Turmeric: a spice worth knowing

If you read the turmeric in a ‘nutshell’ article a while back, then you’ve just been given a brief introduction to this incredible herb.  It begs for a more comprehensive article to really do this amazing spice/root/herb justice. 

Turmeric is truly an important and versatile herb that is a powerhouse anti-oxidant, among other things…it “has been shown [in studies] to possess a multitude of beneficial effects in the treatment of cancers, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation.”1 

I have personally field tested this amazing spice on more common household illnesses and injuries with exciting results!  Known as Haldi in India, it is not only an important spice in their culinary culture, that boasts thousands of years of safe use, and is an often reached for home remedy.2

powdered and fresh turmeric

There are a lot of very interesting studies on the actions and healing potential in curcumin, the active constituent of turmeric.  Researchers (and the drug companies funding them) are very interested in this one compound, as it shows significant promise in treating a variety of diseases.  As I was researching, I found it really helpful to look up ‘curcumin’.  I found LOTS of published research and studies that helped me learn more about turmeric’s properties!  So much so, that I am very excited to incorporate this spice even more into my cooking and my medicine cabinet this year.

At the bottom of this article, I’m including a printable, and downloadable herbal notebook page for you.

The Most Common Ways We Use Turmeric:

  • encapsulated with pepper
  • in my homemade honey-lemon cough syrup
  • in foods, beverages, marinades and salad dressings…there are recipe links below!

Why and How We Use Turmeric:

Headaches: Turmeric is effective at reducing inflammation, and we’ve found that
4 capsules of turmeric (with a hint of black pepper) will resolve most of our headaches here.  My herbally-skeptical husband now prefers it to Tylenol.

Cuts/Bleeding: Turmeric has styptic properties.  This is a common kitchen remedy in India for minor cuts.2   We have also stopped bleeding from minor cuts and wounds quickly by dusting them with turmeric powder.  I was SO happy to learn this tip, because the only other styptic herb I had heard of was cayenne, and I am a big scardy-cat about hot things in my mouth or on my bleeding wounds.  Turmeric doesn’t hurt or sting, but it leaves a yellow tinge to your skin.

Allergic Reactions: I’m interested in using turmeric as a histamine mediator for internal and external allergic reactions.  I read that in animal studies, “turmeric prevents the release of histamine from mast cells (Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, September 2008). If it works similarly in humans, this would prevent allergy symptoms from developing.3  Now that’s worth looking into!  I think I would experiment with capsules for this application as well.

Muscle Pain From Inflammation: I recently used a blend of turmeric, powdered hot peppers, coconut oil, peppermint essential oil and spearmint essential oils for a back muscle that has been knotted for weeks.  It resolved in three applications, in less than 48 hours!  Warning: In India, they use turmeric oil topically before baths, as it is said to ‘make your skin glow.’  And by ‘glow’ they mean that your skin will turn neon yellow for a few days.  Not such a big deal on a back muscle, but possibly not the best choice for an acne treatment before prom night.

Cold and Flu
: “A March 2009 study reported in Emerging Infectious Disease reported that laboratory cells treated with curcumin reduced virus replication by over 90 percent. Curcumin appeared to both decrease the amount of viral replication in infected cells, as well as decrease the number of cells that were infected by the virus to begin with.” 4 


I’ve found that the earlier you catch the first signs of a cold or flu coming on, the better the results you get with using antiviral herbs.  In fact, I’m working on putting together an herbal first aid kit for my husband at work, so he’ll always have a supply of turmeric when he needs it.  We love the results that we’ve had in using turmeric for colds in my honey-lemon cough syrup.  I also want to try the Turmeric Chai recipes (links below) at the first signs of a cold or flu.

Coughing:  Both the inflammation and anti-viral components make turmeric a natural choice as a cough remedy.  Many friends have used this, and reported the same thing we’ve found…turmeric is GREAT for soothing coughs!  See my cough remedy with turmeric, posted earlier on this blog.

Minor Burns
: Turmeric is commonly used on burns in India.2  In my house, I always, always remove all clothing and treat the area with cool water immediately before treating with anything else.  I do think a paste made with turmeric powder and either cold aloe gel a cold pureed cucumber, or just cool water would be very soothing on a burn!  See note above on ‘glowing’ skin.

