Turmeric is a flowering plant of the ginger family which originates from India and parts of South-East Asia. The rhizomes are used fresh or boiled in water and dried, after which they are ground into a deep orange-yellow powder which is found now all over the world. Turmeric was also found in Tahiti, Hawaii and Easter Island before European contact. Curcumin is the chemical inside turmeric which acts as a colourant (used to dye the robes of Buddhist priests) and anti-inflammatory (said by some to be better than ibruprofen). In Sanskrit turmeric has at least 53 different names including: bhadra (auspicious or lucky), bahula (plenty), dhirgharaja (long in appearance) jayanti, (one who is victorious over diseases), matrimanika, (as beautiful as moonlight) and gandhaplashika (meaning produces good smell).
Research has found that although Curcumin does indeed have many beneficial properties, particularly for those suffering a range metabolical conditions, aches and pains, or arthritis, “ingesting curcumin by itself does not lead to the associated health benefits due to its poor bioavailability, which appears to be primarily due to poor absorption, rapid metabolism, and rapid elimination.”. However there are several components which increase the bioavailability of curcumin when consumed together with it, for instance piperine, an active ingredient in black pepper increases the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000%. Ayuvedic medicine has reccomended turmeric for over 3500 years, to be applied in a paste to a range of skin conditions from small pox to chicken pox and the juice applied to bruises and blemishes, inhaling burning turmeric is said to allievate congestion and consuming it to help relieve gas, dispell worms, improve digestion, regulate menstruation and dissolve gallstones.
The list goes on and on, turmeric is part of the treatment for various respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma, bronchial hyperactivity, and allergy), as well as for liver disorders, anorexia, rheumatism, diabetic wounds, runny nose, cough, and sinusitis. My uncle swears by a cup of turmeric milk to halve the time taken to recover from a cold or flu – fat also acts to increase the bioavailability of turmeric which is probably why turmeric milk is a common drink, similarly heating turmeric helps to dissolve it and thus helps your body to use it.
Turmeric has an unique earthy taste which can be quite strange at first but goes very well with Indian food. Throwing in just a bit with your rice leaves all the rice a delicious yellow colour (be careful as it can do the same to your fingers) and also it is a key ingredient in the delicious Persian dish, Fesenjan.