Names of Turmeric:

Every Ayurvedic herb typically has dozens of names that point to different aspects of the herb including its appearance, it's mythology, and it's healing ability. I feel that learning an herb’s names is an essential way to study the herbs. The most common of the dozens of Sanskrit names for Turmeric is Haridra, which can be translated to mean ‘the yellow one.’ Other Sanskrit names are Aushadhi, Gauri, and Kanchani. Gauri means ‘the one whose face is light and shining,’ and Kanchani means the ‘Golden Goddess.’ To me the most interesting name is Aushadhi, which usually simply means ‘herb.’ However, it is used in the Vedas as a name of Turmeric. This makes me think they considered Turmeric to be thee herb, the most outstanding herb, the one herb above all others. The Hindi name is Haldi, which means ‘yellow,’ and the Latin binomial is Curcuma longa, a member of the Ginger family, Zingiberaceae. 

Turmeric’s Molecular Constituents:

Turmeric has hundreds of molecular constituents, each with a variety of biological activities. For instance, there are at least 20 molecules that are anti-biotic, 14 that are known cancer preventatives, 12 that are anti-tumor, 12 are anti-inflammatory and there are at least 10 different anti-oxidants. The list goes on and on, in fact I counted 326 known biological activities of Turmeric in one particular database. Like Rose, Turmeric is a veritable pharmacy in its own right, with literally hundreds of molecules and activities on its ‘shelves.’ This is also testimony to the use of whole herbs and not just isolated molecules. And speaking of molecules, by far the most researched in Turmeric are the three gold-colored alkaloidal Curcuminoids: Curcumin, Demethoxy-curcumin, and Bisdemethoxy-curcumin. Most of the research done is with a 95% Curcuminoid extract of Turmeric, though in its raw state Turmeric is only 3-5% Curcuminoids. The rhizome is 70% carbohydrates, 7% protein, 4% minerals, and at least 4% essential oils. It also has vitamins, other alkaloids, and is about 1% resin 

An acrid, volatile oil, brown colouring matter, gum, starch, chloride of calcium, woody fibre and a yellowish colouring matter named curcumin; this is obtained by digesting tumeric in boiling alcohol, filtering and evaporating the solution to dryness, the residue being digested in ether, filtered and evaporated. 


Amomoum curcuma, anlatone (constituent), Curcuma, Curcuma aromatica , Curcuma aromatica salisbury, Curcuma domestica , Curcuma domestica valet, Curcuma longa rhizoma, Curcuma oil, curcumin (I, II, III), curcumin, diferuloylmethane, E zhu, Gelbwurzel, gurkemeje, Haldi, Haridra, Indian saffron, Indian yellow root, Jiang huang, kunir, kunyit, Kurkumawurzelstock, Kyoo, Olena, Radix zedoaria longa, Rhizome de curcuma, safran des Indes, shati, turmeric root, tumerone (constituent), Ukon, yellowroot, Zedoary, Zingiberaceae (family) , zingiberene (constituent), Zitterwurzel.  

Plant Description:

Grown in the tropical regions of southern Asia, turmeric is an erect, perennial (returns each year) plant with trumpet-shaped dull yellow flowers. Turmeric is fragrant and has a bitter, somewhat sharp taste similar to ginger.  

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is much more than the familiar spice that gives curry blends their yellow colour and imparts to them a slightly bitter or astringent taste. It is an amazing healing plant that has not only been valued for its therapeutic properties in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for thousands of years but also has a significant role to play here in the West in the prevention and treatment of a wide range of modern day problems. It is an excellent natural antibiotic, and one of the best detoxifying herbs by virtue of its beneficial effect on the liver, a powerful antioxidant with health-promoting effects on the cardiovascular, skeletal and digestive systems. Through its beneficial effect on the ligaments, it is highly valued by those who practise Hatha Yoga.   

The medicinal part of turmeric comes from the fleshy underground rhizomes of a perennial plant from the same family as ginger with large lily-like leaves that can grow to about 3 feet high. The rhizomes are harvested in winter, boiled or steamed, and then dried. Most turmeric is available as a powder. 


Turmeric (Curcuma longa), a yellow food color and an ingredient in curry powder, has long been used in Asian traditional medicine as a stomach tonic and blood purifier, and for the treatment of skin diseases and wound healing. Today, it is considered potentially beneficial in treating or reducing symptoms associated with a wide range of health conditions, due to its antioxidant, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial effects. 

Although best known as a spice that gives a distinctive flavor and yellow color to curry powder and mustard, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a member of the ginger family and has long been used for healing. Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, and other traditional medicine systems practiced in India have relied on this pungent spice for centuries, and so it's not surprising that the Asian subcontinent is where the most intensive research about this herb has been conducted. 

