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August 9, 2013

Turmeric, the Golden Root

An herbal walk in St. Mary’s Parish, Jamaica

We followed Jamba, a Jamaican Maroon elder in his 80s, through his farm perched in the hills with a stream running through it. It was a garden hidden deep along the northern coastline of the island. He was one of the teachers on our ethnobotany trip to rural Jamaica last spring. Cinnamon trees, Jamaican Dogwood, Ethiopian plum, Guinea Hen Weed, Chigger Nut, Cacao, Acacia, Elder Pepper and Cerasse were but a few of the plants we encountered.

While showing us his land, he suddenly stopped walking and started to dig in the rich deep brown earth. He knew exactly where the medicine lived amongst dense vegetation, despite little obvious sign of medicinal plant life to the western herbalists in our crew. The cultivation strategy and farming techniques are quite different compared to a typical U.S. herbal farm. His style could be compared more equally to permaculture,in which the plants are surrounded by the native landscape instead of cleared for rows.

Jamba revealed a large root system of turmeric (Curcuma longa). This is one of our most potent anti-inflammatory herbal medicines to date, and has been coined the “herbal prednisone”, a very strong steroid drug. It was a special moment for me to see him cultivate the plant that I have so neatly encapsulated, packaged, and labeled for my patients. It was valuable for me as a physician to connect with the plant in the wild, to touch it, rub the dirt off of it, and to see it stain my hands with its golden pigment.

The medicinal part of turmeric is a stubby orange-yellow root that he referred to as golden root. He told us about the medicine and how he uses it. It is used commonly in Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Ethiopian cuisine, as many of these cultures use medicinal dosages of herbs in the daily diet.

Properties of Curcuma longa (Turmeric)

parts used : tuber and rhizome

  • powerful antioxidant
  • invigorates the blood
  • decongests the liver
  • supports healthy digestive function
  • reduces inflammation
  • anti-carcinogenic (tumor preventing activity)
  • lowers cholesterol
  • heart and liver protective
  • topical antibacterial and antifungal
  • contraindicated in medicinal doses during pregnancy

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