Turmeric And Its Uses in Indian Home Remedies (Not A Food Item)
Note: This article is a work in progress, bound to be edited and added to from time to time.
Turmeric, Hindi name Haldi pronounced as Huldi, Curcuma longa, is from Zingiberaceae or ginger family. Its English name derives from the Latin word terra merita. It is the rhizome of the plant that is used as a spice, mainly dried and powdered, but also fresh, grated, ground or chopped, in most Indian curries, bhajies and in salads and pickles. Powdered turmeric is used extensively in Indian and other Asian cuisine. Everyone who has ever cooked Indian food knows about turmeric. If used in excess, it can taste a little bitter and overpowering.
Most of us buy it in powder from, but it is also sold as fresh rhizomes, as well as dried rhizome. Even in UK, you can get fresh rhizomes of turmeric from good Indian grocers. It grows in India and in countries with similar climate. My father used to grow a few roots in his garden and in pots, in sandy soil. The rhizome is yellow in colour when mature.
Apart from giving the dish its bright yellow colour, it also enhances flavour and has health benefits. It has been used in Asia for thousands of years, even BC, in Ayurvedic, Siddha, Unani and traditional Chinese medicine. It is probably the single most beneficial spice to human body. There are supposed to be several studies going on about its use, but I for one believe in its many health benefits already, which I will list below. Turmeric is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic and antiseptic.
Turmeric is also used as Kunkum (a mix of turmeric and flaked lime powder), or Tilak, the sacred red spot put on peoples forehead in India, to welcome them or in various worship rituals. It is considered auspicious, lucky, holy, kanchani (like gold), giver of colour.
The turmeric powder that we use in cooking is processed by boiling, drying and grinding the roots. Therefore, it is said that to get health benefits, you should perhaps use fresh turmeric roots, available from some specialist Indian grocers, especially in areas that serve Gujrati and Bangladesh people.
I have not listed any current trials and many other claims about it on purpose, because they are available on the www for people to read for themselves.
Disclaimer Whatever condition you use it for, it is important not to discontinue your usual medication in the hope that turmeric will give you a magic cure, because it won't. I am listing below the uses of turmeric that are common in India, that I have learnt from my mother, grandmother and extended family. But do bear in mind that all the uses I list are anecdotal and part of Indian practices. I do not have any proof or results of any scientific studies as proof of any of these benefits.
Claims about Turmeric curing certain cancers, liver conditions, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and dementia are a little premature in my view. No one should discontinue their traditional medication for any medical condition for turmeric.
Turmeric can be bought as fresh roots, dry roots and as finely ground powder. Fresh roots are used in many salads and vegetarian dishes.
Anti-flatulent; Indians eat a lot of lentils and beans, being a predominantly vegetarian society, this is essential to give them enough proteins. To reduce these unwanted side effect, we almost always cook lentils and beans with turmeric.
Anti-inflammatory: 1/2 tsp. turmeric, dissolved in a standard mug of hot milk, taken at bed time every night, helps to heal bone injuries, reduces joint pains (anti-arthritis) and other inflammatory pains. My mother used to give it to us when we got bruises and other injuries. I still take it at bed time, whenever I have any aches and pains. Does it help? I think so, but have no clinical proof.
Poultice as an anti-inflammatory is the one use most Indians are familiar with, at least from my generation. My mum used to make poultice of it and put it on our bruises, when we were young. It is supposed to reduce all sorts of inflammations going on within your body. Mix 2-3 tsp. turmeric powder with enough warm mustard or coconut oil to make a paste. Apply to the area and cover it with a bandage. Change after 12 hours. Leave for 2-3-4 days. Also take it with milk, as above.
Antiseptic for cuts, burns, and bruises; Turmeric paste is applied to bruises and cuts. Make sure that you use clean water and wash your hands for this.
(b)Brain function and memory: There are claims that turmeric improves brain function, butI am not sure about this one!
Cholesterol: There are many, many claims, as well as some studies that say that Turmeric reduces bad cholesterol (LDL). I am not sure how true this is, because a turmeric eating nation like India has too many people, almost everyone above the age of 50, with high LDL cholesterol levels. Perhaps it is the eating of raw, uncooked turmeric that is of help in this regard.
Cough: 1/2 tsp. of turmeric added to one mug of hot milk and drunk at night, helps to relieve chesty cough.
Digestion Turmeric helps to stimulate digestion, hence the use in most Indian dishes.
Dissolves fat: Again I am not sure about this one. People in India eat it every day, but there still an epidemic of obesity in India, as in every other nation in the world. Perhaps it needs to be used raw, unprocessed.
Face creams and masks: Turmeric is used in India in several face creams and masks. Some international companies are also making such creams now.
Memory enhancer It is sometimes suggested in India that it may also be helpful in improving memory and even reducing chances of getting Alzheimers disease. Again, I have been eating turmeric all my life, but still notice a memory deterioration as the years go by. Perhaps it would have been worse without it!
Skin Conditioner (Ubtan): Turmeric makes a part of a facial and skin conditioning mask/body rub called Ubtan, which is used extensively in India. The exact ingredients may vary from family to family and from state to state. It is said to reduce inflammation of acne/zits, one reason we were interested in it in our youth. I remember making this mask when we were growing up. We sisters used it during winter months, most Sunday mornings. We mixed turmeric powder with the thick milk top (malai) and coconut oil. Then applied it to our face, arms and legs. Then rubbed it gently, until it came off in chunks, taking away dead skin cells and dirt from the skin, leaving it clean and glowing. This was our Sunday ritual in winters, when the cold winds dried and cracked our skin. It is claimed that this process of exfoliation also removes harmful bacteria from the skin, but I am not sure about this claim.
This process of using it as an exfoliating agent, is used for bride and grooms to be in the Indian subcontinent as a part of a pre-wedding ceremony called Haldi Ceremony, where every member of the family and friends comes on a chosen day and puts a little of this mix on the bride and grooms face and body, in their respective homes. This ritual is only symbolic now, the actual rubbing of the paste is done behind closed doors, often by a woman, who is actually a massage woman for the community.
Other uses: I have no studies to quote here, they are all anecdotal uses from Indian folklore. You may find some studies on the world wide web. Whenever I enquire people about what they use turmeric for, other than food, I discover a few new properties like; relieving asthma, improving allergy and anorexia, improving colds and cough. A lot of these uses must be linked to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Just a thought; many of us Indians are frequently told that we have a younger looking skin than people of similar age in the West. Has a life-long use of turmeric got something to do with this? Who knows!