Disease Prevention
:  Turmeric shows great promise for long term disease prevention and brain protective properties.5 I’m very interested in incorporating it more in our weekly diet in things like salad dressing (it’s especially yummy with ginger!), stir fry, stews/soups, curry, etc.  See the recipe section below for some ideas and links!

Turmeric’s Actions in the Body:

Anti-inflammatory, and choleretic…these are just fancy words for reducing swelling, and increasing the bile flow through your liver.  These important actions in the body, as well as many others translate into some really impressive research progress in major diseases in the US, including preventing and slowing cancer growth.Turmeric even shows promise for use with some very difficult to treat cancers.Turmeric is commonly used for digestion problems (bile production is a major factor in digesting fats), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and even for memory problems! 6

I’m also very interested in a study done on obese and diabetic mice, who were genetically predisposed to have poor blood sugar regulation and high levels of belly fat. The mice that were fed a diet of the essential oil and curcumin portions of turmeric did not have high blood sugar, nor belly fat, as a result of gene ‘up-regulation’ from the turmeric components.In other words, the turmeric *repaired* the genetic issues that caused them to be obese, diabetic mice.

That’s just amazing!  Using these two components separately didn’t have nearly the same effect.  The “control of both blood glucose levels and abdominal adipose tissue masses…results suggest that the use of whole turmeric oleoresin is more effective than the use of either curcuminoids or the essential oil alone.7 (Please see my note below about using the whole herb as opposed to individual components).

How Much To Use?

The daily diet in India is estimated to be around 2.5 grams(which equates to about 60-100 mg. per day), with no known negative side effects.1This is roughly equal to a little over a teaspoon of turmeric per day. Personally, I’d feel comfortable using turmeric at this level for anyone in my family at any age (of food eating persons), and at any time.

Studies have been done to establish a safety level for high doses of curcumin. Doses starting at 1 gram (1,000 mg) per day, and even going up to 8 grams (8,000 mg) per day show no negative side effects.1

Very Useful Tips For Using Turmeric

-Using just a bit of black pepper with turmeric increased absorption and bioavailability, by 2000% in studies, with no adverse side effects! That’s TWO THOUSAND percent.9 I just put a pinch right into my turmeric jar, so I don’t even have to think about it.

-Absorption (blood levels) after oral administration was highest 1-2 hours after dosing and decreased to undetectable after 12 hours. 1, 10

-Turmeric contains both water based and oil based compounds that act as anti-inflammatory substances.6 Taking or eating turmeric at the same time that you eat or drink something with some fat in it will increase absorption.  Traditionally, it is often blended into whole milk as a ‘tea’ or drink in India.

Recipes That Use Turmeric:

I’ve been digging around for recipes to incorporate this spice into our meals more frequently.

Turmeric Rice: I have begun to add a teaspoon of turmeric to my rice cooker, with a tablespoon of my homemade ranch dressing mix, a few chopped cloves of garlic and a finely diced onion for a fast and yummy yellow rice dish.

I also plan on posting my Dijon Vinaigrette recipe soon, which is another way we enjoy turmeric at our dinner table!

I’ve found turmeric root at our local Korean grocery store, and I’m interested in incorporating it into egg rolls and stir fry as well. It has a flavor and texture that is similar to ginger, and has more of a fruity/lemony flavor in the fresh form than the powdered.

Here are a few other recipe ideas that I have bookmarked to play with:
(they will open in a new window)

Turmeric Chia Tea Recipes or this version of Turmeric Chia 

Marinated Peanut Chicken

Oven Baked Indian Cauliflower

Peanut Rice

Spicy Potatoes and Scrambled Eggs

Warm Jalapeno Cheese Dip, by USA Weekend columnist Pam Anderson…this one looks GREAT!  It’s a party cheese dip made with real cheese.

Freezer Pickles…who’d have thunk it!?!!  They look easy, and I’m always game for a good crunchy pickle recipe!


Though I feel very comfortable in using turmeric as a ‘food’, there are some instances when using turmeric medicinally in very high doses is not advised.  Turmeric is contraindicated in early pregnancy, and possibly with certain medications.  It may possibly change the body’s absorption rate for some medications, notably anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications.9, 10  Please check with your doctor before using turmeric in therapeutic (high) doses.

A Note on Using A Single Component Of An Herb:

Within each herb or food, there are literally hundreds and sometimes thousands of different compounds and constituents that work together in and for the body. 

