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Botanical Description & Habitat

Curcuma longa, C. xanthorrihiza



Common Names

Indian saffron


A perennial member of the ginger family. It bears funnel-shaped yellow flowers.


Southern Asia. It is now extensively cultivated in Eastern countries such as China and India, and in Western nations of the Caribbean.

The German Commission E cites both Turmeric root and Javanese Turmeric root as approved herbs.

Medicinal Parts

The primary (bulb) and secondary rhizomes are collected, cleaned, boiled and dried.

It is best-known as a spice and forms the primary ingredient in curry powder.

Historical Properties & Uses

Turmeric provides not only flavor but color to many foods and prepared spices. In the West its culinary uses far outnumber its traditional medicinal uses. Turmeric is the primary ingredient in many varieties of curry powders and sauces.

A survey of the folklore literature of the world reveals the herb has been employed in the medical systems of many nations. In China alone, turmeric is used "to remove blood stasis, promote and normalize energy flow in the body, and relieve pain...to act on the spleen and liver...in treating chest and rib pain, amenorrhea, abdominal mass, traumatic injuries, swelling, and carbuncles...treatment of hematuria (bloody urine), pain and itching of sores and ringworm, toothache, colic, flatulence, and hemorrhage."

Throughout Asia one finds turmeric being used as stomachic, stimulant, carminative, hematic or styptic. It is used to treat jaundice and other liver troubles, for irregular menstruation of all kinds, for promoting circulation, to dissolve a blood clot, for relieving pain, diarrhea, rheumatism, coughs, and tuberculosis.

Turmeric is hardly ever used alone, but is found in hundreds of different medicinal formulas. One might say it is not viewed as a primary medicinal aid but as an important, perhaps indispensable, adjunct.

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E for dyspepsia.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Method of Action

Sesquiterpenes in the essential oil of turmeric were isolated in 1926 and were ascribed the therapeutic activity. Later, a team of scientists compared the effects of whole extract, the essential oil, and the water-soluble extract and found an active principle in the water extract.

Opinion as to the effectiveness of the pigment (curcumin) was split. Some believed it contained the most important active principles, others claimed it possessed no activity whatsoever.

Turmeric has cholagogue activity

In 1936, an attempt was made to clarify the issue of turmeric's cholagogue activity. In this study curcumin is compared to whole extract and several isolated constituents. The rate of increase in secretion of bile in dogs was used as the measure of effectiveness.

Applying a wide range of dosages they found curcumin, the isolated essential oil, and p-tolymethylcarbinol (one of the constituents of the oil) were all able to increase the secretion of bile, but in differing ways and under differing conditions.

Thus, whole curcumin produced a rhythmic emptying of the gallbladder, the bile being dark and viscous, and the amount after any given contraction being small compared to the actual size of the gallbladder. The gallbladder would then immediately refill with bile and the cycle would repeat.

In contrast to curcumin, the tolymethylcarbinol produced a pure continuous increase in the secretion of bile with no distinguishable contractions. The emptying of the gallbladder had no effect on retrograde effect on the action of the chemical.

Finally, the bile was much clearer than produced by curcumin. The action of the whole alcoholic extract was very similar to tolymethylcarbinol.

It is important to note the content of tolymethylcarbinol in the total extract is far way too small to have produced the observed activity. The whole extract must have contained other substances with similar action to tolymethylcarbinol. The whole extract did not contain enough curcumin to produce the effects observed with the concentrate.

This study demonstrated turmeric contains cholagogue-type substances with both quantitative and qualitative differences in action which in a clinical setting utilizing the whole herb could account for the many of the traditionally observed medicinal and physiological effects.

Asian researchers independently validated the same properties of turmeric. One study investigated the effects of a suspension of milk thistle (Carduus marianus), celandine (Chelidonium majus) and turmeric on choleretic activity in 28 healthy patients.

The cholagogue activity of celandine and milk thistle are known to be very limited. Even a very good cholagogue will only raise the production of bile in healthy humans by about 25-49% (can be much greater in experimental animals). In this case, however, the volume of bile rose by an incredible 369% compared to baseline levels. A similar extraordinary rise in the secretion of bilirubin was observed (285%).

These results indicate the interactions among the principles of cholagogues are not simply additive, nor even clearly multiplicative, but involve a mechanism requiring much more research before it is understood.

Its choloretic action is noted by the German Commisssion E.

Turmeric has hepatoprotective action

Asians scientists also explored the ability of an alcohol extract to prevent lesions to the liver induced by some potent toxin, such as carbon tetrachloride, or galactosamine. The preparation provided highly significant hepato-protective activity which led the researchers to more closely investigate possible methods of action. The results of these studies have been abmiguous; much more work is needed before we will completely understand how turmeric works. What has been clearly demonstrated so far is that turmeric possesses anti-hepatic activity on the order possessed by other liver-protective herbs such as milk thistle and licorice.

