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All Purpose Turmeric: Uses, Chemistry, IPR

All Purpose Turmeric: Uses, Chemistry, IPR
by Lalit Tiwari & D.P. Agrawal

There is hardly any dish in which Indians don’t put a little bit of turmeric. The Indians for millennia knew its multiple benefits, though some Indian Americans did try to take out patents on them! Turmeric powder significantly increases the mucus content in gastric juices, no wonder that Indian cuisine lays emphasis on turmeric’s therapeutic effect against gastric disorders. Curcuma oil, curcumin and its alkali salts prevent histamine induced gastric ulceration. Turmeric is the most important medicinal plant of Indian traditional medicine system.

Turmeric plant is extensively cultivated all over India. India is the principal supplier of turmeric to the world markets. The total acreage under turmeric in India has been estimated variously from 60,000 to 100,000 acres, and the production is nearly 100,000 tons of rhizomes per annum.

In India, the turmeric plant is commonly called haldi; it is known in Chinese as jiang huang. The turmeric rhizome is very aromatic, with a musky odour and yellow colour. Turmeric plant (Curcuma longa) is a robust perennial with a short stem and tufted leaves. The pale-yellow flowers are found in dense spikes, topped by a tuft of pinkish bracts. The rhizomes, which yield the colorful condiment, are short and thick with blunt tubers.

Uses of Haldi

In traditional systems of medicine, turmeric is known as a stomachic, blood purifier, and is useful for common cold, leprosy, intermittent fevers, affections of the liver, dropsy, purulent ophthalmia (inflammation of the eye), otorrhea (discharge from ear), indolent ulcer, pyogenic (forming pus) affections, wound healing and inflammation. The rhizome of turmeric is highly aromatic and antiseptic. Its paste is used in cleansing and disinfecting the skin and skin ulcer without drying out its natural oil.

Clinical tests have proved the bactericidal properties of turmeric. Curcumin and other curcuminoids inhibit growth of various bacteria like S. aureusS. paratyphiTrichophyton gypseum and Mycobacterium tuberculosis in concentrations varying from 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 640,000. The essential oils show marked anti-microbial activity against gram negative (Vibrio choleraeSalmonella typhiKlebsiella aerogenesB. coli) and gram-positive organisms (Corynebacterium diphtheriaeß-hemolytic streptococci). The essential oil fractions from C. longa rhizomes of various habitats exhibit fungistatic (inhibiting the growth of a fungus) activity particularly against Aspergillus niger and Physalospora tucumanesisCeratocystis paradoxaSclerotium solfsiicurvularia lunataHelminthosporium sacchariFusarium moniliforme and cephalosporium sacchari.

Uses in Himalayan Medicine System

For contraception, swelling, insect stings, wounds, whooping cough, inflammation, internal injuries, pimples, injuries, as a skin tonic.

Uses in Ayurveda and Siddha Medicine System

For Katu tikta rasamveeryam, rukshamvarnyam, and in pramehampandurakta-doshamkrimivranampinasam.

For Inflammatory conditions including asthma, dysmenorrhoea (painful menstruation), psoriasis (an inflammatory skin disease), eczema and arthritis. For Hepatic and digestive disorders. For Prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases.

Uses in Unani Medicine System

Removes liver obstruction, dropsy, jaundice; externally used for ulcers and inflammation.

Internal Uses of Haldi

  • Sweetened milk boiled with turmeric is a popular remedy for cold.
  • Turmeric is given in liver ailments and in jaundice.
  • Juice of fresh rhizome is used as an anthelmintic (eliminating parasitic worms).
  • Root is usefully administered in intermittent fevers.
  • In doses of 15 to 20 grains twice a day it is given for flatulence, dyspepsia and weak stomach; it is used both externally and internally in skin diseases due to impurity of the blood.
  • Turmeric is also given internally with cow’s urine in prurigo (itching papules) and eczema. Its powder is sprinkled on ulcers to stimulate them to healthy action.
  • Ghee mixed with powdered turmeric is given to relieve cough.
  • A paste of turmeric alone or combined with the pulp of Neem leaves is used in ringworm, obstinate itching, eczema and other parasitic skin diseases.

