There’s a “new” rhizome on the block that is catching everyone’s attention – turmeric. As a native of South Asia, it has been cultivated as a spice and medicine for nearly 4000 years, which hardly qualifies it as “new.” However, just as everything old is new again, part of its popularity is stemming from trendy new health beverages (such as Tumeric – notice it’s missing an ‘r’).
Rhizomes, a term derived from the Greek meaning “mass of roots,” are exactly that – plants that have evolved a specific root structure that acts as seeds. The roots can be broken into pieces, individually planted and will grow into new plants.
Other rhizomes include asparagus, hops and, the most famous rhizome of all, ginger. In fact, turmeric is also referred to as Yellow Ginger.
Long revered in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, turmeric (Curcuma longa) has received more attention lately as many studies are confirming the healing properties for which it has been held in high esteem. While it has a rich history of use in a variety of Indian, Asian, African and Middle Eastern dishes, Americans are most familiar with turmeric in curry powder.
Dried turmeric is what provides that quintessential golden, yellow color not only to curries but to a variety of other foods such as butter and cheeses (along with annato), mustards, chicken broth, and even some pickles. It is also used as a natural dye for fabric or Easter eggs!
The health benefits of consuming turmeric are numerous. As previously mentioned, both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, the classical Indian medical system, use turmeric for a variety of ailments including:
- aid and warm digestion
- reduce inflammation throughout the body
- heal various skin disorders and wounds
Western scientists have shown that turmeric is a strong anti-oxidant, which in conjunction with its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties, it is little wonder that it is affectionately referred to as the “queen” of spices. Due to these properties, scientists are investigating turmeric’s possible benefits as a both a cancer preventative and a secondary treatment to help counter the strain on the body from chemotherapy.