In one of the above studies the investigators compared the action of several turmeric constituents and their analogues, and found only caffeic acid showed significant effect. This is an intriguing finding since it has often been hypothesized turmeric components somehow cleave in the body to cinnamic acid derivatives, which then show anti-hepatotoxic activity. But in this study, it was shown a wide variety of cinnamic acid analogues did not show significant anti-hepatotoxic effects--only caffeic acid did. Since none of the most active turmeric constituents yield caffeic acid, the action of turmeric must be a result of the combined action of all curcuminoids themselves. The implication of these results is the most effective turmeric concentrate will retain all of the major fractions of turmeric.

Turmeric has other effects on the blood

Curcumin has been found to lower blood cholesterol levels

Research has looked specifically at the effects of curcumin on platelet aggregation inhibition and prostacyclin synthesis (anti-inflammatory principle). Turmeric was, of course, very effective, so much so the researchers recommended it be used as a treatment of choice in patients prone to vascular thrombosis and those requiring antiarthritic therapy. The authors note the centuries old use of turmeric for these purposes in Asian medicine.

Turmeric has anti-inflammatory action

The potent anti-inflammatory activity (in essential oil and in curcumin) of turmeric has been substantiated in other research. Like other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (such as licorice root), curcumin appears to act through some sort of adrenal mechanism (when the adrenals are removed, turmeric has no effect). Just what that mechanism is remains to be clearly determined. Licorice root acts by increasing the life of circulating steroidal substances. Perhaps turmeric operates in a similar fashion. The anti-inflammatory property compares well with many other known anti-inflammatory agents used in the treatment of arthritis.

Turmeric has antibiotic action

Antibacterial and antifungal properties have been attributed to turmeric. Indeed, its effectiveness in treating cholecystitis is probably attributable to antimicrobial action.

Turmeric prevents and treats gallbladder disease

A number of studies have shown curcumin both protects the gallbladder against disease and is a good treatment for such disease. The successful treatment of gallstones (cholelithiasis), acute and chronic inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis), and inflammation of the bile duct (cholangitis) have been reported. The effectiveness of turmeric in the later two conditions is probably due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. And, as mentioned above, the action of turmeric in disorders of the gall bladder is probably a very good indication the herb has similar effects on the equivalent and similar conditions in the liver.

Turmeric may help reduce weight

Because it aids in the breakdown (catabolism) and metabolism of fats in the liver, turmeric could contribute an important factor in weight reduction procedures. It has been reported the Caraka Samhits of ancient India (3,000 B.C.) recommended a certain herbal preparation for the treatment of obesity including turmeric.

Turmeric and snake bites

There is research to demonstrate the antidotal effects of curcuma species on Thai cobra bites. In Thai folk medicine, a tea made from curcuma species is given orally to victims of the bite of Naja naja siamensis, and is said to produce recovery from this normally very lethal envenomization. Given intravenously to mice and dogs, the tea seems to be very effective. On the basis of the findings of several related studies, the mechanism of action appears to be one direct inactivation, the exact manner in which this takes place is unknown.

Turmeric has proteolytic action One of the interesting by-products of the snake bite research has been the discovery of proteolytic (protein-digestive) activity in turmeric.

A pair of scientists had reasoned the inactivation of the cobra venom might be the result of some proteolytic activity in the turmeric extract since the venom is itself a polypeptide (protein). Consequently, they first attempted to find a protein-digesting moiety in the extract--and succeeded. Unfortunately for their research, this fraction turned out to not be active against the venom. But fortunately for us, we now know of two distinct ways by which turmeric aids in the digestive process; indirectly, through the circuitous route of bile production, storage and secretion, and through a direct action on dietary proteins.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Known Interactions
The oxytocic-like action of this herb may produce neonatal jaundice which would interfere with serum bilirubin test results.

Turmeric has anticoagulant components and inhibits platelet aggregation.

Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines A Guide for Health-care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996:21,45,63,282.

Possible Interactions
The sympathomimetic action of the relaxant ritodrine hydrochloride and the vasoconstricting property of turmeric are additive.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

No toxicity has been observed at recommended dosages. In exceedingly high amounts, it has been observed to inflame the mucous linings of the stomach.

Since this reaction is similar to cayenne on 'innocent' tissue, it is possible the stomach lining would adapt to the presence of turmeric over time, eventually exhibiting no inflammation at all to even very high doses.

Turmeric roots have approval status by the German Commission E.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Preparation & Administration

Use as desired by itself or as part of curry powder

Use one 300mg capsule of guaranteed potency turmeric at each meal.
Combine 50-150 mg with other liver tonifying herbs.

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E.

Recommended daily dosages in Germany are as follows:

1.5 - 3 g of the herb.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.



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Curcuma longa

? Southwest School of Botanical Medicine


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