A superior herb hiding beneath media hype
Redmon, M.S., L.Ac. Dipl. C.H.
rhizome, Curcuma longa, or jiang huang has been enjoying the limelight in recent
months. It was the herb-du-jour, in
the wake of the Vioxx scandal, along with a bit of research funding and an urban
myth that Indian women never contract breast cancer. Media scrutiny rarely bodes well for a single herbal agent.
The efficacy of such herbal giants as Echinacea (Echinacea ssp.), Kava
Kava (Piper methysticum) and Saint John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), have
been called into question by poorly constructed and executed studies that
followed media fanfare. Ma huang (Ephedra sinensis) has been banned from our
pharmacopeia because of inappropriate applications promulgated by mainstream
news. Like the latest Hollywood starlet, media outlets would build them up to
otherworldly proportions, only to exaggerate, even fabricate scandals and falls
of the studies that render the aforementioned herbs impotent have resulted in
scholarly critiques. Yet these
rebuttals seem to reach the ears of the choir only, with the mainstream media/
pharmaceutical corporations honing in on their next target.
herb has a rich and long history in the Indian subcontinent, China and Southeast
Asia. Spice blends have employed the dried and powdered rhizome for its deep,
aromatic nature that harmonizes so many herbal flavors. While its vibrant color
fades much faster than saffron on garments, it has a much stronger medicinal
track record. Traditional Asian medicine has employed this herb for many blood
and dermatological disorders, gastrointestinal disorders including irritable
bowel syndrome or excess gas, and for musculoskeletal problems, as a specific
for shoulders. As the doctrine of
signatures dictates through its hue, this herb is especially useful for hepatic
and biliary disorders, treating jaundice, hepatitis, and gallbladder disease.
bitter and warm.
the spleen and liver meridians.
is a specific remedy for shoulder pain according to traditional Chinese wisdom.
tincture, powder, oleoresin, fresh sources
wisdom has been impressively substantiated and augmented by modern research,
which recognizes turmeric in benefiting the following organ systems and
Acute or chronic
and acute sinusitis
(Increases production and secretion of bile)
especially against hepatitis and carcinoma
or necrotic wounds
pain, especially “frozen shoulder”
Stimulant: Treats amenorrhea and dysmennorhea
proven effectiveness in rheumatoid as well and osteoarthritis, this could be a
promising herb for fibromyalgia, Lyme’s disease, and other autoimmune pain
research revealed a surprising number of topical applications for this plant
rhizome. In our age topical
application of herbs is a neglected area. At
times, topical application is far more efficient and efficacious than ingestion.
Of course, it does require more commitment on the part of the patient.
Encouragement and enthusiasm on the practitioner’s end is in order. An
acute outbreak of scabies or impetigo can be effectively eliminated. Turmeric
can also help most chronic skin conditions, as well as infections, trauma and
swellings. Hardly any other agent has such a breadth of topical application with
the research to support it.
essential oil is available in commerce, and is credited with these functions:
aromatherapists use essential oils topically for the most part. This entails
diluting the oil substantially (1 to 30 drops per ounce depending on the
individual oil and treatment) and its application on a specific area. European
doctors often prescribe essential oils for ingestion, and turmeric is suitable
in each capacity. Two things to
bear in mind are that essential oils are extremely potent and should not be
prescribed internally without extensive education, and that topical application
can cause stained skin and clothing.
to three grams daily, powdered or decocted into a tea. Fresh rhizome can be used
as well, but beware of the tenacious oleoresin dyeing everything it touches.
Cautions and contraindications
sources advise caution in cases of bile duct obstruction and gallstones, while
others indicate the herb for this. While safe during lactation and helpful for
infantile colic, its blood-invigorating properties make it a risk to consume
during pregnancy. This caution does
not convince millions of pregnant women to abstain from curry, I imagine.
overwhelming it can be to take in a list of this magnitude, other adaptogenic
herbs can boast this volume of functions. Remember that these are non-toxic,
food-like herbs that we as a species have evolved with, and that they should be
close personal friends. No
prescription drug could offer this breadth of benefits with so few side effects.