The plant's healing properties reside in its fingerlike stalk, which is scalded and then dried for medicinal preparations. This is the same part of the plant used to flavor, color, and preserve foods. 

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a well-known indigenous herbal medicine. Its major constituents, curcumin, various curcuminoids, curcuma oil – particularly dl-ar-turmerone – exhibit 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 inhibitors.

A Persian physician came to India to confer with the Hindu pandits. Together they studied the Charak Samhita and all other medical texts. They realized that the medical texts are like an ocean and they were like pearl divers who plunged into the ocean to grasp the pearls.

From Kavi Taranga, 1703 A.D.

THE herbal renaissance has produced a profound effect on the Western medicine which is now trying to acknowledge methods of healing that have existed for millenia in the traditional medicine throughout the world, especially Asia. The surge in research on drugs from natural sources is now moving out of the herbalists’ shop away from the core texts into the drugs research laboratories. India’s herbal tradition is as old as China’s. We have rich resources but we have been complacent. In the present day world with numerous challanges facing us, particularly those relating to intellectual property rights, we must brace ourselves up and focus on areas of potential competitive advantage to emerge as winners. The grant of a patent to two non-resident 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 yet another example of blatant plagiarism and an attempt to obtain exclusive rights over a traditional medicine that Indians and Chinese have known for centuries. It is a case that pits East against the West. This article is an attempt to put the record straight in respect of one of the most versatile and benign medicine given by God/Nature (or luck as you may call it), namely turmeric (Curcuma species especially C. longa, Haldi). Since the future is likely to be replete with such examples, the information given here should be helpful to research scientists, physicians, health officials and the public to take a firm stand and safeguard this and other precious gifts of nature that are part of our traditional medicine and heritage.



and the essential oil showed them to be active. The sodium salt of curcumin inhibits Microoccus pyogenous var aureus in 1 in 1 million dilution. The inhibitory concentration against Staphylococcus aureus was 1:640,000 (refs 5, 6). One of the constituents of the volatile oil, p-tolyl methyl carbinol and its isomer phenylethyl carbinol have a strong action against B. coli commune. The oil kills Paramecium caudatum in 10 to 30 min in dilutions of 1 in 30,000 (ref. 8), S. aureus and S. albus in 1:5000. Curcumin and other curcuminoids inhibit growth of S. aureus, S. paratyphi, Trichophyton gypseum, Mycobacterium tuberculosis in concentrations varying from 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 640,000 (ref. 9). The essential oils show marked anti-microbial activity against gram negative (Vibrio cholerae, Salmonella typhi, Klebsiella [enterobacter] aerogenes, B. coli) and gram-positive organisms (Corynebacterium diphtheriae, b -hemolytic streptococci).

The essential oil fractions from C. longa rhizomes of various habitats exhibit fungistatic activity particularly against Aspergillus niger in vitro and Physalospora tucumanesis, Ceratocystis paradoxa, Sclerotium solfsii, curvularia lunata, Helminthosporium sacchari, Fusarium moniliforme vaz. Subglutinans and cephalosporium sacchari.

