Updated 20 October 2015

The A-Z of turmeric

Turmeric is a fine, golden-yellow spice with a sharp taste that lingers bitter on the palate. Learn more about its wondrous health benefits.


Cooks sometimes refer to turmeric as “poor man's saffron”, because its bright yellow-orange colour resembles the more expensive condiment.

In recent years, turmeric’s value as a curry spice has received far less attention than its medicinal properties. Numerous scientific studies have shown, and continue to show, the healing qualities of the spice for numerous disorders and chronic conditions.

These healing properties may come as a surprise to the Western world, but turmeric has long been administered by traditional Chinese doctors to treat a wide range of ailments. Turmeric is also considered a very prominent herb in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurvedic practitioners consider turmeric a symbol of prosperity and a cleanser for the entire body.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) belongs to the Zingiberaceae family of plants, along with ginger. The perennial plant is a native of Indonesia and India and cultivated in China, Bengal and Java. It has purple-orange roots that grow up to two feet long. Above ground, the turmeric plant grows three feet high with long lily-shaped leaves and yellow funnel flowers.

From a medical point of view, turmeric is best known as a digestive aid and anti-inflammatory as well as a treatment for fevers, arthritis, jaundice and related liver ailments, and for general infections. Scientific studies have shown the active ingredient in turmeric to be curcumin, which stimulates the production of bile and facilitates the emptying of the gallbladder. In animal studies, curcumin has demonstrated more than just anti-inflammatory actions and has been shown to protect the liver, prevent tumours and fight certain infections. Turmeric is also showing promise as an antioxidant, as well as a cardiovascular strengthening agent by lowering cholesterol levels.

Parts used

Dried rhizome; tubers

Active compounds

Curcumin is the active constituent in turmeric and has demonstrated a wide range of therapeutic qualities from protection against free radical damage to controlling inflammation – the latter is thought to be the result of curcumin’s ability to reduce histamine levels and possibly increase production of natural cortisone.

Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant, protects the liver from toxic compounds, and improves circulation.

Additional compounds include:

- Acrid

- Volatile oil

- Gum

- Calcium

- Starch

Medicinal actions

- Anthelminitic

- Antibacterial

- Antibiotic

- Aromatic

- Carminative

- Stimulant

- Tonic

What is turmeric used for?

- Anaemia

- Anorexia

- Arteriosclerosis

- Bacterial infections

- Cardiovascular strengthening

- Crohn's disease

- Diabetes

- Oedema

- Haemorrhoids

- Hepatitis

- Hysteria

- Indigestion

- Inflammation

- Jaundice and other liver ailments

- Mosquito repellent

- Osteoarthritis

- Psoriasis

- Rheumatoid arthritis

- Skin disorders, wounds and bruises

- Sinusitis

- Urinary diseases

Available forms

- Capsules containing powder

- Fluid extract

- Tincture


For adults:

- Tablets or capsules: 400mg three times a day

- Dried powdered root: 1000 to 3000mg daily

- Curcumin powder: 400 to 600mg, three times a day

- Fluid extract (1:1): 30 to 90 drops daily

- Tincture (1:2): 15 to 30 drops, four times a day


Turmeric is considered extremely safe. However, extended of excessive use may cause stomach upset or ulcers.

Turmeric should be avoided in the case of:

- Gallstone problems

- Clotting disorders

- Pregnancy

- Acute jaundice or hepatitis

Possible interactions

Turmeric, and specifically curcumin, may have negative interactions with the following medications (it’s advised to consult with a medical practitioner prior to using the herb medicinally):

- Blood-thinning medications (like warfarin and aspirin)

- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)

- Reserpine (an antihypertensive drug)

Read more:

Curcumin may lower inflammation in heart disease patients

How herbs can help you heal

To herb or not to herb

Chinese herb for rheumatoid arthritis

Sources: US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCAM);


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