Turmeric that we know and use, is the underground root or rhizome which is also referred to as ‘fingers’. Scientifically named Curcumin Longa it comes from the ginger family. Turmeric is a spice that has a long history and plays a significant role in medicine and culture with its first noted uses in India around 2,500 years ago
More commonly recognised as the vivid, yellow spice powder that is used to colour ones curry and add a depth of flavour, Turmeric is rapidly gaining a reputation as a ‘super food’. Its active ingredient, curcumin, is a powerful anti-inflammatory and strong antioxidant capable of neutralizing free radicals, which is a part of what makes turmeric useful in medicine. It has been found to be packed with iron, vitamin B-6, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and zinc. Turmeric has been proven effective in treating numerous ailments and diseases, including headaches, heartburn, arthritis, stomach pain, flatulence, fever, depression, and lung infections. It has also been found to help control diabetes (http://guardianlv.com/2014/03/new-study-confirms-turmeric-can-benefit-diabetes/)
I first discovered turmeric as a child when my mother used to cook curries in Germany and can remember being fascinated by the deep colour and woody smell of the spice. When we moved to Sri Lanka, I saw it being used primarily in cooking but soon discovered it had many other purposes. At the time, I didn’t appreciate its significance. This blog post is about sharing some of those lesser known uses for Turmeric.
Whilst at school in Sri Lanka I had a friend called Anba. She came from a Hindu background and taught me a great deal about her fascinating culture. Her mother, showed me a natural remedy for scars using turmeric (at the time I didn’t realise that that was what she was showing me!). I had cut myself whilst playing in the garden at home. The wound wasn’t completely healed but it was on the mend. She made up a potion that consisted of a spoon of turmeric powder, a little bit of coconut oil and a drop of lime juice. She mixed it up into a thick paste and applied it to the cut then covered it with a plaster (you don’t want it staining your clothes or other items it might come into contact with). She told me to leave the turmeric paste for as long as I could. After a day or two, I had to check it and if it wasn’t completely healed up, to reapply the mixture. Today, I can only see a very faint line where I had that cut and I am convinced that the turmeric mixture she applied helped reduced potential scarring.
Turmeric has anti bacterial and anti inflammatory properties. You can either apply it neat as a powder or mix it with a little oil to form a thick paste and apply it directly to wounds. Cover with a plaster. Naturally fighting infection, this should also help to speed up healing of wounds and minor cuts.
My friend Anba, used to take a bucket of water that had turmeric powder mixed in to it, to the bathroom every evening when she went for a shower. For a while I didn’t think anything of it but then one day I asked her why. Her answer? Her mother had taught her to do this. She rinsed herself off with this water after she had finished her shower because the turmeric water was considered beneficial as a final cleansing wash for the skin. Having looked in to this recently in a little more scientific detail, I can understand why. With its anti bacterial and anti fungal properties, it would be safe to assume that washing yourself off with this water would act as a sort of disinfecting process and may help to clear skin of any potential ‘infections’. Though her skin had a faint yellow tinge to it, it did always look very healthy
3. Anti dandruff
This is something I discovered very recently from a hairdresser friend in Sri Lanka. Mix some coconut or olive oil with some turmeric powder and massage that into your scalp. Leave it for at least 15 minutes before shampooing off and over time your dandruff should disappear. Word of caution, turmeric will stain so use a shower cap whilst it is in your hair to help prevent any ‘splatter’ and subsequent markings in unwanted places. It is also worth using an old towel when drying your hair, in case you didn’t rinse all the turmeric out when washing it off.
4. Cold Remedy
As a child, when I lived in Sri Lanka, there were 2 main drinks that were prepared when someone had a cold or flu. One was Kothamalli (a traditional Sri Lankan cold remedy – blog post to follow soon) or, and this was usually at night, you would be given a glass of warmed milk with a spoon of honey (or sugar more commonly – to add some sweetness to the flavour) and turmeric powder. The anti bacterial properties of turmeric are thought to help fight bacterial infections associated with colds and flu.
5. Colour change
I remember thinking it quite fun, sticking my wet fingers into a pot of turmeric powder and then drawing on a piece of paper with my yellow fingers. What I found less amusing afterwards was then spending ages with a scrubbing brush trying to remove the colour from my skin. It was however then, that I realised that turmeric could be used as dye. If you look back in history, turmeric has been used as a dye for centuries and being a natural product, means it is not damaging to the environment. So, if you are bored or tired of the colour of your cushions or throw, try adding a couple of spoons of turmeric powder to boiling water, stir to ensure even distribution of colour and add whatever item of fabric you wish to dye. Mix it around to ensure the item is completely soaked through, rinse off and dry. Hey presto you’ve got a new colour scheme to your fabrics.
Turmeric – more than meets the eye!
There is a lot more to the humble turmeric than just a purpose for cooking and I hope this brief blog post helps to ‘show’ you some of those lesser known uses for the spice. No doubt you will have noticed that currently a great deal of research is being conducted on turmeric in relation to health. Some studies say it helps fight cancer (http://www.wakingtimes.com/2016/01/08/turmerics-smart-kill-properties-put-chemo-radiation-to-shame/) and others, dementia (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/05/20/eating-curry-may-help-fight-off-dementia-new-study-suggests/). Either way, we love turmeric and not just in our Hari Hari curries. I sprinkle a little over my morning cereal, add it into my roast dinner stuffing mix, stir it into my sauces, change the colour of my rice, mix it in to my smoothies and more. Turmeric adds a little bit of sunshine to my plate : )