Several years ago, I joined a group of friends for a long hike through Yosemite National Park. If you have never had the pleasure of hiking Yosemite, all you really need to know is that the park is gorgeous, and the hikes can be incredibly strenuous.
After ascending miles of stairs to the top of two waterfalls, Vernal and Nevada Falls, my body started telling me it was time to turn back; there was no way my already aching knees were going to complete the journey.
By the time I’d arrived back to my hotel room, my knees were purple and swollen in an extreme way I had never experienced before. I’d always suffered from mild joint pain, but this was the first time I had a real problem. And the first time I learned about the magical healing powers of turmeric.
Shortly after that hike, I was diagnosed with early osteoarthritis. In seeking out natural and alternative methods to controlling my pain and inflammation, I discovered that turmeric was renowned for doing just that.
Rooted in Tradition
Cultivated and harvested in Indonesia and southern India since 3000 B.C.E., turmeric still plays an important role in many traditional cultures throughout the east. Turmeric is widely used in Indian and Chinese medicine for flatulence, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, bloody urine, hemorrhage, toothache, bruises, chest pain, and colic. Poultices are also applied locally to relieve pain and inflammation.
Respected in the West
Thanks to recent scientific studies regarding the therapeutic benefits of its yellow pigment, curcumin, turmeric is becoming more popular in the western world. Turmeric is inexpensive, but one of the most powerful healing agents in existence, containing properties that are anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial.
Studies have shown it to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, comparable in potency to hydrocortisone and ibuprofen. Unlike prescription and OTC drugs, however, there are no toxic side effects associated with turmeric.
Due to its powerful antioxidant effects, turmeric is able to inhibit the growth of blood vessels in cancerous tumors, and is a natural liver and blood detoxifier.
Turmeric is also helpful in lowering cholesterol, and in the prevention of heart disease and degenerative neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
Characterized by its unique peppery, warm and bitter flavor, turmeric’s fragrance is mild with slight reminiscence of orange and ginger. It is also known for its deep yellow-orange color, which leaves stains on your pots and pans, hands, countertops and clothing. Thankfully, in my experience, the staining is only temporary if treated right away.
Turmeric is most commonly found in powder form, but it’s becoming more widely available as a fresh root, closely resembling ginger. Fresh turmeric should be stored in the fridge, where it will keep for one month; or it can be chopped and sliced and stored in an airtight container for up to three months. Dried turmeric should be stored in a closed container in a dark, dry place, where it can last up to one year.
Turmeric can easily be incorporated into your everyday foods by adding color, or flavor, or paired along with other herbs and spices, like cumin and coriander. It is the main ingredient in curry powder and gives mustard its color.
Some of my favorite ways to use dried turmeric are to add it to soups and stews, give a yellow color to my vegan quiche or omelets, spunk up my rice or quinoa, or give a little extra oomph to dressings and sauces. Since a little bit goes a long way, I also love to use it as a natural food coloring for frostings and cakes.
I use fresh turmeric in many of the same applications as dried turmeric for a much more intense turmeric flavor. My turmeric gets chopped or grated, often along with ginger or garlic, and used as an aromatic blend for a stir-fry, or as a base flavor for casseroles or stews. It is also a wonderful addition to homemade vegetable stock. If you have a juicer, I highly recommend juices of fresh turmeric for maximum health benefits.
As we turn to fall and the weather starts to get a little colder, I like to incorporate a turmeric tea into my daily routine. The tea is comforting for my joints when they start to feel a little stiffer, and is wonderful for mitigating the achiness and sniffles brought on by cold and flu season.
Turmeric Gold Tea
1 teaspoon grated fresh turmeric
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
½ Tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste
dash of cayenne
sweetener to taste, optional
1. Bring 8oz of water to a boil. Add ginger and turmeric and simmer or steep for 10 minutes. Strain the tea through a fine mesh sieve or tea strainer to remove the solids. You can leave them in, but it will be more pleasant to drink just the liquid.
Add lemon juice, dash of cayenne and sweetener, if desired, and enjoy.
*Alternately, you may use turmeric and ginger juice diluted with hot water to make your tea.
More in Tea: Foraging Fun – Making Your Own Wild Chicory Tea
Also see: 5 Warming Spices for Fall
Photo: Christine Oppenheim