As you can see from the study I referenced above about the diabetic mice, a single ingredient often times behaves differently in the body without the natural co-factors to interact with it as it’s digested. 

The reason that single compounds are of interest to the scientific community is because spices in their whole form cannot be patented.However, refining and isolating these powerful compound out of the spice or herb allows them to be patented and turned into profitable medications, so herbal constituents are commonly studied by the scientific community. 

This does make great business sense for pharmaceutical companies and scientists.  And it’s important to remember that modern medicines have their roots (literally) in herbalism.

However, it makes way more sense to me to use the whole herb in most cases.  Especially when it’s been used safely as a food source for thousands of years.  Plus, you can often grow or buy the herbs in the grocery store, thereby skipping the whole Doctor>Prescription>Insurance Company merry-go-round in most cases. 

I believe that the whole herb, in most cases is the wiser choice for my family.  Most especially for minor illnesses and wounds that I can treat at home, and for the long term disease preventative effects of using healthy, whole foods and herbs.  I love the old saying “Let your food be your medicine.” 

There are some exceptions where there are substances that need to be removed from a food or herb because they can be or are toxic.  Just a friendly reminder to encourage you to do your own thorough research on herbs and foods before adding them to your diet, especially in therapeutic amounts.

Here is your printable/downloadable notebook page, to keep this information handy. it will open in a new window

Turmeric: A Spice Worth Knowing


Resources:  Thanks to the following articles and links for the information that I used in this article!

1.   General article about turmeric.http://www.pureprescriptions.com/expert_opinion/curcumin-turmeric.asp

2.  Use of turmeric in India.   http://www.medindia.net/alternativemedicine/turmeric.asp 

3.  Allergy/antihistamine effectiveness.   http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/11/health/he-pharmacy11

4.   Antiviral  http://www.livestrong.com/article/185134-antiviral-properties-of-turmeric/

5.  Neurologically protective   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18022680

6.  Great research summary of turmeric http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/turmeric

7.   Diabetic mice study abstract   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17117790

8.   Gram to teaspoon conversion   http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/cooking-conversions/cooking-conversions-calculator.aspx?t=t&foodg=200&foods=turmeric&fno=2043&foodq=2.5&foodf=0&foodt=2#food  

9.   Bioavialability with pepper added  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9619120

10. Blood concentration and medication warnings.  http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals/curcumin/

As always, I welcome your comments, questions, corrections, experience, and ideas on using turmeric!


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    • Its_Gwen says

      Curcumin is what they call the “active constituent” of turmeric…it’s basically one of the ingredients that God builds into turmeric. :) I prefer to use it as a whole herb for most basic uses.

      • Beth says

        So if I buy my own pre-filled capsules am I getting the whole herb if I buy turmeric and not curcumin? Or do I need to buy the essential oil too? I’ve just started taking it.

        • Its_Gwen says

          If you’re buying turmeric, that is the whole herb. You can also find curcumin capsules, and that would just be the active constituent.

          • Its_Gwen says

            Did you bake it in a smaller 8×8 pan if you halved the recipe? It may be overcooked a bit if it’s coming out chewy.

  1. Joan says

    thank you so much for this information….I will be trying tumeric for my headaches! I take excedrine way too often for headaches :(

    • leepers says

      Joan, do you drink much water? I ask, because sometimes dehydration (also other conditions) can cause a headache. I recommend that the next time you have a headache, drink (pure) water. If within 20-30 mins your headache is gone, then you were probably dehydrated.

  2. lorna tulloch says

    hi I am lorna, i just love reading all the good thing turmeric can do i used it when i cook and drink it in a tea when i have a upset stomach.
    i just love it.

  3. Mischelle says

    I just found your blog a couple of days ago and I am so thankful I did! I have been systematically moving away from otc meds and moving toward natural alternatives. I have been specifically looking for a way to replace tylenol and motrin!

    • Its_Gwen says

      Hi Kirstie,

      I do make my own…I have a capsule filling machine (really some plastic pieces that make it easier to fill a bunch at once). I’ve also just scooped both ends of an empty capsule through the turmeric, and capped it and gone with that in a pinch. :)

  4. Kara O'Hara says

    i really did enjoy this post the only thing i find troubling about the mentions of india in this and other articles like it around the web is the fact that india, for all purposes, is a 3rd world country rampant with disease. while i trust this herb because of what it has done for me, i think it’s poor journalism on all bloggers to talk about how it’s natural and helps indians when they live in the toilet of the world.

