Turmeric: An Anti-cancer, Anti-inflammatory & Blood-building Powerhouse

Fresh turmeric

To me, turmeric is the golden nugget of medicinal foods. Its healing properties abound and it has been used in its native South Asia for thousands of years to address a variety of ailments from common colds to cancer, as well as heart and circulation issues, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, chronic joint pain, and as a poultice on cuts and scrapes.

Most people in North America know turmeric in its dried form, as a key ingredient in yellow curry powder, but turmeric is also increasingly available in its original root form. Like its cousin ginger, it grows in knobs underground and it looks a lot like ginger on the outside but the inside is a deep rich orange. Turmeric is generally more bitter than its yellow relative but it is also less spicy.

It is precisely this rich color that signals its powerful healing properties. Like other brightly-colored vegetables such as blueberries, dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes, turmeric is loaded with antioxidants. Studies have recently begun to proliferate about turmeric’s anti-cancer properties and in fact, it purportedly contains more cancer-prevention compounds than other antioxidant-rich vegetable or roots according to a study published on Pharmacology Online. [1] It uses these compounds not only to starve certain types of cancers of the genes they need to grow but it also incites some cancer cells to kill themselves. [2]

Powerhouse almost seems too tame a word for the superhero that is turmeric. It also can help you feel like a superhero because of its anti-inflammatory properties. A key component of turmeric, curcumin, blocks some of the proteins that build up and cause pain. It thus makes a great addition to a post-workout smoothie, and is increasingly being used to prevent and treat chronic joint problems such as rheumatoid arthritis. [3]

Turmeric is also used to address PMS, calm uterine cramping, and help bring on menstruation by stimulating blood flow and balancing hormones. Its support for the circulatory system has been previously mentioned in my blog about treatments for varicose veins but turmeric is also used by herbalists to address ectopic pregnancies and as part of treatments to shrink fibroids. This is in part due to turmeric’s rich Vitamin B6 content which tones and fortifies blood vessels. [4]

Before diving into recipes and ways to integrate this amazing food into your diet… A warning: Turmeric’s rich color can stain sometimes temporarily but sometimes permanently. If using the root, be careful with porous surfaces that you care about (like wood, ceramic and certain knives). A bit of salt or baking soda usually remove its rich tannins but this type of abrasion may scratch the surface. In addition, it may take a while for the stain to come out and sometimes repeated use alone will ultimately remove the stain.

And now for the fun part….

Turmeric Root Tea
Serves 1
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Ingredients
  1. 2-inch piece of turmeric
  2. 1-inch piece of grated ginger
  3. 1 cinnamon stick
  4. black pepper
  5. raw honey
Instructions
  1. Grate turmeric into 10 oz of water.
  2. Bring to a boil with grated ginger, cinnamon stick, and a pinch or two of black pepper.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, strain and add a few drops of raw honey.
Notes
  1. This becomes a rich-treat when made with your favorite milk instead of water. (I like almond, hemp, or coconut milk beverage.) Just be sure to warm it on a lower heat and do not allow the mixture to come to a full boil.
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Turmeric Powder in Indian Dal

Dal is a classic, warming Indian dish made from lentils or mung beans. It always contains a mixture of spices but turmeric is definitely the star. Check out this interesting article with a recipe at the bottom: Felicity Cloake. “How to Make the Best Dal.” The Guardian. 2 June 2011. [FYI, 400 grams of mung beans = a little bit less than 1 cup.]

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[1]  Sheel Sharma, et al. “Fortification of Traditional Recipes with Antioxidant Abundant Food Stuffs and Their Acceptability Evaluation.” Pharmacologyonline 3: 1374-1383 (2011) p. 1377.

[2]  Robin Rose Bennett. The Gift of Healing Herbs: Plant Medicines and Home Remedies for a Vibrantly Healthy Life. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2014, p. 453; Dr. Claudia Welch. Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 2011, p. 185; World’s Healthiest Foods. Turmeric.

[3]  Dr. Joseph Mercola. “Curcumin: The Spice That is Better Than Drugs for Rheumatoid Arthritis.” June 16, 2012.

[4]  Susun S. Weed. Down There: Sexual and Reproductive Health The Wise Woman Way. Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Publishing, 2011, p. 271; Dr. Robert E. Svoboda. Ayurveda for Women: A Guide to Vitality and Health. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2000, p. 83; Lisa Gallant, “Turmeric: The Golden Goddess.” California College of Ayurevda.

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