Top Ten Herbs: Turmeric

Herbs are plants that are used for such things as medicine, flavoring, food, or scent. Herbs have become much more popular as their uses have become more well known. Most herbs can be cultivated at home, either in an outdoor garden or inside in a pot or windowsill planter, making them a convenient and accessible option both for cooking and for health.

One of these is turmeric, which contains curcumin (a chemical that is yellow). Its scientific name is curcuma longa and it belongs to the ginger family. It originated in southeast Asia, especially the Indian subcontinent. A perennial, the plant likes temperate weather (between 68 and 86 Fahrenheit) and needs a lot of water to thrive. For use, the rhizomes (rootstalks) are dried and powdered to create the spice that is well known or used fresh. 

While many people use the terms “turmeric” and “curcumin” interchangeably, this is not completely accurate. All turmeric contains about 3% curcumin by weight, and curcumin is joined by a variety of other useful compounds. 

Health Benefits and Side Effects

The health benefits of turmeric are many. The Indian Ayurvedic medicine recommends it; Western medicine is only just beginning to research the possibilities. Turmeric is rich in manganese, potassium, and iron. It also contains magnesium, vitamin B6 and vitamin C. Consume black pepper when using it for health purposes, to aid in absorption, because black pepper contains piperine. A fat-soluble substance, turmeric will be absorbed better if taken or eaten with a meal that includes fat.

Curcumin is usually extracted from turmeric for better potency. It has been shown to be beneficial for:

  • Anti-inflammation – 400-600mg taken up to 3 times daily can help reduce inflammation, which can help against arthritis and other health concerns that are directly related to inflammation.
  • Blood pressure – it is suggested that intake of turmeric can have a positive effect on blood pressure. 
  • Cancer protection – while it has not been proven, some studies indicate that there is a possibility that turmeric protects against pancreatic and prostate cancer as well as multiple myeloma.
  • Cholesterol lowering – while not confirmed, it is suggested that turmeric can assist in lowering cholesterol levels.
  • Digestive support – the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of turmeric can aid in digestion, and some suggest it may be helpful to treat irritable bowel syndrome. 
  • Immune support – the immune system can use all the support it can get, and it is believed that turmeric can be a good addition to that goal.
  • Liver function – because it includes antioxidant effects, it can support liver function and aid in resisting liver damage.
  • Pain relief – its inflammation reduction properties can work toward reducing pain of wounds, dental issues, arthritis, and more.
  • PMS symptoms – some studies suggest that symptoms of PMS can be somewhat lessened with the use of turmeric.

Larger quantities of turmeric ingested may cause some people discomfort. Some may experience stomach upset due to increased gastric acid production. This helps digestion in most people but can cause others to be uncomfortable. It also has been shown to thin the blood somewhat, which can be a problem for those who are taking blood thinning medication. 

In some people, a large quantity of turmeric can increase gallbladder problems. 

Pregnant women should avoid large quantities of turmeric (the amount used for seasoning food is fine) because it can thin the blood. Some have also suggested it can stimulate labor, though this is not confirmed.

Food and Nutrition

A tablespoon of ground turmeric, which contains about 7 grams, provides about 24 calories, about 4 carbohydrate grams, half a gram of protein, just over half a gram of fat, and over a gram of fiber. 

  • Turmeric is most often found in Asian food. It is the primary component in curry.
    Make your own curry powder by mixing turmeric with paprika, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, mustard, red pepper flakes, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves to taste.
  • Even cake can be made with turmeric! It adds an earthy flavor and counters the sweet nicely.
  • Turmeric can be used in a simple soup for a delicious bowl of flavor and antioxidants.
  • Turmeric is a great addition to smoothies! It adds great color and flavor to a pineapple-orange smoothie. 
  • Eggs scrambled with turmeric are delicious and colorful.
  • Add it to homemade hummus for flavor and color.


Temporary tattoos in a pretty golden yellow color can be applied to the skin using turmeric. It will last about two days unless it is refreshed daily.

Tie-dye is a popular way to decorate clothing items. Turmeric can be used to add yellow. It only takes about 3 tablespoons in about a gallon of water. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer for best results.

Add to homemade play dough for yellow without needing standard food dyes.

Easter eggs can be decorated with turmeric for yellow, beet juice for red, blueberries for blue, and other natural dyes.

Other Uses

It is said that turmeric can be used to assist in making teeth whiter. Though it is used to give color to other things, the antioxidants and flavor in it make it a good additive to homemade whitening toothpaste. 

For those whose skin has a sunshine tint, some makeup may be the wrong color. Turmeric can be added to adjust the color to one that more closely matches the skin tone. It will also add a glow. The skin benefits can also be obtained by adding turmeric to homemade soap.

A homemade dandruff treatment can be made by adding turmeric to olive oil. Massage it into the scalp and allow it to stay for about fifteen minutes before shampooing as usual. 

Growing Turmeric

Turmeric can be grown outside anytime in zones 7b through 11; below this range, from spring to fall. It likes soil that is midrange, just either side of neutral. It grows naturally in tropical and subtropical areas.

Because turmeric grows from rhizomes, this will be the starting place for most people. These can be obtained at garden or seed stores, as well as organic food stores. 

Turmeric grows tall – up to a meter! Because of this, it needs space. If choosing to plant turmeric indoors, then a large pot will be necessary to support it. It should be at least a foot deep and as wide, or a bit wider. Wider pots may support two rhizomes. 

It is best to plant in spring or summer. If planting outdoors, the weather needs to be above 54 Fahrenheit. 

Large rhizomes can be divided into smaller pieces, as long as each piece has 2-3 buds on it. Each piece should be put about 2 inches below the surface of the rich soil, with the buds toward the top. Water thoroughly. 

If it is being planted outdoors, it needs to have shelter from wind. It likes some shade, not all-day sunlight on it. After the first watering, be careful to just keep the soil moist; the foliage can be misted for better humidity, since these plants thrive best in tropical environments.

If the temperature stays above 54 F, turmeric can be left in the ground over the winter, where it will hibernate. If it does not, it will be necessary to dig up the rhizomes and store them until spring.