Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a highly toted medicinal herb with a broad range of therapeutic actions. Cut through the hype and learn about all the medicinal and health benefits of turmeric!
Latin Name: Curcuma longa, C. aromatica, C. diffusa, C. zedoaria
Herbal Energetics: warm/slightly dry
Therapeutic Actions: antibacterial, anti-carcinogenic, anticoagulant, anti-fibrotic, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, antioxidant, anti-protozoal, anti-rheumatic, anti-ulcer, antivenom, antiviral, appetite stimulant, cholagogue, expectorant, hepatic, hypocholesteremic, hypoglycemic, hypotensive, vulnerary
Turmeric is kinda like echinacea — in that everyone thinks they know all about it. Like echinacea “for the flu” and St. John’s wort “for depression” — turmeric is quite often pigeonholed by one therapeutic action it is quite well known for.
Yes, folks. Turmeric IS anti-inflammatory. But it is that offers so much more than that solitary action. It isn’t the ibuprofen of the herbal world. Turmeric is a prized root, steeped in Ayurvedic tradition, that has broad therapeutic potential.
What’s the difference between turmeric and curcumin?
Before I delve too deeply into the health benefits of turmeric, I want to clarify in explicit terms that this herbal monograph is on turmeric. The herb. The orange root. It is not a examination of curcumin. They are not one in the same. Curcumin is a constituent of turmeric that lends some, but not all of the turmeric’s therapeutic actions. Countless other benefits are derived from turmeric constituents such as ar-tumerone, atlantone, bisdemethoxycurcumin, demethoxycurcumin, diaryl heptanoids, as well as several sesquiterterpenoids. Yes, isolated, standardized curcumin supplements may have great health benefits and medicinal uses. But as an herbalist — not a supplement manufacturer — I advocate strongly for whole herb use. I find that the health benefits of turmeric are far greater with less side effects (such as gastric pain), when the whole herb is utilized versus the use of isolated curcumin.
Health Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric is a common Indian spice, revered for its golden color, and the darling of many culinary curry blends. It is also perhaps one of the most well known medicinal herbs of the Ayurvedic healing tradition along with its botanical cousin, ginger.
Perhaps it is wise to first address the huge anti-inflammatory elephant in the room. No monograph extolling the virtuous health benefits of turmeric would be complete without a addressing this most widely purported therapeutic action of this herb. Turmeric is considered a premier herb for addressing matters of chronic, low level inflammation, a contributing factor to pain and disease. Turmeric is an excellent choice for actually helping to enhance the efficacy of anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals (see safety and precautions below), making its use embraced by both conventional and holistic practitioners. This has promising implications for those enduring chronic pain, such as with osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory skin conditions, auto-immune dysfunction, and neuropathy.
Second only to the anti-inflammatory health benefits of turmeric, comes the antioxidant action, and possible anti-cancer potential of this herb. Please note that well I mention “anti-cancer potential”, I an not by any means suggesting that turmeric prevents cancer. Rather, studies suggest that turmeric reduces oxidative damage and cellular mutation, thus encouraging healthy cell growth. To say that turmeric prevents cancer is highly irresponsible and any article or website implicating so should be immediately discredited. Sensationalizing health claims is an industry unto itself; beware of miracle cures for serious diseases such as cancer. That being said, from a holistic standpoint, turmeric does set the stage for healthy, normal tissue development. Furthermore, some studies suggest that turmeric reduces the formation of fibrotic tissues, meaning that this herb may have medicinal benefits for those with dense breast tissue, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids.
Notably undersold are the health benefits of turmeric as they relate to digestive and liver health. Its antimicrobial and wound healing actions can sooth ulcers and erosions of the esophagus, stomach, and bowel wall, while it also stimulates the flow of gastric juices which aid in digestion. Turmeric also stimulates Phase I and Phase II of the livers natural detoxification process, suggesting that turmeric is a excellent herbal candidate for returning a sluggish liver to good health, balancing hormones, and ridding the body of toxins from factors such as environmental contamination, alcohol and drug use, and poor diet (though turmeric use does not replace a well balanced diet).
Additionally, turmeric has been suggested to reduce elevated cholesterol and high blood glucose levels.
Safety & Precautions for Turmeric
Turmeric is widely considered safe when used used for culinary purposes. To realize the health benefits of turmeric, one may prefer to administer turmeric in therapeutic doses that exceed that which we encounter in food. Before taking turmeric (or curcumin supplements), do note that it may contribute to gastric upset and a sensation of heat in the stomachs of some individuals. For that reason, I tend to look to other herbs with similar therapeutic actions in individuals that tend towards a heated constitution (those that are always complaining of warmth, with a tendency to redness, and meaty palms).
If you are pregnant, nursing or taking prescription medication, please consult your physician before using turmeric or any other herb. Please also note that turmeric has anti-coagulant actions and should be avoided by those with bleeding disorders or those on anti-coagulant/coagulant therapies. Additionally, as turmeric encourages the body’s natural detoxification process, it may be unwise to use turmeric with drugs that are slow released into the system like contraceptives and statins. Please talk to your pharmacist for drug interactions.
I am a trained herbalist with a degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine, I am not, however, a doctor. Posts in this blog are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Before using any herbs, check for appropriate dosage, drug interactions, and contraindications. Information contained herein is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prescribe. Please consult your primary care physician regarding your specific health concerns.
Turmeric Tea with Black Pepper for Increased Bio-Availability
Rarely do I suggest turmeric simply ground and encapsulated — instead I prefer to see the herb used in tincture, tea/infusion/decoction, or culinary form. That being said, the curcumin constituent of turmeric is only about 3% of the total constituent profile of this herb, so increasing the bio-availability of this compound requires a little extra thought and effort such as using heat, fat and or pairing it with other pungent spices. I particularly enjoy this golden milk spiced chai, and I was super enthusiastic to see that my friend Colleen of Grow Forage Cook Ferment included a turmeric and black pepper tea in her brand new book Healing Herbal Infusions. Black pepper increases the bio-availability of curcumin by a whopping 2000%, making this radiant tea an excellent way to harness all the healing and health benefits of turmeric. Cream can be added, or even a pat of grass fed butter ala bulletproof style to even further amplify the turmeric benefits!
This spicy and tasty turmeric and black tea is just one of 75 amazing herbal recipes in Healing Herbal Infusions. Author Colleen Codekas makes everyday herbalism easy and accessible for the home herbalist. This perfectly written and beautifully photographed book deserves a spot on the shelf of every home herbalist. Scratch that, this is a book to leave out on the counter and try alllll the recipes like red onion and thyme fermented honey, roasted chicory root chai, and passion flower infused wine. You can also find both fermented turmeric bug and naturally fermented turmeric soda recipes at the GFCF site.
Interested in learning more about common medicinal plants? Check out my new book The Backyard Herbal Apothecary!
Turmeric & Black Pepper Tea Recipe
Turmeric & Black Pepper Tea
- 3/4 cup sliced fresh turmeric root (2 tablespoons dried turmeric granules can be substituted)
- 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- 2 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons cream or butter optional
- honey to taste
- In a small saucepan simmer the water, turmeric, and peppercorns for 10-15 minutes, until the liquid is slightly reduced. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
- Strain turmeric and peppercorns. Sweeten to taste and serve, or blended with 2 tablespoons of cream or butter before serving.
Turmeric and curcumin: Biological actions and medicinal applications. Ishita Chattopadhyay, Kaushik Biswas, Uday Bandyopadhyay and Ranajit K. Banerjee. Current Science, Vol. 87, No. 1 (10 July 2004), pp. 44-53
Li, Y., Du, Z., Li, P., Yan, L., Zhou, W., Tang, Y., . . . Chen, H. (2018). Aromatic-turmerone ameliorates imiquimod-induced psoriasis-like inflammation of BALB/c mice. International Immunopharmacology,64, 319-325. doi:10.1016/j.intimp.2018.09.015