A Tale of Turmeric, The Quest for Whole Plant Medicine

A Tale of Turmeric, The Quest for Whole Plant Medicine
October 25, 2020 Colleen Emery

A Tale of Turmeric, The Quest for Whole Plant Medicine

By Colleen Emery, RHT (CHAofBC)

Steeped in Indian culture, Turmeric root, Curcuma longa, also known as the ‘the ‘Golden Goddess’ has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic traditions. While the majority of people identify with this herb being a component of curry, Turmeric is actually only a small portion of this spice mix, offering it colour. Used in traditional wedding ceremonies to draw on hands and feet, this root is also used to dye textiles and as a cosmetic. [1] With over 200 phytochemical compounds, it’s the pigments known as curcuminoids that give this radiant-root its characteristic vibrant yellow, orange colour. In recent times this root has become the poster child for its anti-inflammatory action in the body with countless isolated extracted supplements available on the shelf. Turmeric is much more than its isolated curcumin can offer, evidenced in its rich traditional use in Ayurvedic medicine and Indian culinary arts. Turmeric is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) and shares many similarities to both ginger and galangal, demonstrable from the shape of their bulbous rhizomes (roots). [2]

Common Name: Turmeric

Sanskrit Name: Haridra ‘giving yellow’

Scientific Name: Curcuma longa

Family: Zingiberaceae

Other names:

Hindu: Haldi

Tamil: Manjal

Chinese: Jiang huang [1]

Tastes – Bitter, acrid, pungent [3] Bitter, Astringent, Pungent (mildly) [2]

Temperature/Energy – Warm, Dry [3] Hot [2]

Herbal actions: Anti-Bacterial, Anti-Inflammatory, Antioxidant, Antispasmodic, Antitumor, Cholagogue, Carminative, Immune Regulatory, Hepatoprotective, Hypocholesterolemia, Nutritive, Styptic [3]

Tissue Affinity: Immune System, Muscular and Hepatic (Liver), works on all tissues to a degree [1] [2] [4] [5]

Dosha Affinity: Increase Vata and Pitta when taken in excess, decrease Kapha [5]

Specific Indications: Systemic or local inflammatory disease: arthralgias, allergies and IBS, Hepatoprotective: enhances liver function and repair. Inhibits carcinogenesis. [3]

Other Indications: Poor appetite, dyspepsia, peptic and duodenal ulcers, gas and flatulence, constipation, candidiasis, intestinal parasites, pharyngitis, catarrh, bronchitis, asthma, anemia, jaundice, hepatitis, hepatosplenomegaly, inflammatory joint disease, sports injuries, skin diseases, wounds, bruises, sprains, fractures, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, amenorrhea, cystitis. [1]

Botanical Characteristics:

The turmeric plant is identifiable by both its characteristic tuberous root and the leaves that extend upward from erect, thick stems arising from the root. Turmeric root is actually a fleshy oblong tuber 2–3 in (5–10 cm) in length, and close to 1 in (2.54 cm) wide. It is tapered at each end, and its exterior can be yellow, tan, or olive-green in color. The interior of the root is hard, firm, and either orange-brown or deeply rust-colored, with transverse resinous parallel rings. M. Grieve, in A Modern Herbal, states that the root is dense and breaks into a powder that is lemon yellow in color. Turmeric root has a fragrant aroma and a somewhat bitter, peppery, biting taste reminiscent of ginger. When eaten, it colors the saliva yellow and leaves a warm sensation in the mouth. [6]

The Phyto-Chemistry of Turmeric

Curcumin Is one of the diaryl heptanoids known collectively as curcuminioids that comprise about 5% of turmeric as a whole. Curcumin is the key phytochemical compound responsible for giving it the bright yellow colouring. This is the most researched constituent of this plant and is mainly responsible for turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties. However, turmeric is also made up of over 200 active constituents including turmerones which are found in the root’s essential oil and work synergistically alongside curcumin to boost its absorption. [2]

It is unlikely that curcumin accounts for the totality of the broad spectrum action of this herb. Subjectively, herbalists say that for any condition, they have seen better results with the whole herb that with the curcumin alone. [2] Curcumin is poorly absorbed and rapidly excreted. A curcumin-free Turmeric extract was found to have significant anti-inflammatory and anticancer activity and some of the individual constituents had greater activity than Curcumin. [3] [7]

Curcuminoids work by reducing the production of enzymes which promote inflammation in the body. They are also potent antioxidants; protecting cellular DNA from the day-to-day damage from pollution and the wear and tear of life – sort of like protecting the body from rusting from the inside. [7]

Turmerones, the volatile components, are anti-inflammatory and contain many beneficial properties – from supporting brain function through to helping musculoskeletal health. Turmerones are also key in helping to enhance the absorption and efficacy of curcuminoids.

What does this all mean?

  • Turmeric actively inhibits inflammatory pathways within the body, making turmeric a first choice for inflammations of the musculoskeletal system and the digestive system.
  • Research has shown that turmeric impacts upon certain pain receptors within the body; it has been demonstrated as being particularly effective for chest and abdominal pain, frozen shoulder and menstrual cramping.
  • Turmeric contains some very potent polyphenols, antioxidants, which have the ability to protect cellular DNA and repair any existing damage from environmental carcinogens, for example.
  • Turmeric has a significant action upon the heart and the circulation. It will improve the flow of blood to the heart and encourage anti-platelet activity, reducing the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries.
  • Turmeric also improves blood flow through the liver, improving the efficacy of liver detoxification pathways but also stimulating cellular repair mechanisms in damaged liver cells. This improvement in blood flow and quality impacts significantly upon the quality of the skin, and turmeric can therefore be an excellent remedy for any afflictions of the skin.
  • In the digestive system, turmeric helps balance levels of bacteria, supporting a healthy digestive environment. [7]


How does curcumin absorb in the body?

