A member of the Ginger family, Turmeric is a well familiar spice of Asian cuisine. It is best known for its bright yellow colour, which gives curry powder its characteristic appearance. Turmeric has a long history of use, not just as a spice, but also as a healing agent and as a magical herb. When Europeans were first introduced to it they often falsely identified it as Saffron. However, while it serves perfectly as a dye for all sorts of substances, its properties and flavour do no not compare to those of Saffron. In India Turmeric is indeed widely used as dye, not just for ritual foods to be offered to the Gods, but also for textiles (Buddhist robes are traditionally dyed with Turmeric). Carbonate of soda helps to fix the dye, though it is not very permanent. Occasionally it is also used cosmetically as make-up at weddings and other festive events. The food industry employs it as a colorant for cheeses, sausage and confectionary.
Turmeric is an excellent liver herb, as its signature indicates: It is used for jaundice and to stimulate gallbladder activity. It is a great digestive aid for breaking down fatty foods. Clinical trials have shown it to successfully reduce cholesterol levels. Turmeric has germicidal properties and studies have shown that it can effectively combat H. pylori, which is now found to be the major culprit in causing gastric ulcers.(Munzenmaier 1997 ). In Ayurvedic medicine Turmeric would be considered a ‘pitta substance’ since it works on the digestive principle, aiding metabolic processes and the absorption of nutrients. It stimulates the digestive fire. Some traditional healers use it in the treatment of cough, or cooked with milk, for asthma. Applied externally in combination with Neem leaves it is considered effective against ringworm and scabies. Traditionally it has also been employed as a treatment for eczema, leprosy and purulent inflammation of the eyes. In Chinese medicine it is indicated for shoulder pain, menstrual cramping, colic and rheumatoid arthritis. Recent studies have also found Turmeric effective in inhibiting certain types of cancers. It has been administered both internally and applied externally to aid the healing of cancer lesions and scars. It is also effective in reducing the odour of cancer.
For magical purposes Turmeric is used to increase fertility in humans and animals. It is also sometimes worn as a magical charm for protection and for good health.