    • Its_Gwen says

      Wow. This wasn’t an expose piece on the living conditions in India, and that’s hardly relevant to the fact that this herb has been used historically by the people of India of all classes as medicine.

      In fact, I think that any herb that’s revered by people who live in very disease prone areas would make it more of interest to me.

    • Laxmi says

      I enjoyed reading this article. But was taken aback by the comment here about India being a third world country and rampant with diseases.
      I am not going to defend or argue here, but would merely suggest that people shouldn’t make comments without knowing facts.

      India has the first form of medicine known to mankind – ayurveda. It’s also the land of yoga and even kamasutra :-)

      Einstein has said that the world owes it to India coz they taught us to count without which scientific discoveries would not be possible.

      “India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.” Mark Twain

      Why would other nations come to conquer and rule India for years if there wasn’t anything of interest to them? It’s said that Columbus discovered America on his mission to find India!

      Please do not make comments without knowing facts.

      And Gwen, you have such a wonderful blog here. I came across it while trying to look up cough remedies. I have made the syrup now and will let you know if it works. Fingers crossed!

      Thank you for this vast resource on home remedies. I shall continue reading now.

  5. Chickie says

    I really appreciate your information. I just recently bought my first bottle of turmeric and I even use it in my coffee. I am eliminating sugar starting with my morning beverage and a combination of dark cocoa, cinnamon and turmeric helps me not miss sugar!

  6. says

    Thank you for this article! Not only very useful, but also a great read!

    I have been suffering from intense muscular pains, stiffness and weakness for the past 18months, and currently remain undiagnosed! Tests have shown high levels of creatine kinase (indicating myositis of som kind), which cause inflammation and muslce damage. Recently my research has bought me to the beneficial effects of turmeric and it was really good to read your account/experience of the spice.

    As an ambitious cook and writer of my debut cookbook, I’ll be looking at integrating it much more into my recipes. I currently make a paste of turmeric, black pepper and olive to take 3 times daily and help reduce inflammation in my muscles and encourage healing. I have only been doing it a week, but I hold high hopes it will prove beneficial. I think it really is a spice worth knowing!

    I have one, probably naive, question…If too much is consumed…does it make you turn yellow?

    Anway, enough of my life story, and thanks again for sharing this article!

    Nathan (aka The Clumsy Cook).

    • says

      Hi Nathan,
      As far as I know it doesn’t affect skin pigmentation the same way that carrots do. Good question, actually! Carrots can lend a yellowish cast to the skin from the carotene, but turmeric’s yellow is due to the curcumin. You *can* get yellow skin if you use turmeric directly on the skin…if you do choose to use it topically I’d go with an oil soluble preparation so that it soaks in much quicker. (The curcumin is oil based)

  7. Susan M. Olson says

    I don’t seem to be able to digest tumeric. I keep burping it up. Yes, I have organic. I have tried it in powder form in water, and I have tried it in capsules.
    What do you think?

  8. Marion says

    Thank you for all the work in this amazing article….very helpful…. I am converted to turmeric but just need ways of using it in recipes etc…..Found it very comforting physically and psychologically recently .( tummy problems .) when I took it in warm milk n a dash of honey ..mmmmm

  9. Teresa J says

    Hi, this is great info! Much appreciated.
    Do you feel one type or brand of turmeric is better than another? Is the spice used in food preferable to swallowing capsules?

  10. Holli says

    My 6 year old is recovering from whooping cough (I read all your posts on WC- thank you!!), and she won’t eat the stew or the cough syrup. Any suggestions for getting turmeric in her? She doesn’t swallow pills. She won’t drink the tea. I have had some success making a turmeric “bug” from the root and turning them into fermented sodas similar to kombucha. But I feel like she needs a good amount every day to fight the inflammation.

    • says

      Will she eat honey? I may cover a bit in honey, or just mix it into honey. I have a friend who mixes enough honey to make a pill, but if she doesn’t do pills, then that won’t be practical. I also have a 6 year old who will NOT swallow pills, or eat anything the least big suspicious. :) SO I hear you on that!

      You can also use it in dishes…maybe a curry or candied carrots? Chai tea?