by Jill Hoppe, Clinical Herbalist
Medical Herbalism 11(4):1,3-5
Curcuma longa (turmeric) is a perennial herb of the Zingiberaceae (ginger) family that has been revered as a food and medicine for thousands of years. Having a long history of use for its anti-inflammatory effects, turmeric is an herb of major importance in the East and has been used extensively in the Indian (both Ayurveda and Unani Tibb) and Chinese systems of medicine. Turmeric is cultivated in many parts of the world, but India produces most of the world’s supply. Curcuma longa is the most popular species of turmeric grown in India. Turmeric is widely used as a condiment in Indian curries and prepared mustard and its powerful antioxidant actions assist in preserving the freshness of food by preventing oxidation. The part used in commerce is the cured (boiled, cleaned, sun dried and polished) rhizome.
Indian Materia Medica
Part Used: Tubers and rhizomes
Preparations: Powder, paste, ointment, oil, lotion, inhalant, confection
Actions: Aromatic, stimulant, tonic, carminative, anthelmintic
Internally used as an antiparasitic.
Used for jaundice and other liver afflictions.
Root used for intermittent fevers.
1000-1300 mg. twice daily for flatulence, dyspepsia and weak state of the stomach.
Internally and externally for skin diseases due to blood impurity.
A paste applied hot to sprains, bruises, wounds and inflammatory troubles of the joints.
Juice of the fresh rhizome applied to wounds, bruises and leech-bites.
A thin paste applied to facilitate the scabbing process in chickenpox.
A decoction (1 ounce of the bruised root to 20 ounces of water) applied as a lotion to relieve burning in catarrhal and purulent opthalmia conjunctivitis and other eye inflammations. A piece of cloth soaked in the decoction, and placed over the afflicted eye, relieves the symptoms.
on ulcers to stimulate them to healthy action.
Mixed with ghee to relieve cough.
A paste, alone or in combination with the pulp of neem leaves, used in ringworm, obstinate itching, eczema and parasitic skin diseases.
An ointment of turmeric, hemp leaves, onions and warm mustard or linseed oil for painful and protruding hemorrhoids, and for eczema and other itchy conditions.
A thick coating of mustard oil, dusted with turmeric, is applied for shingles.
Sprinkled over burning charcoal for scorpion stings, with the smoke applied to the affected part for a few minutes.
With alum powder in proportion of 1 part turmeric to 20 parts alum, blown into the ear for inflammation of the ear with discharge.
Internally for urinary tract diseases.
A good digestive compound powder: equal parts turmeric, long pepper, ginger, cardamom, with ½ part black pepper.
In Chinese Medicine, turmeric is considered an herb that invigorates the Blood. This class of herbs may be used to treat pain, abscesses and ulcers, and abdominal masses. In Chinese Medicine, the rhizome and tuber are distinguished as decribed in the box on page three..
research has taken place in India and has focused upon turmeric’s
curcuminoids (the most well known being curcumin) and volatile oil. The
curcuminoids are an important class of antioxidant and
constituents and are responsible for turmeric’s vibrant yellow color.
has been investigated for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial,
choleretic, antiviral, antiplatelet, analgesic, antioxidant,
antihepatotoxic and antitumor effects. Most investigations have been in
vitro and vivo. Some of the human clinical trials have studied its
to influence the secretion of bile (Ammon), gallbladder contraction
effects against inflammation (Satoskar), anti-rheumatic activity
ability to reduce cholesterol and lipid peroxides (Soni), and
effects in chronic smokers (Polasa). Turmeric is useful for treating
and inflammation for people coming off non-steroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs (NSAIDs), particularly in combination with other anti-
such as Ananas sativas (bromelain, a proteolytic enzyme from
stem of the pineapple) and bioflavonoids such as quercetin (high in
evening primrose leaf). See Case Study. In human clinical trials the
curcumin has been shown as effective as NSAIDs, without the side
In one double-blind study, 45 patients aged 15-68 received either 400
curcumin, placebo, or 100 mg. of the NSAID phenylbutazone three times
for six days following inguinal hernia and/or hydrocele (accumulation
fluid in scrotum or spermatic cord) surgery. Patients receiving the
or curcumin produced a significantly greater anti-inflammatory response
than placebo, and only curcumin reduced spermatic cord edema and cord
significantly (Satoskar). In another double-blind study, patients were
administered 1,200 mg. curcumin or 300 mg. phenylbutazone daily.
