Turmeric plant Curcuma longa is a member of the Zingiberaceae family along with other well known spices such as ginger, galangal, and cardamom. It is native to South East Asia, where it is commonly used not only for cooking but also for its extensive medicinal properties. The part of the plant that is used for these purposes is the root, otherwise known as the rhizome. It looks like a beautiful bright orange version of ginger. This is then sliced up, dried and ground, or made into a herbal tincture, or even used as a topical application. Buddhist Monks have been known to dye their robes with turmeric, Indians have used it as a throat chew for singers and has also been used in the Amazon to dye hammocks. Who would have thought?
Turmeric is the whole spice, while Curcumin is a phytochemical found in Turmeric. Curcumin is an active ingredient within Curcuminoids contained in turmeric. So think of Turmeric being like the coffee bean while Curcumin is like the caffeine within the coffee bean. Or you could think of the vitamin C rather than the orange. It’s the active constituent.
Curcumin on its own has poor bioavailability. This means the body cannot easily absorb and utilise it on its own. As it is fat soluble it is normally combined with healthy fats which greatly enhances absorption. It is also combined with black pepper to enhance absorption. The piperine in black pepper actually helps to stop the enzymes from the liver filtering out the turmeric, which then allows it to get into the blood stream. Practical ways to enhance the absorption of turmeric are to have coconut milk in your turmeric latte, or have turmeric with your veges with quality oils and black pepper. Or add to yogurt for a delicious dipping sauce. Absorption is also further increased when it is fermented.
Curcumin has been used in Ayurvedic, Western Herbal and Traditional Chinese medicines for centuries as an: Anti-inflammatory, Antioxidant, Antimicrobial, Antibacterial and as a Hepatoprotective
Used to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Alertness and Memory and also for joint conditions, digestive and liver conditions, skin diseases and wounds, cardiovascular support, cancer, cognitive conditions.
Hundreds of studies have been done on Turmeric in the areas of depression, cardiovascular conditions, neuroinflammation, depression, wound healing, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, arthritis, diabetes, the list goes on and on.
Turmeric in clinical doses has been shown to be as effective as medications such as anti-depressants (also used with saffron), cholesterol medications, diabetes medications, blood thinning medications and of course anti-inflammatories. It has also been shown to be effective as an adjunct treatment with PPIs , antidepressants and pain killers. As with any medication, pharmaceutical or natural it is essential to consult your health care practitioner to see if this is right for you.
No wonder turmeric has been considered one of the most important spices in the world. Turmeric can also be enjoyed in a range of dishes and can be added to curries, scrambled eggs, dips, rice dishes, muffins, and even in smoothies. Why not try a turmeric latte next time for a healthier alternative to your coffee?