Although best known as a cooking spice, turmeric has been in use as a healing remedy for a long time. The spice has also been used as condiment and textile dye. Turmeric is derived from the root of plant Curcuma longa. The word Curcuma derives from Arabic name of both saffron and turmeric. Scientists have identified approximately 133 species of Curcuma worldwide, most of which bear common local names and are used in various medicines.
Journalist Michael Castleman writes in 1991:
“The ancient Greeks were well aware of turmeric, but unlike its close botanical relative, ginger, it never caught on in the West as either a culinary or medicinal herb. It was, however, used to make orange-yellow dyes. In the 1870’s, chemists discovered turmeric’s orange-yellow root powder turned reddish brown when exposed to alkaline chemicals. This discovery led to the development of turmeric paper … to test for alkalinity.”
Turmeric originally comes from the southwestern part of India – a country which produces nearly all the turmeric in the world and consumes 80% of it. Traditionally called “Indian saffron” because of its deep yellow-orange color, it has been a major part of Siddha medicine – a traditional medicine system originating in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Erode is a city in Tamil Nadu. Known as “Yellow City” or “Turmeric City,” Erode is the world’s largest producer and the most important trading center for turmeric. The city of Sangli in Maharashtra is considered only second to Erode for and production and trading of this spice. Other leading producers of turmeric are Indonesia, Philippines, China, Taiwan, Haiti and Jamaica.
The use of turmeric goes as far back as the Vedic culture in India. According to historians, it was first used nearly 4000 years ago. [Read more Chocolate may boost cognitive skills within hours]
It is believed that the spice reached China by 700 AD. East Africa first saw its usage in 800 AD and West Africa in 1200 AD. Turmeric was first mentioned by Marco Polo in 1280 AD when he wondered about this vegetable that had so many similar qualities as that of saffron.
It is consumed throughout Asia as a spice which gives the food a beautiful aroma and yellow color. Most commonly known as ‘haldi’ in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the spice has as many as 53 names in Sanskrit such as, Haridra (dear to hari, Lord Krishna), Bhadra (auspicious or lucky), Gandhaplashika (which produces good smell), Gauri (to make fair), Laxmi (prosperity), Jawarantika (which cures fevers) etc. [Read more Eat blueberries for a healthy heart]
This yellow spice has been used as a medicine in South Asia for a long time. Susrutasanhita, an important Sanskrit text on medicine, mentions in its Ayurvedic Compendium, dating back to 250 BC, an ointment made of turmeric to relieve the effects of poisoned food.
The spice was used by ancient Hawaiians for prevention and treatment of sinus infections, ear infections, gastrointestinal ulcers etc.
Although it was first introduced into Europe in the 13th century, it has only become popular in the west due to the recent research that has highlighted its therapeutic properties.
Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant. Research suggests that turmeric may be used as a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Stomach Ulcer, Heart disease, Cancer etc. Curcumin lowers the levels of two enzymes in the body that cause inflammation. It also stops platelets from clumping together to form blood clots. Turmeric may also be used for treating Alzheimers and PTSD.
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