in the duration of morning stiffness, walking time, and joint swelling
were comparable in both groups (Deodhar). Although the mechanism of
is not fully understood, turmeric’s anti-inflammatory actions are
due to its ability as an antioxidant to quench free radicals, hindering
tissue degeneration and its ability to inhibit the arachidonic acid
cascade. The AA cascade is a pathway in fatty acid metabolism that
the pro-inflammatory series 2 prostaglandins (PGE2s). Curcumin has been
shown to be a dual inhibitor of AA metabolism since it inhibits both
enzymes lipogenase and cycloxygenase (Ammon, Safayhi). The activity of
lipogenase is required to transform AA to leukotrienes (triggers for
inflammatory process). Vitamin E, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), onion,
and Boswellia serata (boswellin) have also been shown to
lipogenase. Cyclooxygenase is required to transform arachidonic acid to
the series 2 prostaglandins and series 2 thromboxanes. Curcumin was
to inhibit the activity of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) in several
cell lines (Zhang). Two isoforms of cyclooxygenase are cyclooxygenase-1
(COX-1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). COX-1 is involved in metabolic
such as maintaining stomach lining integrity, regulating blood flow
the kidneys and balancing platelet function and is produced widely
the body. COX-2 is produced in response to tissue injury and plays a
in inflammation, infections, and cellular proliferation (Feldman). Most
NSAIDs inhibit both COX-1 and COX-2 and studies have proposed COX-1
is the reason that long-term NSAID use leads to gastric ulcerations and
perforations in 10 – 20% of patients using these drugs (Lichtenstein).
The new NSAID celebrex (celecoxib) appears to inhibit COX-2
with less inhibition of COX-1. A recent meta-analysis showed that
caused ulcers at only about one-third to one-half the rate of other
(Silverstein). The lower rate is about the same as the rate of ulcers
the general population not taking NSAID according to an editorial in
Journal of the American Medical Association (Lichtenstein). Curcumin
also been compared to an NSAID for ulcerogenic potential in an animal
where it had about one-third the ulcerogenic index score compared to
(Srimal). In another animal trial, curcumin protected against ulcer
induced by phenylbutazone (Bhatia).
Ground turmeric rhizome: 1 teaspoon blended in water or juice up to four times daily (approximately 10 grams)
Standardized turmeric extract containing 400 – 600 mg curcumin three times daily (typically standardized to 95% curcuminoids)
Tincture: 1 – 1½ teaspoon three times daily (dried rhizome 1:5, 50% alcohol)
to the German Commission E, turmeric is contraindicated in persons with
obstruction of bile passages. This is most likely due to turmeric’s
activity. The Botanical Safety Handbook states that use of
should be avoided with bile duct obstruction or gallstones, and should
not be administered to people who suffer from stomach ulcers or
It is also contraindicated in pregnancy. High doses should not be given
to patients taking antiplatelet or anticoagulant drugs.
Used in the recommended amounts, turmeric is generally considered safe. It has been used in large quantities as a condiment with no adverse reactions.
Curcuma: Rhizoma Curcumae (Jiang Huang)
Properties: Acrid, bitter, warm
Channels Entered: The Spleen, Stomach, Liver meridians
Invigorates the Blood and promotes menstruation.
Used for chest or abdominal pain, amenorrhea, or dysmenorrhea due to Congealed Blood generated by Deficiency Cold.
Used for pain and swelling from trauma.
Moves Qi and alleviates pain. Used for epigastric and abdominal pain due to Stagnant Qi.
Expels Wind and moves Blood. Used for damp painful obstruction with Congealed Blood, especially in the shoulders.
Stimulates bile secretion and increases detoxifying abilities of the liver.
Used for general pain, arthritis in the shoulders.
Stimulates the uterus, causing it to contract for five to seven hours.
Tuber Curcumae (Yu-Jin)
Properties: Bitter, pungent flavor, cool
Channels entered: The Heart, Lung, and Liver meridians
Invigorates the Blood and breaks up Congealed Blood. Used topically and internally for pain related to traumatic injury and to hasten the healing of chronic sores.
for chest, abdominal, flank, or menstrual pain from constrained Liver
Used for constrained Liver Qi patterns with heat signs.
Clears the Heart and cools the Blood. Used when hot phlegm obstructs the Heart orifices with symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, seizures, or mental derangement.
Facilitates gallbladder function by promoting the secretion of bile from the liver.
Used for jaundice.
Stimulates gastric secretion, thereby increasing appetite.
Contraindications for rhizome and tuber
When either Stagnant Qi or Congealed Blood are not present
Cases of Deficient Yin from loss of blood
Dosage for rhizome and tuber
3 – 9 g
(Bensky and Gamble; Hsu)
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Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner