Fairfield County Edition

Using Turmeric to Fight Inflammation

An Ancient Herb Gains Modern Respect

Inflammation is quite the buzzword these days and there are good reasons for that. Most modern-day Western diseases are rooted in excess inflammation in the body. This may include diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune disorders, asthma, arthritis, ulcerative colitis, periodontitis, eczema, psoriasis and many other ailments. Turmeric is a buzz-worthy herb in the same conversation because the pungent root of turmeric is thought to help modulate inflammation in the body. For centuries, medicine people have known that this common culinary spice can do far more than flavor our favorite dishes.

Turmeric, a close cousin to ginger, has a spicy, warm and bitter flavor. This popular herb is best known as one of the main spices in curry. One little known fact is that turmeric is also what gives bottled mustard its bright yellow color. Throughout history, turmeric has had a plethora of important uses, including extensive use as a culinary spice, healing remedy and textile dye. The part of turmeric that is used is the root, easily identified by its brown skin and a bright orange flesh. It is currently one of the most popular treatments for inflammation in modern herbalism. It dates back thousands of years in both traditional Chinese and ayurvedic medicine as a potent anti-inflammatory. A plant with a very long history of medicinal use throughout Southeast Asia, turmeric was used not only as a principal spice but also as a component in religious ceremonies. 

Because of its bright yellow color, turmeric is often referred to as “Indian saffron.” Modern medicine has begun to recognize the importance of this common herb; in fact, within the last 25 years there have been over 3,000 publications referencing turmeric. Curcumin is the primary medicinal agent in turmeric. Numerous studies have proven curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects are comparable to many pharmaceutical drugs. Unlike these drugs, which often have dangerous side effects, curcumin produces no toxicity. Although turmeric is considered warming and mildly drying, we need to consider our own individual constitution or work with a local herbalist to determine how much is right for you. Turmeric also has a long history of treating and supporting liver and gallbladder disorders. Some studies suggest that turmeric has anti-carcinogenic properties. Its bitter quality also aids in digestion. 

Ways to Use Turmeric

There are numerous simple ways that we can begin to add this important spice into our lives. Cooking with it is beneficial and tasty; it can be added to egg dishes, soups, stews, stir fries and more. If chronic inflammation needs to be addressed, possibly go a step further by taking capsules, adding powdered herb in water or making a tea with the fresh root. Both fresh and powdered turmeric can be found easily in most grocery stores, apothecaries and specialty markets. The best quality turmeric will be a magnificent bright orange; this color tells us that in addition to being a powerful anti-inflammatory, it also has antioxidant effects because it is fresher. If turmeric does not have a bright vibrant color along with a spicy and pungent smell, it may not be fresh; it may be time to replace that jar of spice. 

It is believed that adding a very small amount of black pepper to turmeric dramatically increases the bioavailability. This tradition stems from ayurveda, and science has proven that the black pepper extract called piperine increases the bioavailability of curcumin by as much as 2,000 percent.

Turmeric is an invaluable herb to get to know and incorporate into self-care and healing regimens. One way to ingest turmeric is with a warm cup of golden milk. This tasty and popular herbal beverage blend is a good way to add the numerous healing benefits of turmeric into our bodies.

Golden Milk

8 ounces of coconut, almond or hemp milk (or milk of choice)
1 (1-inch) piece turmeric, unpeeled, thinly sliced or ½ tsp dried turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
1 (½-inch) piece ginger, unpeeled, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp of honey, maple syrup or stevia to taste

Stir coconut milk, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, peppercorns and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan; bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into mugs and sweeten if preferred.

Lupo Passero is a community herbalist and the director of Twin Star Herbal Education and Community Apothecary in New Milford. She also offers herbalism certification programs and drop-in classes. Connect at TwinStarTribe.com. 

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