Turmeric- the Golden Child

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

Easy to grow in subtropical climates such as the Northern Rivers, turmeric grows in a similar fashion to ginger. The plant has wide strappy leaves above the ground and a mass of tubers under the ground. In Winter the leaves die back and yellow and it is then that you can dig up and harvest the tubers. They are a deep golden yellow and can be dried then pulverised or else pureed and frozen for later. Some tubers can be replanted for a new crop the following year.

There are many good reasons to grow and use turmeric in your cooking. It has many health benefits. Indeed in India, where turmeric is very widely used on a daily basis, we see a far lower incidence of cancers than in the Western world. (obviously there are a number of factors at play here of which turmeric is only one).

Turmeric contains an active component called curcumin. This has attracted much attention and is the subject of multiple trials as a supplementary treatment against cancer. The scientific details of its actions are complex, however in summary:


· Changes pathways in the body which promote cancer development.

· Promotes death of cancer cells.

· Increases the effectiveness of (certain) chemo and radiotherapy treatments by inhibiting survival signals in (some) cancer cells.

· Downgrades inflammation

· Scavenges or ‘mops up’ reactive oxygen species (ROS) which are harmful, like antioxidants do. However, it can also generate ROS which speed up the death of kidney cancer cells.

· Inhibits tumour growth and development.

The great thing about curcumin is that it is cheap and readily available! No toxicity or side effects have been seen in trials so far.

The downside is that in trials the dose required to be effective against cancer is too large for normal consumption as a food and so high curcumin dose supplements have been developed. This is because in its natural form the curcumin in turmeric is quite poorly absorbed by the body. (We call the absorption rate the bioavailability).

However, that indigestibility probably means that it is also a prebiotic, feeding the gut microbiota!

At this stage it looks as though curcumin could be helpful in treating colorectal and pancreatic cancers, as an adjunct to traditional forms of treatment. Much more research is needed.

As a non toxic, delicious addition to food though, turmeric represents a valuable ingredient which very probably has benefits from long term use. Try it in curries, soups, tagines, smoothies, juice and hot milk! Need ideas? Try these:

Vegetarian Paella

Chickpea and Cauliflower Curry.

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