Turmeric powder significantly increases the mucus content in gastric juices and Indian cuisine lays emphasis on turmeric’s therapeutic effect against gastric disorders. Curcuma oil, curcumin and its alkali salts prevent histamine induced gastric ulceration. While proving the non-toxicity of turmeric extract before recommending its use as a colouring agent for hydrogenated oils, it was observed that liver cholesterol levels were lower in rats fed with hydrogenated groundnut oil containing turmeric extracts. Curcumin and the essential oils of C. longa particularly sodium curcuminate differentially affect the individual constituents of bile. Though the concentrations of the solids decrease in the bile flow stimulated by it, this is compensated by the increased volume of bile excreted. Absolute values for the entire period of choleresis indicate increased total excretion of bile salts, bilirubin and cholesterol. The fatty acid content remains almost constant. Sodium curcuminate stimulates the flow of bile, the degree and duration of activity depends upon the dosage administered. In conditions where hydrocholagogic effect is desired, it may be found useful. Increased bile salt excretion in higher doses favours the use of curcumin in digestive disorders of fat metabolism. The increased cholesterol secretion may be clinically useful in atheresclerosis and other conditions involving cholesterol metabolism and bilirubin secretion in hastening the recovery from jaundiced conditions. Curcumin seems to combine the choleretic and hydrocholagogic action with the antiseptic property and probably would be an ideal therupetic agent in conditions of suspected staphylococcal infections. The low toxicity and absence of adverse pharmacodynamic action of curcumin also favour its clinical use. The relaxation of intestines while maintaining the spontaneous contractions would probably assist thorough digestion of the food and complete absorption of the digested material. Other active constituents of C. longa and a synthetically derived constituent of turmeric manifest useful therapeutic choleretic and cholagogic action in humans. In rats fed with cholesterol and curcumin, an important constituent of turmeric, levels of serum and liver cholesterol decreased to one-half or one third of those in rats fed with cholesterol alone. Deposition of cholesterol was found to be high in liver sections from rats fed with cholesterol and least in specimens from animals concurrently fed with curcumin. Curcumin increased fecal excretion of bile acids and cholesterol both in normal and hypercholesterolemic rats. This biliary drainage is a plausible explanation for the reduction of tissue cholesterol on curcumin feeding. a -Lipoprotein and b -lipoprotein in blood plasma were affected by addition of curcumin and the imbalance in these two lipoproteins brought about by cholesterol feeding was nearly corrected by simultaneous feeding of curcumin. The above beneficial effects of curcumin were about the same with 0.1% or 0.5% of the drug in the diet suggesting that the effective level of curcumin may even be lower than 0.1%. All levels of curcumin maintained body and liver weights, correcting the ill-effects in this respect caused by ingested cholesterol. The effect of curcumin in keeping down cholesterol in conditions which otherwise induced hypercholesterolemia was not through alterations in cecal microflora which are known to dismute and utilize bile acids in the gut. In hypercholesterolemic rats, 0.05% dietary curcumin decreased serum and hepatic cholesterol within four weeks. Ar-turmerone, the active constituent of curcuma oil also exhibits significant cholagogic activity.

Extracts of C. longa rhizomes exhibit good preventive activity against carbon tetrachloride induced liver injury in vivo and in vitro. After fractionation, the curcuminoids showed significant anti-hepatotoxic action.


     Other curcuminoids:

R = R1 = R2 = R3: Dicinnamoyl methane

R = R2 = OH; R1 = R3 = H: Bis-demethoxy-curcumin

R = R2 = OH, R1 = OCH3, R3 = H: Demethoxy curcumin


the main component curcumin, six other compounds were found, one of which was identified as dicinnamoyl methane. In a study of the anti-oxidative activity of curcumin and related compounds, structure–activity relationship was determined for the inhibition of lipid peroxide formation in rat brain homogenates. Demethylated derivatives of curcumin and trans-ferulic acid, e.g. bis(3,4-dihydroxy trans-cinnamoyl) methane (1.03 ‘10–6 – 1.03’  10–3 M) and trans-caffeic acid (1.03 ‘10–6 – 1.03’  10–3 M) were potent. Complete methylation abolished antioxidant activity. The OH group in the benzene ring had to be in the para position.

Anti-oxidants are the frontline of defence against free radicals. They are able to neutralize free radicals and put an end to the destructive chain reactions. The antioxidant action of curcumin, other curcuminoids and curcuma oil works in many ways. Probably the most important activity as antioxidant is the vital role in the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD). SOD is a primary defender against free radicals and is so important to survival that it is the fifth most prevalent protein (of more than 100,000 in the body). SOD eliminates destructive superoxide molecules, a common free radical produced in the body. SOD apparently blocks the oxidation of harmful LDL cholesterol, thereby inhibiting the initial stages of atheresclarosis. Liver cells produce a free radical known as malondialdehyde (MDA) while human neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) produce superoxide. Active oxygen species (AOS) including superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl and ferryl radicals are considered to be generated or formed subsequent to reduction of molecular oxygen in living organisms. The hydroxyl radical and the ferryl radical, a complex of oxygen radical and iron are the most reactive and thought to be the major species responsible for oxidative injury of enzymes, lipid membranes and DNA in living cells and tissues, a process which causes much damage and contributes to cancer, atherosclerosis, heart attacks and stroke. Nerve cell damage can be caused by free radicals generated by/from breakdown of certain proteins, oxidative stress resulting from increased free radical production and/or defects in antioxidation defences could be central to the degenerative processes. Cells and tissues are protected from attack by AOS under normal conditions by certain enzymes – SOD, catalase, peroxidase, etc. and some low molecular weight substances such as ascorbic acid, tocopherol which exhibit mild AOS scavenging effect. Caffeic acid also inhibits 5-lipoxygenase and lipid peroxidation. Turmeric (C. longa) extracts and its constituents – curcumin, the other curcuminoids and curcuma oil are highly effective antioxidants, inhibitors of lipid peroxidation, leukotriene biosynthesis, 5-lipoxygenase, cyclooxygenase, AOS scavengers and are able to prevent increased free radical generation or accumulation in the body. They fight free radicals by competing with peroxidant metals (iron and copper) for cell binding sites which decreases the possibility of free radical formation. Further, they appear to protect against free radical damage by defending sulfhydryl groups against oxidation. In the body sulfhydryl groups are a common part of many molecules and are easily oxidized forming free radicals. These unique properties make turmeric and its constituents useful as hypolipidemics, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, antimicrobial agents particularly wound healers including bed sores, liver injury, certain forms of cancer and treatment of various metabolic disorders and other degenerative processes.

