A staple in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, turmeric is one of the world’s most versatile herbs. When ground, turmeric’s rhizome (underground stem) yields a vibrant yellow powder that’s abundant in health-boosting properties—as little as 1/4 teaspoon a day has measurable healing effects. This powder also makes a wonderful addition to homemade body-care products, home crafting and—most deliciously—cooking. A member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), turmeric stains whatever it comes into contact with so use it with caution.
1. ANTI-INFLAMMATORY: Chronic inflammation can stress and injure cells, which in turn can trigger disease—everything from heart disease and cancer to joint issues and skin problems. Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory. Curcumin, the active substance in turmeric, lowers the levels of two enzymes in the body that cause inflammation, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
2. REDUCE ARTHRITIC PAIN: Thanks to turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties, researchers believe turmeric may be effective at relieving osteoarthritis pain, as well as reducing swelling. Curcumin is often combined with bromelain or piperine (found in peppers) to help increase its absorption in the body. Doctor Andrew Weil recommends 400 to 600 mg of standardized 95 percent curcuminoids, three times a day for patients with arthritis.
3. CANCER PREVENTION: There has been a great deal of research on turmeric’s anticancer properties. Research is ongoing, but evidence suggests curcumin may help prevent, control or even kill several types of cancer, including breast, colon, prostate and skin cancer. This may be because curcumin is a strong antioxidant, protecting the body’s cells from molecular damage.
4. ANTI-FLU: Test tube and animal studies suggest turmeric may effectively kill bacteria and viruses. Mix the following ingredients to make a deliciously warming turmeric toddy to prevent and treat cold and flu: 12 ounces hot water, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger root, 2 pinches cayenne powder, 1 tablespoon honey, juice of 1/2 lemon. Drink up to three times a day. You can also sprinkle turmeric powder over a slice of honey-drizzled toast.
5. BRAIN BOOST: Curcumin may also prevent the onset of dementia, as it has been shown to break down amyloid-beta plaques in lab-based studies. People who eat curry two to three times a week may have a lower risk.
6. SKIN POULTICE: Use turmeric powder to make a poultice to treat skin inflammation. Mix 1 tablespoon ground turmeric with enough water to form a paste. (For an even more powerful poultice, add a little curcumin extract.) Spread the paste between two strips of gauze and place on the affected area and cover with an elastic bandage. Make sure to change daily.
7. BRIGHTEN TEETH: One of turmeric’s most surprising uses—especially considering it stains nearly everything it touches—is its ability to whiten teeth. Mix about 1/2 tablespoon dried turmeric powder with a small bowl of water to form a thick paste. Apply paste to toothbrush and brush as normal. (Be sure to rinse well, and maybe follow-up with an additional brushing.) On top of its whitening powers, turmeric’s antifungal and antibacterial properties will boost oral health, as well.
8. FACE MASK: Turmeric is wonderful for skin. Use it to reduce signs of aging, decrease the appearance of dark circles and clear up acne via a DIY face mask. To make, combine 1/4 teaspoon turmeric with 2 teaspoons flour, a few drops of honey and a few drops water. If it’s too thick, add more water; if it’s too thin, add more turmeric or flour. Massage paste into skin using circular motions, let sit for 10 minutes and then rinse with a warm wash cloth.
9. TREAT SCALP CONDITIONS: Another of turmeric’s body-care benefits is its ability to deter dandruff and improve the condition of your scalp. Mix turmeric with a good-quality carrier oil, such as olive oil or jojoba, and massage into your scalp. Let it sit for about 15 minutes, then shampoo and style as usual.
10. HENNA: Before henna became a part of Hindu bridal ceremony tradition, turmeric was used to ornament brides. Use this golden spice to fill in beautiful red-hued henna tattoos, creating a lovely contrast of color. To apply, dampen a small paintbrush in water and coat it in turmeric. Paint the area of the henna pattern you want to stain yellow; let dry, then wipe off the excess. Don’t wash the area until 12 hours after applying.
11. DYE EGGS: You can also harness turmeric’s staining powers to naturally dye Easter eggs. In a saucepan, bring 2 cups water and 2 tablespoons ground turmeric to a boil, then let simmer, covered, for 15 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature; strain. To use, pour mixture into a glass jar, stir in 2 tablespoons white vinegar and submerge hard-boiled eggs until they’ve reached the desired yellow.
12. SCRAMBLED EGGS: In a skillet over medium heat, sauté a tablespoon of turmeric in olive oil, then spread around the pan. Pour about four whisked eggs into the pan and stir while cooking until no longer runny for a delicious and healthful breakfast.
13. CURRY: Turmeric’s most commonly used in curry. For an inexpensive recipe, check out this Potato Peanut Curry recipe.
14. GOLDEN MILK: Use this wonderfully pungent herb in an Ayurvedic concoction known as Golden Milk. Mix 1/4 cup turmeric powder with 1/2 cup water in a saucepan; bring to a boil and cook until a thick paste is formed. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of this turmeric paste with 1 cup milk and 1 teaspoon almond oil. (Save the remaining paste in the refrigerator for future use). Flavor the mixture with honey, stir over low heat and bring just to a boil. Finally, blend until you have a foamy and delicious healing beverage.
Gina DeBacker is the associate editor at Mother Earth Living, where she manages the health section of the magazine.