Turmeric: Super Herbs And Spices

Turmeric: Super Herbs And Spices

TURMERIC: HISTORY AND USAGE

Turmeric is a spice with a long and varied history of usage, from a yellow textile dye to powerful healing herb, and now the subject of intense pharmaceutical research to unlock the secrets of this unassuming little orange root. Long known for its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric was first used in the ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine systems. It is the root of the curcuma longa plant that is primarily used  in traditional medicine where it boasts over $12 million in yearly sales as the third highest selling botanical dietary supplement, behind flax and wheatgrass .

Group of turmeric roots isolated on white background

Fresh turmeric root cleaned and ready for juicing!

The active ingredient curcumin is what gives turmeric its bright yellow/orange color, and is not only a powerful anti-inflammatory but also has excellent anti-oxidant properties that help protect the liver from toxins. Turmeric also helps to lower cholesterol and is actively being studied for its ability to inhibit the replication of HIV-1. People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis can take dietary curcumin which is known to help relieve joint swelling and improve flexibility.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine approach, turmeric is warming and bitter, and is used to improve protein digestion, reduce uterine tumors, decongest the liver, dissolve gall stones, increase ligament flexibility, and reduce menstrual pain. In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is used in large amounts often mixed with heated milk in a drink known as “golden milk”, along with other spices like cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, and black pepper. The addition of black pepper is especially important because the compound piperine, which gives black pepper its pungent flavor, is a potent inhibitor of drug metabolism and aids our absorption of turmeric’s beneficial compounds.

Our livers deal with toxins and foreign substances like turmeric in several ways, one of which is to make them water soluble so that they can be easily passed out of the body. When the body detects spices like turmeric the liver immediately goes to work to eliminate these compounds so very little actual turmeric compounds are able to enter the blood stream. This could be the reason why large amounts of turmeric are used in traditional cooking, to make up for its metabolic unavailability. Black pepper’s piperine compound actually inhibits this function of the liver, resulting the a massive spike in the bioavailability of beneficial curcumin compounds. In fact, just 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper taken with any amount of turmeric will boost curcumin levels in the blood stream by about 2000 percent! It’s no wonder then why black pepper and turmeric are so commonly found together in most traditional Indian curry recipes.

Dried black peppercorns

Dried black peppercorns.

TurmericPowder

Another way to assist the body’s absorption of curcumin is to prepare whole turmeric, either fresh or dried as a powder, with fat. The natural oils in fresh turmeric will increase curcumin’s bioavailability by about 7 times. Additionally, fresh turmeric ingested with fat can be directly absorbed through the lymphatic system thereby bypassing the liver.

So, how much turmeric is safe to consume? Well, considering that the average Indian diet includes up to about a teaspoon a day you’re probably safe to stay at or below that level, but there are a couple things to consider. First, are you using black pepper to enhance curcumin absorption? If so, a teaspoon a day is still fine, but much more than that is completely unnecessary. When we look at the pharmaceutical trials for curcumin itself, they are using cups of turmeric per day, more than 100 times the daily intake of what people have been ingesting for centuries. Still, ingesting a cup of turmeric a day isn’t likely to have any short term adverse side effects, but if one were to include black pepper along with large amounts like this, the spike in the bioavailability of curcumin would be like consuming close to 30 cups of turmeric a day! At those levels, a person might actually experience damage to their DNA. Turmeric is also high in soluble oxalates, which can bind to calcium to form insoluble calcium oxalate, the compound of which roughly 75% of all kidney stones are comprised. Because of this fact, people who are prone to kidney stones, or who have gout, should limit their ingestion of turmeric to less than a teaspoon a day, even less if that are consuming black pepper concurrently.

Pancreas and gall bladder with stones

Image courtesy of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

The only other known contraindication for taking turmeric is the potential to trigger gall bladder pain in people with gall stones. Because turmeric acts as a cholecystokinetic agent, in other words it encourages the pumping action of the gall badder to keep the bile from stagnating, it can cause the organ to contract which you might imagine would be very painful to someone who has a gall stone lodged in their bile duct.

As with most traditional herbs, generally turmeric is completely safe to take in small to moderate doses. It also doesn’t hurt that it tastes great, too! The inclusion of turmeric into your daily diet is a great idea for people who want to dose themselves with natural, powerful antioxidants to help stave off dis-ease. For juicers, turmeric can be treated the same as ginger in terms of spiciness by weight. Generally one or two small roots are enough per liter of fresh juice. If using a geared, slow RPM juicer instead of a centrifugal basket juicer, be aware that you can expect about 25% more juice from everything you put in there so adjust accordingly.

People who want to reduce general inflammation and promote health with this powerful spice might consider making a soothing golden milk. Golden milk is an ancient beverage and its effects can be felt very quickly in most people. The recipe below uses organic coconut milk along with other spices to deliver the essence of turmeric. Golden milk should be consumed warm and fresh. It’s very mild, and tastes great. When preparing this it’s best to make it fresh each time as turmeric can be quite bitter in large quantities, or if left to sit for too long.

GOLDEN MILK

Three tea cups of golden milk.

Warm soothing golden milk is perfect for those chilly winter evenings.

  •  2 cups of organic coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh powdered organic turmeric (or a 1 inch fresh root diced)
  • a pinch of cardamom (optional)
  • a pinch of cinnamon (optional)
  • a pinch of nutmeg (optional)
  • a pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • agave nectar to taste

 

 

Preparation:

  1. Warm coconut milk over medium heat in a small saucepan until it simmers lightly.
  2. Using a whisk, add the turmeric and other spices and whisk until incorporated. Some spices like cinnamon are hydrophobic, so mixing them beforehand in a little water will help avoid clumping.Whisk constantly for another minute, being careful not to burn the milk. Golden milk can and will bubble up and overflow easily. Remember, turmeric is a textile dye and will stain clothes, grout, wood, tile, and just about anything it touches yellow. Keep a close eye on it and stir.
  3. After a minute, turn off the heat and cover. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes to steep.
  4. Strain into a warm mug if you have used whole root, or simply pour into a warmed mug if you used powder.
  5. Stir in agave nectar to taste.
  6. Serve warm with a drop or two of sesame oil on top.

If you find your golden milk is too bitter, try simmering it for a bit longer instead of adding extra sweetener as the heat will help to catalyze those bitter components. Of course if you are using animal milk, which is fine, make sure it’s fresh and free of hormones and antibiotics, preferably organic. Also, be careful not to boil dairy because you’ll end up with a layer of separated cream resulting in a broken, clumpy beverage.

If you have questions or comments, please leave them below! We love to hear from people who are using traditional medicine. Also, be on the lookout for more on our Super Herbs and Spices series!

These statements have not been evaluated by FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.