Like curcumin and other curcuminoids considered to be derived from two caffeic acid molecules combined through a methylene bridge, ar-turmerone the main constituent of curcuma oil also has an a -b -unsaturated keto system in its molecular framework which is an important pharmacophore for most biological activities. Curcuma oil too is an effective inhibitor of 5-lipoxygenase, cyclooxygenase, leukotriene biosynthesis, lipid peroxidation and AOS scavenger. For pharmaceutical purposes curcuma oil can be easily standardized on the basis of its ar-turmerone content.




Extraction and Curcuminoids Composition of Curcuma longa:

The hydroalcoholic extract of curcuma was provided by A.S.A.C. Pharmaceutical International A.I.E. For the extraction, the rhizome of Curcuma longa was macerated with hot water (80°C) for 4 hours, and the aqueous extract was evaporated under vacuum at 60°C. The rhizome residue was reextracted with ethanol at 60°C for 2 hours, filtered, and evaporated under vacuum. The final extract is a 1:1 mixture of both the aqueous extract and the alcoholic extract, which are redissolved with water and alcohol, respectively. Curcuminoids composition of the extract was carried out by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) with a Beckman In-line Diode Array Detector (model 168) and a Supelcosil LC-18 column (150 mmx4.6 mm and 5 µm, Supelco). The mobile phase was 0.05 mol/L sodium acetate and 55:45 (vol/vol) acetonitrile (pH 4.2 at 1 mL/min flow). Bis-demethoxy-curcumin, demethoxy-curcumin, and curcumin, the curcuminoids with the highest biological activity present in the extract, were identified by using pure curcumin as a standard (Sigma Chemical Co) with a molar absorbance of 1607 in ethanol. Total concentration of curcuminoids in the curcuma extract was 10% (7.34% curcumin, 1.97% demethoxy-curcumin, and 0.7% bis-demethoxy-curcumin; Figure 1). We decided to use dosages of 1.6 mg/kg body wt because of our previous experience.

Figure 1. Main curcuminoids of Curcuma longa extract.


No differences were found among the experimental groups with respect to the weight gain at the different final experimental times (data not shown). Plasma and LDL cholesterol values were significantly higher at 10, 20, and 30 days for the control and CU groups than for the baseline group. However, no differences were found among the periods of time for each group (plasma cholesterol, 13.7±3.7 mg/dL for baseline group and mean value 2977±51.8 mg/dL at 10, 20, and 30 days for control and CU groups; LDL cholesterol, 42.9±1.5 mg/mg protein for baseline group and mean value 93.2±9.5 mg/mg protein at 10, 20, and 30 days for control and CU groups). TBARS have been used to achieve the degree of lipid peroxidation in the plasma of the animals (Figure 2A). Baseline levels of TBARS were lower than those found in the control group at the 3 experimental times. No differences were found between the baseline group and the CU group at 10, 20, and 30 days. Additionally, for each experimental time, the control group showed significantly higher levels of TBARS than did the CU group. The susceptibility of LDL to oxidation was determined by conjugated dienes (Figure 2B) and TBARS (Figure 2C). No differences were found for conjugated dienes between the groups. However, compared with the CU group, the control group showed a significantly higher level of LDL TBARS at 30 days.



Figure 2. Concentration of TBARS in plasma (A), conjugated dienes in LDL (B), and TBARS in LDL (C) from rabbits with experimental atherosclerosis treated with an oral curcumin-free hydroalcoholic solution (control [C] group) or with a hydroalcoholic curcuma extract at dose of 1.6 mg/kg (CU group). Results are mean±SEM. Six animals from each experimental group were euthanized after 10, 20, and 30 days. Statistical significance is indicated as follows: differences (P<0.05) among times for each experimental group (a indicates 10 vs 20 days; b, 10 vs 30 days; and c, 20 vs 30 days); differences from baseline ( P<0.05); and differences between groups at 10, 20, or 30 days (*P<0.05).



