Author: Lily Mazzarella
I first learned about the healing properties of Turmeric in the late 90's while studying Ayurvedic medicine and working at Integral Yoga Natural Vitamin in NYC (I call it the Integral Yoga Natural Compound, since they occupy most of the buildings on one block of 13th st. It's technically an ashram in the middle of the West Village—wild!). Turmeric was everywhere, drifting in plumes around the bulk bins, wafting into the yoga rooms from the kitchen, where large vats of kitcharee percolated. A bright golden haze hangs over my memory of that time. We sold it in the herb store, of course; Turmeric was just coming on the scene as an anti-inflammatory. Early research showed promise for prostate health, liver protection, and reducing inflammatory enzyme load.
15 years later, Curcumin, one of the main active constituents in Turmeric, has emerged as a pharmacological powerhouse—and a widely available supplement. Thousands of research papers point to its myriad protective actions and mechanisms of action. Just a FEW highlights, supported by research, include:
Chemopreventative: research is abundant for colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer cell lines
Neuroprotection: our brains are targets of chemical and heavy metal-induced toxicities; Curcumin helps protect our delicate neurons and is antioxidant in the central nervous system
Anti-inflammatory: Curcumin is a rockstar here. Many people are seeking alternatives to commonly used NSAIDs like ibuprofen as dangers of their use become known. Curcumin has gone head to head with NSAIDs in multiple clinical trials and more than held its own!
Hepatoprotectant: protects the liver against various chemical assaults, and supports the production and flow of bile
Radioprotectant: protects healthy cells against the effects of radiation
Cognition-enhancing: protects the brain from the (literal) brain damage caused by chronic stress; preliminary research indicates Curcumin may protect against the development of Alzheimer’s
(We could go on. And I do mean ON. But that is for another post….)
As an adventuresome herb student, I put anything and everything on my skin in an attempt to quell the itch and rash of my eczema. I mixed it with Licorice powder and applied liberally—and was introduced first hand to the power of Turmeric's pigments. This was more a golden deluge than a golden haze…but it worked! I put it on everything red, hot, or infected, including bug bites and poison ivy, and gargled with it at the onset of sore throats.
Can I eat it?
Later I riffed on commonly available recipes for Turmeric paste meant for internal use. Of note regarding Curcumin: its poor oral bioavailability. That is, Curcumin is anti-inflammatory as all get-out in a test tube, but unfortunately we excrete most of it in our feces. However, if bound to a phospholipid (found in soy, eggs, and our cell membranes), or combined with bioperine (a component of black pepper—curry, anyone?) the bioavailability of Curcumin increases dramatically. Adding fat, in the form of ghee or coconut oil/milk will theoretically help as well. Epidemiological data on curry consumers back this up.
So, to get the benefits of the curcumin orally, it is important to either take it in a phospholipid-bound form (we like "Meriva" and CuraMed at Farmacopia), with bioperine, or eat your Turmeric with fat and black pepper.
I recently taught classes on Inflammation and Cognition at the Northern California Women's Herbal Symposium and blended up this divine Golden Turmeric Paste for us to try. Over 16 ounces of this paste was consumed in the 2 classes, and there was a great demand for the recipe. Though I made it up as I went along, here's an approximation of how I got there:
Lily's Divine Golden Turmeric Paste
½ cup organic turmeric powder - We highly recommend Diaspora Co. Pragati Turmeric Single Origin
1 cup filtered water, plus ½ cup
¼ cup raw honey (optional)
½ cup organic virgin coconut oil
½-1 tsp organic black pepper
1-2 tsps combined spices: nutmeg, garam masala, cinnamon, cardomom, etc, to taste
A pinch of pink Himalayan salt
All measures are approximate. You can adjust amounts of powder, water, and oil for desired consistency.
Whisk water and turmeric together, and bring to a simmer. Continuing whisking as you adjust water amount for desired thickness.
Add black pepper, other spices and salt. Continue whisking for 4-5 minutes.
Add coconut oil and whisk until fully combined.
Turn off heat.
While cooling, add the raw honey and blend thoroughly.
While still runny, pour into clean jars and refrigerate.
Turmeric is powerfully anti-microbial (as are most of the ingredients). This should last many weeks in the fridge, especially if you dip in with a clean spoon each time.
How to Use it:
Eat by the teaspoonful—it will stimulate digestion, bile flow, and the bowels
Add to smoothies, yogurt, curries, or pumpkin pies. Heat with whatever milk you desire for a morning or before bed treat.
For more delicious springtime recipes,