My guess is that an herb of this stature will only reveal its gifts over
millenia, like the length of time that we have already shared a relationship.
curry pastes and powders. The
less-gourmet yellow mustard gets its glow from turmeric.
favorite is the tincture of fresh rhizome I make from organic Hawaiian-grown
turmeric. Horizon Herbs in
Williams, Oregon sells certified organic rhizomes by the pound for a reasonable
price. The tincture is excellent
for its shelf life, ease of use both topically and internally, and because it
retains volatile essential oils much better than a dried or powdered product.
our herb shop, we formulate our own version of Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang, the liver
and kidney tonic that removes dampness and cold. We have taken to augmenting
this formula with turmeric extract and find it extremely helpful for a wide
range of musculoskeletal disorders, ranging from acute tendonitis to sciatica
and of course arthritis.
extracts are an interesting way to extract herbs for aromatherapy or internal
use. This product is available for
with turmeric is another excellent way to reap its benefits.
With an affinity for nearly every organ involved in digestion, pairing
the herb with food means you will be speaking the appropriate language. Grains,
vegetables, legumes and meats all taste good with this slightly bitter and
pungent spice. My Grandmother even
makes cookies that contain turmeric! Ginger
rhizome, in the same plant family, shows excellent anti-inflammatory action as
well. They are a wonderful spice pairing in cooking.
Pertinence of Turmeric in American Culture
herb has a certain luxury in its status as a culinary herb: it will more likely
enter the mainstream consciousness. Perhaps
marketers will embrace this plant, to have it take hold as the only agent
yet known to give us the joint pain relief that we need with additional
cardiovascular-protective and anti-carcinogenic function we could only dream of
in a drug. People with disorders involving multiple organ disorders could
benefit from a single non-toxic agent. Let’s hope that their drug regimens do
not get in the way.
to John Chen, a Chinese herbalist and pharmacist who is a leading expert on
herb-drug interactions, using herbs and drugs together is not the blind gamble
that medical doctors would have us believe.
Analgesics in particular have a poteniating effect when used with herbs.
If you have any doubts about safety
or protocols, consult with a professional herbalist. It is a wonder that this
ancient time-honored herb addresses so many modern American ails gently and
Looking toward the future
who use, know, trust and prescribe herbs are their stewards. Big business and
government beaurocracies do not have the time or inclination to understand
turmeric in all its facets and subtleties.
For instance, ecological growing
and harvesting practices are all the more crucial in a root or rhizome herb,
since the plant gives up its life for this. The scarcity of American ginseng in
Eastern forests is a sad reminder of this fact. We need to educate people about
the value of using the whole non-standardized, non-patented herb, and the
elegance of nature’s formulations. Each
herb is a formula in itself, hundreds of constituents creating checks and
balances that minimize harmful side effects. It is up to us to disseminate
knowledge about the depth of the art of herbalism. Western science is one lens to focus with, and as we have
seen, it uses herbs for functions other than the Ayuvedic and Chinese
applications. Each culture has its
own take, all are valid, and even considered together, lack absolute
completeness. Such is the finite
nature of our comprehension of this planet we call home.
Dastur, J.F.. Medicinal Plants of India and Pakistan. Treasure House of Books. Bombay: 1970
Sheppard-Hanger, Sylla. The Aromatherapy Practical Manual. Tampa, Florida. 1998.
Chen, John K. & Tina T. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. Art of Medicine Press. City of Industry: 2004.
Laurel studied Chinese Medicine, including Acupuncture and Herbology at The American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco. Her study of Herbalism was conducted over a period of sixteen years, four of which she spent living in Hong Kong, participating in the founding of Cheryl’s Herbs. She has studied with international leaders in Chinese and Western Herbalism, as well as aromatherapy and mycology. She has taught classes on subjects from cooking to pulse diagnosis, and written for and edited herb and aromatherapy books. She lives and works on an herb farm in the Baraboo Hills, and maintains a practice and herb shop in Madison. Her Red Sage Classical Chinese Herb Formulas are available exclusively through Cheryl's Herbs.
© 2012 Cheryl's Herbs. All Rights Reserved.