural antioxidants (Ruby et al. 1995; Selvam et al. 1995). In a standard form, turmeric contains moisture (>9%), curcumin (5–6.6%), extraneous matter (<0.5% by weight), mould (<3%), and volatile oils (<3.5%). Volatile oils include d-α-phellandrene, d-sabinene, cinol, borneol, zingiberene, and sesquiterpenes (Ohshiro, Kuroyanag, and Keno 1990). Turmeric is also a good source of the ω-3 fatty acid and α-linolenic acid (2.5%; Goud, Polasa, and Krishnaswamy 1993).
In folk medicine, turmeric has been used in therapeutic preparations over the centuries in different parts of the world. In Ayurvedic practices, turmeric is thought to have many medicinal properties including strengthening the overall energy of the body, relieving gas, dispelling worms, improving digestion, regulating menstruation, dissolving gallstones, and relieving arthritis. Many South Asian countries use it as an antiseptic for cuts, burns, and bruises, and as an antibacterial agent. In Pakistan, it is used as an anti-inflammatory agent, and as a remedy for gastrointestinal discomfort associated with irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, turmeric is used to cleanse wounds and stimulate their recovery by applying it on a piece of burnt cloth that is placed over a wound. Indians use turmeric, in addition to its Ayurvedic applications, to purify blood and remedy skin conditions. Turmeric paste is used by women in some parts of India to remove superfluous hair. Turmeric paste is applied to the skin of the bride and groom before marriage in some parts of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, where it is believed to make the skin glow and keep harmful bacteria away from the body. Turmeric is currently used in the formulation of several sunscreens. Several multinational companies are involved in making face creams based on turmeric.
Although modern medicine has been routinely used in treatment of various diseases, it is less than 100 years old. Traditional medicine, in comparison, has served mankind for thousands of years, is quite safe and effective. The mechanism or the scientific basis of traditional medicine, however, is less well understood. Research continues into this medicinal herb.
As with any scientific research, traditional use and evidence based research is important to be considered when looking at these ancient plants. Contraindications with prescribed medicines of today can occur and we always recommend that your health care professional should be consulted if you are taking prescription medicines.
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