Published: 04/03/2020 - Updated: 08/18/2020
Author: Prof. Dr. Luis Ruiz-García
Turmeric is an antioxidant spice with purifying and anti-tumour properties. Discover all its benefits and how it should be taken.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a plant that belongs to the Zingiberaceae family. Besides being a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, it also has a purifying, choleretic and cholagogue action, useful for the liver and gallbladder. Let’s discover it better in this article.
Description of the plant
The genus turmeric belongs to the Zingiberaceae family and includes 80 known species, among which the most used in nutrition and phytotherapy is Curcuma longa. Although the taste is very volatile, the colour remains unchanged over time. For this reason, turmeric is a substance that is widely used in the food industry as a colorant (INCI: E 100) in many foods such as cheese, yogurt, mustard, various canned wines and other products that are usually colored with turmeric derivatives.
It is an herbaceous perennial plant, which reaches a maximum height of approximately 1 m. It grows spontaneously in South Asia, from India to Malaysia, in regions with a tropical climate, with temperatures normally between 20 °C and 35 °C and high rainfall. When cultivated, turmeric is present in many tropical or subtropical areas, particularly in Asia and Africa.
The leaves are large, 20 to 45 cm long, with an elongated petiole. The flowers are gathered into a striking pseudo-inflorescence rich in large green bracts at the bottom and white or purple at the top. The green bracts form a series of pockets, which house large yellow flowers (with possible orange tones). The root is a large cylindrical, branched, yellow or orange, strongly aromatic rhizome, which is the used part of the plant.
Properties and benefits of turmeric
Because of its beneficial and healing properties, turmeric is traditionally used in both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, particularly as a natural dietary supplement for its ability to combat inflammatory processes in the body.
The plant has always been known for its purifying, choleretic (stimulates the production of bile by the liver) and cholagogue (promotes the emptying of the gallbladder, increasing the entry of bile into the duodenum and preventing the formation of gallstones) properties. It is a hepatoprotective, bile duct stimulant, antioxidant, and blood thinner.
The most important active ingredient is curcumin, which according to recent studies has anti-tumour properties, because turmeric can block the action of an enzyme believed to be responsible for the development of different types of cancer. This active ingredient also gives turmeric an anti-inflammatory and analgesic action, so it is used effectively in the treatment of inflammation, joint pain, arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Recognized as a protector of the immune system, it is also a powerful antioxidant capable of counteracting the action of free radicals, which are responsible for the processes of aging and damage to the cell membranes that make up our body.
On a topical level, turmeric has a healing action. In India, in fact, rhizome is applied to the skin to treat wounds, burns, insect bites and skin diseases with truly satisfactory results.
How can turmeric be taken?
As mentioned, the part that is used is the root. This root can be bought in powder form or as turmeric capsules.
For use in the kitchen, the powdered root is usually sold in bags or cans. If it is taken as a dietary supplement, it is advisable to buy turmeric in capsules.
And as always, before taking any dietary supplement, it is advisable to consult your doctor or nutritionist.
- Nagpal M, Sood S. Role of curcumin in systemic and oral health: An overview. J Nat Sci Biol Med. 2013;4(1):3–7. doi:10.4103/0976-9668.107253
- Enciclopedia Británica, 2020. Turmeric. https://www.britannica.com/plant/turmeric . Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.
- Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/
- Nair, K. P. (2019). The botany of turmeric. In Turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) and Ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.)-World’s Invaluable Medicinal Spices (pp. 7-35). Springer, Cham.
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