External Uses of Haldi

  • Juice of the fresh rhizome is applied to fresh wounds, bruises and leech-bites.
  • A paste of turmeric and the leaves of Justicia adhatoda with cow’s urine are rubbed on the skin in prurigo.
  • Mixed with gingelly oil it is applied to the body to prevent skin eruptions.
  • Turmeric paste mixed with a little lime and saltpetre and applied hot is a popular application to sprains, bruises, wounds, and inflammatory troubles of the joints.
  • In small-pox and chickenpox a coating of turmeric powder or thin paste is applied to facilitate the process of scabbing, and decoction of turmeric (1 part of the bruised root to 20 parts of water) is applied as a lotion to relieve the burning in catarrhal and purulent opthalmia popularly known as “country sore eye”, and conjunctivitis.
  • A piece of rag soaked in it, and kept constantly over the affected eye relieves the burning and moderates the urgency of the symptoms.
  • In piles an ointment made of turmeric, hemp leaves, onions, and warm mustard or linseed oil gives great relief when the piles are painful and protruding; also effective in eczema, itches, etc.
  • In pemphigus (blisters on the skin and mucous membranes) and shingles, the part is first smeared with a thick coating of mustard oil and then dusted and with turmeric powder is cured within 3 or 4 days.
  • In catarrh and coryza (inflammation of nasal mucous membrane) the inhalation of the fumes of the burning turmeric through the nostrils causes a copious mucous discharge and gives instant relief; the fumes are also used to relieve hysterical fits.
  • Turmeric and alum powder in the proportion of 1 to 20 is blown into the ear in chronic otorrhoea. With borax as a paste it is applied to reduce indolent swellings.

Other uses of Haldi

Dried rhizomes are largely used as spices and it is also used as a composition of Indian pickles and curry powders.

It is one of the most important colouring materials of India. The rhizomes yield the orange-red dye. It is much used to impart a yellow colour to cloth. In Himalayan region dried roots are used in many religious practices and its powder is used as pithiya (for tilaka).

Turmeric colour also serves as a chemical indicator since it changes its colour on adding acids or alkalies.

Curcuma oil (obtained from haldi) is an effective mosquito repellant and compares favorably with dimethyl phthalate in its repellant action against mosquitoes.

Chemistry of Haldi

According to N. M. Khanna (1990) turmeric’s major constituents are: ‘curcumin’, various ‘curcuminoids’ and ‘curcuma oil’ (particularly dl-ar-turmerone), which exhibits a wide range of biological activities, e.g. anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, hypolipidemic, hepatoprotective, lipoxygenase, cycloxygenase, protease inhibitory effects, besides being effective active oxygen species scavengers and lipid peroxidase (a class of oxidoreductase enzymes) inhibitors. Curcumin and the curcuminoids also lower cholesterol, reduce platelet aggregation, inhibit proliferation of cancer cells and improve digestion by increasing the flow of bile from the gallbladder.

Curcumin and the essential oils of C. longa particularly sodium curcuminate differentially affect the individual constituents of bile.

Extracts of C. longa rhizomes exhibit good preventive activity against carbon tetrachloride induced liver injury in vivo and in vitro.

Curcumin inhibits intestinal gas formation by Clostridium perfringens at 0.05% concentration. Its effect was evaluated at 0.005, 0.013, 0.025 and 0.05% on gas formation by C. perfringen of intestinal origin. Gas formation decreased gradually as the curcumin concentration increased and there was no gas when curcumin concentration was 0.05%, the level at which bacterial growth was inhibited completely.

Oral administration of curcumin and curcuminoids (750 mg/kg) has been reported to prevent the formation and dissolution of urinary calculi.

Turmeric powder, extracts and curcumin also exhibit antioxidant property.


India is one of the12 megadiversity countries. And our traditional medicine system has strong and safe treatments for many incurable diseases. Use of turmeric is very old in Ayurveda for medicine.Use of turmeric as spices shows that our ancient people knew that daily use of turmeric is very effective against diseases for human body. Today India is facing a great problem, particularly relating to intellectual property rights. The grant of a patent to two nonresident Indian doctors in USA who claimed that they were the first to use turmeric (Curcuma longa) and its extract in powder form for healing wounds is a example of blatant plagiarism (See our story under DID YOU KNOW: Turmeric, an Indian ancient traditional healing medicine, was patented in US by Indian-Americans).

Main Sources:

Khanna, N. K. 1999. Turmeric-Nature’s precious gift. Current Science, 76 (10): 1351-1356.

Nadkarni, A. K. 1976. Indian Materia Medica. Popular Prakashan: Bombay. Pp: 414-418.