Whenever we sat down to make a list of things to buy for an important life event, my mother made sure the first item on the list was turmeric. “It’s auspicious,” she’d insist. Known as Haldi to people in North, East and West India, and by the names of Manjal or Arishina to South Indians, turmeric can perhaps aspire to the title of “Spice of India”. Modern science is slowly discovering the value of this humble spice found in the simplest of our country’s kitchens. As I begin this series “Subheshaja (सुभेषज) ” on the science behind Bharatiya traditional home remedies, I’m borrowing my mother’s spirit. Let’s make an auspicious beginning with turmeric.
Seeing Priti walking a little ahead of her in the park, Dr. Radha called out, “Hey, Priti, wait a minute, why is your hand looking yellow?”
“Oh that! Is it very noticeable? I told my mother it would look bad, but she just wouldn’t listen!” grumbled Priti, the way many teenagers do.
By now, Dr. Radha had caught up with Priti. Looking closely, she saw there was a small cut on Priti’s arm, and it had been coated with a thin layer of turmeric. “Why, that’s the best medicine, Priti! Your mother is really smart.”
“Hmphh. I told her I’d buy an antiseptic ointment from the pharmacy, but she insisted on this old-fashioned remedy.”
“Hey, Priti, there’s nothing old-fashioned about turmeric. Wait, let’s sit here and I’ll show you something,” said Dr. Radha, leading her young friend to a nearby park bench. “Here, read this,” she said, thrusting her phone into Priti’s hands.
Priti skimmed through the scientific article titled ‘Curcumin as a wound healing agent’. (1)
“Oh! This article says that turmeric contains a compound called Curcumin, which appears to be a miracle agent!”
“Right, Priti! Curcumin is the most important constituent in turmeric, and it has been found to be very effective in healing wounds. It also prevents infections. So your mother is right in using turmeric on small cuts and wounds!”
“She thinks turmeric is the cure for everything. The other day, I had a mild cough. Guess what she did? At once, she powdered some black pepper, and added it with some turmeric powder into the milk, boiled it, and forced me to drink it up!”
“She’s correct in doing that! Wait, let me explain. The curcumin in turmeric has anti-infective properties, too. In fact, recent research shows that curcumin by itself does not get absorbed very well in the body; but if it is combined with a compound called piperine, its absorption increases greatly. (2) Now, what does the word ‘piperine’ sound like, Priti?”
“It sounds somewhat like pepper….”
“Exactly! Piperine is found in black pepper! So now you realize why your mother makes you drink hot milk with turmeric and black pepper powder?”
“Wow! I never realized there was science behind this combo!”
“Where else does your mother use turmeric?”
“Oh, she adds it into the dal, the rasam, the sambar, the curries, stir fried vegetables – everywhere.”
“You know something, Priti, when you tell someone to take something for its medicinal value, it’s difficult to always follow that. People tend to forget things. Maybe that’s why our ancestors tried to make these things a part of our daily life.
With all the research showing curcumin to have so many health benefits, (3) people in western countries are trying to find ways to consume it. But we Indians are lucky, because our cooking has made turmeric an essential ingredient of most of our food. So, everyday, without realizing it, we are getting our daily dose of curcumin!”
“Yeah, that kind of makes sense. By the way, Aunty, this article says curcumin has antioxidant action – what’s the meaning of that?”
“Ah – that is the main reason why curcumin has so many benefits. But it’s a long story to tell. And it’s getting late, so I have to get back home to make dinner. Let’s meet up tomorrow and I’ll explain things?”
“Sure, bye, Aunty!”
Disclaimer: The article is not a medical prescription. It is only for information. The opinion expressed are of the author.