Figure 3. Antioxidant levels of coenzyme Q10 (A), retinol (B), and -tocopherol (3) in plasma of rabbits with experimental atherosclerosis treated with an oral curcumin-free hydroalcoholic solution (group C) and with a hydroalcoholic curcuma extract at dose of 1.6 mg/kg (group CU). Results are shown in nanomoles of retinol, nanomoles of -tocopherol, and picomoles of coenzyme Q10 per milliliter of plasma. Six animals from each experimental group were euthanized after 10, 20, and 30 days. Values are mean±SEM. Statistical significance is indicated as follows: differences (P<0.05) among times for each experimental group (a indicates 10 vs 20 days; b, 10 vs 30 days; and c, 20 vs 30 days); differences from baseline ( P<0.05); and differences between groups at 10, 20, or 30 days (*P<0.05).



The major constituent, curcumin (difer-uloylmethane) is in the most important fraction of C. longa L. and its chemical structure (Figure and Table), was determined by Roughley and Whiting (1973). It melts at 176-177°C and forms red-brown salts with alkalis. Curcumin is soluble in ethanol, alkalis, ketone, acetic acid and chloroform; and is insoluble in water. In the molecule of curcumin, the main chain is aliphatic, unsaturated and the aryl group can be substituted or not.  

Wool dyed with turmeric.The active substance of turmeric is the polyphenol curcumin, also known as C.I. 75300, or Natural Yellow 3. Systematic chemical name is (1E,6E)-1,7-bis(4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)-1,6-heptadiene-3,5-dione. It can exist at least in two tautomeric forms, keto and enol. The keto form is preferred in solid phase and the enol form in solution.


 Curcumin Keto form


 Curcumin Enol form



Experiments involving rats, administrating curcumin orally were made by Wahlström and Blennow (1978). They demonstrated that this compound in a dose of 1 to 5 g/kg given to rats apparently did not cause any adverse effect and it was excreted in the faeces in about 75%, while traces appeared in the urine. Curcumin (up to 5 µg/ml) added to microsomes suspensions disappeared within 30 min and it was similar in hepatocyte suspensions. It was capable of disappearing from the blood after intravenous or after addition to the liver perfusion system. It seems that curcumin is rapidly metabolized in circulation (Whalstöm & Blennow 1978). Little is known about the pathway of curcumin and its derivatives. It is necessary to study more about it. 


  • tincture
  • tablet
  • powder
  • ointment
  • lotion
  • liquid
  • dried herb/tea
  • cream
  • capsule

Parts Used:

The aboveground and underground roots, or rhizomes, are used in medicinal and food preparations. These are generally boiled and then dried,turning into the familiar yellow powder. Curcumin from turmeric, as well as other substances in this herb, have antioxidant properties, which some claim may be as strong as vitamins C and E.

Active constituents:

The active constituent is known as curcumin. It has been shown to have a wide range of therapeutic actions. First, it protects against free radical damage because it is a strong antioxidant.1 2 Second, it reduces inflammation by lowering histamine levels and possibly by increasing production of natural cortisone by the adrenal glands.3 Third, it protects the liver from a number of toxic compounds.4 Fourth, it has been shown to reduce platelets from clumping together, which in turn improves circulation and may help protect against atherosclerosis.5 There are also test-tube and animal studies showing a cancer-preventing action of curcumin. In one of these studies, curcumin effectively inhibited metastasis (uncontrolled spread) of melanoma (skin cancer) cells.6 This may be due to its antioxidant activity in the body. Curcumin inhibits HIV in test tubes, though human trials are needed to determine if it has any usefulness for treating humans with this condition.

Topoisomerase Enzyme Inhibition:

There are many reasons why Turmeric helps to destroy cancer and parasites. One of the keys to this activity is the ability of the Curcumins to inhibit the Topoisomerase enzyme, which is required for the replication of cancer and parasite cells. Topoisomerase site of action is within the nucleus of the cell, where it first binds to supercoiled DNA and then catalyzes the passage of one DNA helix through another via a transient double-stranded break. This splits the DNA and thus allows cell replication to occur. Stopping Topoisomerase stops replication which stops the spread of the problem. 

Can Turmeric Protect Us from Oxidative: Degradation?

If turmeric can protect foodstuffs from oxidative degradation, can it do the same, more or less, for our bodies, which are composed entirely of former foodstuffs? When it comes to meat, in particular, isn't there really relatively little difference between a piece of beef and us, biochemically speaking? The answer to both questions is yes. Most of the antioxidative chemical reactions that can protect a piece of beef from spoiling can also protect our tissues from spoiling, so to speak. 

The chemical compounds in turmeric that are primarily responsible for its antioxidant action are curcumin and several related compounds called curcuminoids. They belong to a broad class of compounds called polyphenols, many of which have been found to have major health benefits in humans.