There is evidence that curcumin is more easily absorbed with combined with black pepper, long pepper, and ginger. Cooking Turmeric with an fat such as milk, coconut milk/butter, ghee or taking it with fat will enhance overall absorption. Many supplemental curcumin products available bound with phosphatidylcholine (PC-lecithin) or combined with piperine (black pepper extract) to enhance absorption.

David Winston, RH (AHG) states: “I prefer using Turmeric tincture or the herb in capsules to standardized Curcumin. In my experience, I achieve better clinical outcomes with whole Turmeric products.” [3]

To Summarize,  Curcumin itself is harder for the body to absorb and its easily excreted. Turmeric has a long, rich traditional history of use and science is now catching up to the fact that this herb in whole form is more effective over an of an isolated supplement.  Properly preparing the medicine to extract the Phyto-chemicals is key. Adding black pepper to turmeric in culinary cooking is helpful however so is fat extraction and fermentation. Follow the two suggested recipes for information on this!



Preparing a fermented bug is a simple, inexpensive way to include a spicy, warming addition to fermentation. This fermenting technique can be used for any fresh root that contains inulin such as dandelion, ginger, elecampane, burdock and in this case turmeric. You can combine the turmeric with ginger root as well. The key is to ensure the root is fresh.

All the healthy benefits of including turmeric as a herb are also amplified when we prepare it as a ferment including improving our circulation, warming the body and stimulating digestion, improving our immune regulation and support liver detox.


Fresh Turmeric root (can be supplemented with Fresh Ginger Root)

Whole Unrefined Cane Sugar


  • Break off a knob from your piece of root, peel if the skin is quite thick and grate to yield 2 heaping tablespoons.
  • Place the grated roots in a jar and stir in 1 tablespoon unrefined cane sugar and 2 – 4 tablespoons clean water.
  • Cover the jar loosely and place in a warm spot in your kitchen.
  • Every day for 5 days, mix an additional 2 tablespoons grated root, 1-tablespoon sugar and 2 tablespoons water into your jar.
  • The mixture will begin to foam and bubble at its top and will take on a yeasty aroma somewhat like beer. After 5 days, it is ready to use. Store it in the refrigerator, and feed it 2 tablespoons grated ginger, 1-tablespoon sugar and 2 tablespoons water once a week.


  • Prepare 1 litre of herbal tea adding 1 tablespoon of unrefined cane sugar or honey.
  • Strain off ¼-cup of the bug’s liquid and stir into the sweetened tea.
  • Replace the ¼-cup bug you’ve removed with 2 tablespoons sugar dissolved into ¼-cup water and return your bug to the fridge.
  • Transfer the sweetened tea and bug to flip-top bottles and allow it to ferment at room temperature for 3 days.

Concerned about the sugar content in the above recipe? Remember the sugar is not for you, it is for the SCOBY to consume which in terms allow fermentation to occur. A properly prepared ferment will have very little sugar content remaining in the end product. (SCOBY: Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast and every ferment has one! ) [8]


Prepare a golden milk, cool and use this to brew your milk kefir or to make a delicious tea. Doing this allows for the action of the fermentation to render the golden milk more digestible and to encourage all those benefits of fermentation to kick in.

Step 1: Make Turmeric Paste


  • 30 grams turmeric powder or 1-inch knob of fresh turmeric, finely grated
  • 5 grams ground black pepper
  • 250 ml cup water


  1. Cook all ingredients together in a small saucepan on medium heat. Stir well until the mixture thickens to a paste-like consistency—it doesn’t take long.
  2. Remove from heat and allowing to cool and then reserving for preparation.

Step Two: Preparing the Golden Milk

  • In a small pot combine 1 litre of fresh, clean milk with 5 ml of your Turmeric Paste along with optional herbs of your choice such as cardamom, fennel, anise, cinnamon and/or ginger.
  • Bring to a light, decoction and allow to co-mingle for 20 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and strain out any herbs and allow to completely cool.
  • Use this milk to create your Golden Milk Kefir, using your Kefir making instructions.
  • Alternative option for Golden Milk Kefir is to combine your turmeric paste with your prepared, plain milk kefir and blend well. [8]


Photo Credit: http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:796451-1

Illustration of Curcuma longa – Illustration of Curcuma longa by Franz Eugen Kohler, from Kohler’s Medicinal Plants, 1887.

[1] T. Caldecott, Ayurveda: The Divine Science of Life, Elsevier , 2006.
[2] K. P. S. K. &. M. Tierra, The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs, Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 2011.
[3] David Winston’s Centre for Herbal Studies (DWCHS) Clinical Herbalist Training. [Performance]. Clinical Herbalist Training Program .
[4] D. V. Lad, The Science of Self Healing, Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 1984.
[5] D. D. F. a. D. V. Lad, The Yoga of Herbs, Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 2001.
[6] M. (. Grieve, A Modern Herbal, New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & Co. , 1931.
[7] N. M. H. Katie Pande, “Pukka Herbs,” [Online]. Available: https://www.pukkaherbs.com/your-wellbeing/stories/wellbeing/turmeric-health-benefits/.
[8]  Emery, The Art of Fermentation, Winlaw, BC : Self , 2014.