A knife cut. Blood. Dripping incessantly. Unflustered, the Indian housewife reaches for the closest and safest remedy at hand–Haldi.
Bodies responding to seasonal changes with the flu, coughs, and running noses, are immediately administered with honey mixed with turmeric, or turmeric mixed in milk by the homemaker, to soothe and to cure.
The Friday oil bath routines with the application of Haldi is almost sacrosanct with the South Indian women, resulting in beautiful skin, and hairless bodies! In fact, in South India, it is considered very auspicious and therefore, is the first item on the grocery list. The turmeric plant is tied around the vessel used to make Sweet pongal on the harvest festival, which is celebrated on the Makarshankranti Day, universally celebrated on 14th of January, every year.In many North Indian traditional wedding ceremonies, haldi is applied to both, the groom and the bride, not only to make them look good with fresh glowing skins, but to ward off the evil eye. It is considered by the Hindus as a symbol of prosperity and as a cleansing herb for the whole body. Pieces of crushed roots mixed with seawater are sprinkled to remove the negative influences from places, persons, and things during ceremonies.
Indians therefore, are no strangers to the multiple uses of Turmeric (Curcuma longa). It is well recognized as the best anti-oxidant, hypoglycemic, colorant, antiseptic and wound healer. Used in cooking as a spice for over 2,500 years, turmeric has a bitter, musty flavor similar to mustard. It is this spice that gives Indian curries their characteristic bright yellow-orange color.
The healing properties of turmeric have made it a most sought after ingredient in cosmetics and drugs, as the leaf oil and extract can also be used as sunscreens and bio-pesticides.In fact, Turmeric has been in the global limelight for the granting of the controversial patent on it!
Its modern approved applications in European medicine, stem from its traditional uses in Asia. Turmeric is used extensively in the Indian systems of medicine (Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha). It is used as a carminative and stomachic in the treatment of digestive disorders such as flatulence, bloating, and appetite loss. Turmeric is used internally as boiled powder, fresh juice, and confection and externally as paste, oil, ointment, and lotion. It is also applied topically for ulcers, wounds, eczema, and inflammations. In both the Ayurvedic and Siddha systems of medicine, a turmeric paste is used topically to treat ulcers and scabies.
Turmeric, with its antibacterial action, prevents bacterial infections on wounds. Turmeric also has a long history of use for its anti-inflammatory and antiarthritic effects. As in India, it is used in China, Japan, and Korea for a range of indications including, Amenorrhea. Turmeric has been investigated for its cholagogous influence on the secretion of bile, pancreatic, and gastric juices. It is currently being evaluated for its anticarcinogenic and antimutagenic properties.The roots are pounded and pressed to extract a juice that, when mixed with water, is helpful in earaches and to clear the sinuses through nasal application. The astringent qualities of turmeric are also useful in cases of consumption, tuberculosis, bronchitis, colds and asthma, the root being lightly cooked and eaten. At times, turmeric has been taken as a diuretic, and topically it can be helpful with pimples or to stop bleeding.
The active constituent of turmeric is curcumin, which has been shown to have a wide range of therapeutic effects. It protects against free radical damage, as it is a strong antioxidant and reduces inflammation by reducing histamine levels. Curcumin has a protective effect on liver tissue exposed to liver damaging drugs and is traditionally used for liver ailments. Liver damage resulting from excessive consumption of alcohol or prolonged use of painkillers like paracetemol may be minimized to some extent.
Turmeric also protects the liver from a number of toxic compounds. Studies have shown that turmeric may help reduce cholesterol and also prevent the internal blood clots that trigger heart attack and strokes. There are promising results on the use of turmeric to treat cancer, as it is believed to inhibit the growth of lymphoma tumor cells.Turmeric is extremely safe. It has been used in large quantities as a food, with no adverse reactions. However, persons with symptoms from gallstones should avoid turmeric. Turmeric’s potential anti-clotting effect might cause problems for those with clotting disorders. Unusually large amounts of turmeric consumption, may result in an upset stomach. Turmeric is best avoided during pregnancy, obstructive jaundice, hepatitis and acute bilious colic and should not be administered to people who suffer from stomach ulcers or hyperacidity.
Growing Turmeric
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a plant of the ginger family, native to India and Southeast Asia. It is a perennial plant with pulpy, orange, tuberous roots that grow to about 2 feet in length. The aerial parts include large, lily-like leaves, a thick, squat, central flower spike, and funnel-shaped yellow flowers. It is largely cultivated in all parts of India, mainly in Chennai, Bengal, and Mumbai. It is also cultivated in China, Taiwan, Japan, Burma, Indonesia, and throughout the African continent.Turmeric is without a stem, yet the overlapping clustered leaves appear to be growing out of a stem above the ground. The leaves are blade-like, 8 inches long by 3 inches wide, and rise to about 20 inches high, directly from the underground root. This root/rhizome grows its leaves much as the banana does.
Soil rich in humus, which is sandy in nature, is ideal for growing turmeric. The mother rhizome is kept beneath river sand, till the hot summer is over and is planted in June. Each germinating rhizome is planted at the distance of one, to one and half feet and watered in such a way, that there is no stagnation leading to root destruction.
After the rhizomes are planted, turmeric hides in the garden for three or more months, before it sprouts from the ground. The rhizomes are collected, leaving some, at the end of six months, so that the plant is perennial. This plant is usually dormant from about September to March, but the roots do survive and will revive to come up with green leaves once again. This plant can also be grown at home, in wide mouth pots of 2-ft height as the underground part is of use.