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Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. It is native to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent but is now cultivated in many parts of the world with a suitable tropical climate.

Turmeric has been used for thousands of years as a spice, medicinal herb, and dye. Its primary active component, curcumin, is credited with a range of therapeutic properties.

Key terms related to turmeric

Curcumin: the main active ingredient in turmeric, known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and potential anticancer properties.

Rhizome: the underground part of the turmeric plant, which is often mistakenly referred to as a root. Rhizomes are the main source of turmeric powder.

Curcuminoids: a group of compounds (including curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin) found in turmeric, responsible for its bright yellow color and many of its health benefits.

Bioavailability: refers to the degree and rate at which curcumin is absorbed into the bloodstream and reaches the site of action. Curcumin’s bioavailability is relatively low, but can be enhanced with the addition of piperine, a compound found in black pepper.

Ayurveda: an ancient Indian system of medicine that uses turmeric frequently for its health properties, particularly in boosting immunity and treating inflammation.

Curcuma: the genus of plants to which turmeric belongs. Species in this genus are commonly known for their rhizomatous growth and use in herbal remedies and cooking.

Anti-inflammatory: a property of substances that reduce inflammation. Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effects are among its most valued in both traditional and modern medicine.

Antioxidant: substances that prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals. Turmeric’s antioxidants contribute to its protective effects against a range of diseases, including heart disease and neurodegenerative conditions.

Tumericin: a lesser-known compound in turmeric, speculated to also contribute to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities.

Dietary supplement: turmeric is widely used as a dietary supplement for various health issues, including arthritis, digestive disorders, and skin conditions.

    Applications of turmeric

    Culinary use

    Turmeric is a staple spice in many cuisines, particularly in South Asia and the Middle East. It imparts a distinctive yellow color and a warm, slightly bitter flavor to dishes. It is a key ingredient in curry powders and is used in mustards, butters, and cheeses.

    Medicinal use

    Traditionally, turmeric has been used in herbal medicine systems such as Ayurveda, Chinese traditional medicine, and Unani. It is reputed to help with inflammation, pain, metabolic syndrome, and an array of other health conditions. Modern research focuses on its potential in treating diseases like arthritis, anxiety, and high cholesterol.

    Cosmetic use

    Turmeric is also incorporated into skincare products for its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties, which can help with acne, pigmentation, and even wound healing.

    Health benefits and scientific research

    Numerous studies have explored turmeric’s potential health benefits. These include its role in enhancing cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of cancer, and managing arthritis symptoms. However, while promising, many of these studies note that more high-quality, large-scale human trials are needed to confirm these benefits.

    For those looking to add turmeric to their diet, it’s available in fresh, dried, or powdered form as well as in supplements that sometimes include piperine to increase bioavailability.

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