Many Indian brides anoint their skin with a sacred golden spice on the eve of their wedding to capture a natural glow. This treasured spice is turmeric, well-known for its vibrant color and abundant healing powers.
Turmeric is a perennial plant with orange-red, lily-like blossoms that thrives in the hot, moist regions of China, South Africa and India. Although its flowers are stunning, its rhizome, or underground stem, is the star. When dried and ground, turmeric’s rhizome yields a sharp yellow powder known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and astringent properties. The herb is also vital in an array of Indian dishes, curry being the most popular.
Turmeric is one of the most versatile of all herbal healers. “It’s my favorite herb,” says K.P. Khalsa, the formulating herbalist for Yogi Tea. Turmeric can soothe upset stomachs and help skin conditions such as acne, dermatitis and psoriasis. It is a powerful antioxidant and has been used to relieve pain. The spice also detoxifies the liver and protects it from damage, and it aids digestion by increasing bile secretion. As little as 1⁄4 teaspoon a day can have measurable healing effects.
Although it is a staple of Ayurveda (an ancient Indian system of medicine) and Traditional Chinese Medicine, modern Western researchers are also interested in turmeric’s healing properties. Most recently, researchers have been analyzing its anticancer effects. Results are still early, but evidence suggests that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, may help prevent, control or kill several types of cancer, including breast, colon, prostate and skin. One 2009 study published in the British Journal of Cancer showed that curcumin starts to kill esophageal cancer cells within 24 hours of treatment. Studies also suggest that curcumin may prevent the onset of dementia; people who eat curry two to three times a week seem to have a lower risk of developing the disease.
To benefit from turmeric’s healing powers, try incorporating this aromatic spice into your cooking. Turmeric is delicious in curries, but its flavor also works well with eggs, on meat, with sautéed or roasted veggies, and in rice or chili. Otherwise, take 1 gram a day of dried, ground turmeric in capsule form or try a standardized extract and simply follow the instructions on the label. Talk to your health-care provider before taking medicinal doses of any herb or supplement. In medicinal doses, turmeric might increase blood-thinning effects and therefore increase risk of bleeding from drugs such as warfarin and aspirin. (The herb is safe to use as a culinary spice.)
Adapted with permission from The Herb Companion.
Ras el Hanout Spice Blend
Swirl a little of this Moroccan spice blend into scrambled eggs, hummus, tabouli or steamed rice. Vary quantities of individual spices to suit your taste.
1/4 cup turmeric powder
2 1/2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
Mix and pack in an airtight jar, then store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. Makes ½ cup