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Definition: turmeric from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(15c) 1 : an Indian perennial herb (Curcuma longa syn. C. domestica) of the ginger family with a large aromatic yellow rhizome 2 : the boiled, dried, and usu. ground rhizome of the turmeric plant used as a coloring agent, a flavoring, or a stimulant 3 : a yellow to reddish-brown dyestuff obtained from turmeric

Summary Article: TURMERIC
from Leung's Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients: Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics

Source: Curcuma longa L. (syn. C. domestica Val. and C. domestica Loir.) (Family Zingiberaceae).

Common/vernacular names: Curcuma; Indian saffron.


A perennial herb of the ginger family with a thick rhizome from which arise large, oblong, and long-petioledleaves; up to about 1 mhigh; flowers in spikes; peduncle ca. 15 cm long, concealed by the sheath, flowering bracts pale green;1 native to southern Asia; extensively cultivated in India; China, Indonesia, and other tropical countries (e.g., Jamaica and Haiti). Part used is the cured (boiled, cleaned, and sun-dried) and polished rhizome. India is the major producer of turmeric (up to 94% of annual world production).2,3


Contains 0.3-7.2% (usually 4-5%) of an orange-yellow volatile oil that is composed mainly of turmerone (ca. 60%), ar-turmerone, α-atlantone, γ-atlantone, and zingiberene (25%), with minor amounts of 1, 8-cineole, α-phellandrene, d-sabinene, borneol, and dehy-droturmerone, amongothers;4–6yellow coloring matterincluding0.3-5.4%curcumin, monodes-methoxycurcumin, and didesmethoxycurcu-min;4–6p-coumaroylferuloylmethane and di-p-coumaroylmethane;7 sugars (28% glucose, 12% fructose, and ca. 1% arabinose); fixed oil; protein (ca. 8%); minerals (especially high inpotassium);vitamins(especiallyC);resin;and others (JIANGSU; LIST AND HÖRHAMMER; MARSH).4

Turmeric and its water-, alcohol-, and ether-soluble fractions have been reported to have antioxidative activities;8 curcumin is mostly responsible for these activities.9–11


Curcuma extract, volatile oil, and its curcumin components have in vitro and in vivo antiinflammatory activity that may be due to inhibition of eicosanoid (leukotrienes/thrombox-anes) biosynthesis.12–16 A fraction of curcuma oil (b.p: 80-110 °C) has been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory and antiarthritic activities in rats.17 An essential oil-depleted extract is effective against experimental rheumatoid arthritis. Involved targets include NF-κB, chemokine, COX-2, and others.18,19 Curcumin has also been reported to exhibit antiedemic effects in rats (MARTINDALE).

Antioxidant activity of curcuma, through free radical scavenging and inhibition of lipid peroxidation, has been demonstrated.15,20

This may account for the efficacy of curcuma as a hepatoprotective, cardioprotective, and antigenotoxic agent.21–24In vitro protection of mouse liver and cultured rat hepatocytes from injury induced by carbon tetrachloride and galactosamine (curcumin, p-coumaroylferu-loylmethane, and di-p-coumaroylmethane) has been reported earlier.7

Turmeric extracts have recently exhibited efficacy in managing type-2 diabetes hyper-glycemia2,26 and reducing the side effects (nephrotoxicity and cataract) of induced hy-perglycemia27,28 by targeting the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) and due to their antioxidant activity, respectively. Curcumin was also able to reduce hyperlipidemia in diabetic rats by increasing cholesterol catabolism.29

Healing of skin excision wounds as well as peptic ulcers have recently been reported for turmeric and curcumin.30–33

Other activities of turmeric and its derivatives include choleretic in dogs (aqueous extracts); hypotensive in dogs (alcohol extract); antibacterial (curcumin, volatile oil, etc.);34 insecticidal against houseflies (petroleum ether extracts);35 antidepressant MAO inhibition (aqueous extract);36 modulation of multidrug-resistant proteins (curcu-minoids);37,38 and others (JIANGSU; LIST AND HÖRHAMMER).

Choleretic action of the essential oil is attributed to tolmethyl carbinol.3 Extracts have antispasmodic activity on isolated guinea pig ileum; lower serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels in mice; anticancer activity against Dalton's lymphoma cells in the Chinese hamster; plus anticoagulant, antifungal, and antimutagenic, among others.12 The pharmacological activities of turmeric have been reviewed.39,40


One study found no visible signs of acute toxicity with extracts, though at 3 g/kg CNS stimulation was observed; in chronic toxicity feeding, an increase in weights of the heart and lung was observed, though general visceral condition was normal; increased sperm motility (without increase in sperm count) suggested a possible and rogenic effect.41


Medicinal, Pharmaceutical, and Cosmetic. Cut or ground drug (1.5-3 g) or other preparations are used in European phytomedicine for dyspeptic conditions. Use is contraindicated in obstruction of gall passages; used only under medical advice for gallstones.42

The essential oil (called curcuma oil) is used to a limited extent in certain perfumes (especially oriental types).

Food. Turmeric is a major ingredient of curry powder and is also used in prepared mustard. Turmeric and turmeric oleoresin are used extensively both for their color and flavor in many food products, including baked goods, meat and meat products, condiments and relishes (especially pickles), fats and oils, egg products, soups, and gravies, among others. Highest average maximum use levels are 22% and about 0.883% (8834ppm) reported for turmeric in seasonings and flavorings and in condiments and relishes, respectively.

Dietary Supplements/Health Foods. Turmeric is used as an antioxidant in capsules, tablets; flavoring in tea (LEUNG).

Traditional Medicine. Reportedly used in Chinese medicine to treat numerous conditions including flatulence, liver problems, menstrual difficulties, bloody urine, hemorrhage, toothache, bruises and sores, chest pain, and colic, usually decocted with other drugs. It is also used as a poultice to relieve pain and itching of sores and ringworms (JIANGSU).

Root tuber of Curcuma spp. is used in China for treating epilepsy and unconsciousness due to febrile diseases (re bing shen hun) (CHP; JIANGSU).

In Polynesia, the root is used for asthma, skin diseases, constipation, and religious rituals.43


Crude and oleoresin. Crude was formerly official in U.S:P. Strength (see glossary)of oleoresin is often expressed in terms of cur-cumin content.

Regulatory Status. GRAS (§182.10 and §182.20); turmeric and turmeric oleoresin have also been approved as food colorants exempt from certification (§73.600 and §73.615). The rhizome is subject of a positive German therapeutic monograph for treatment of dyspeptic conditions.42



  • 1. Kirtikar, K. R. and Basu, B. D., Indian Medicinal Plants, International book distributors, Dehradun, India, 1999, p. 2423.
  • 2. Ilays, M., Econ. Bot., 32, 238 (1988).
  • 3. Randhawa, G. S. and Mahey, R. K. in Craker, L. E. and Simon, J. E., eds., Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Plants: Recent Advances in Botany, Horticulture, and Pharmacology, Vol. 3, Oryx Press, Phoenix, 1988, p. 71.
  • 4. Khalique, A. and Amin, M. N., Sci. Res. (Dacca, Pakistan), 4, 193 (1967).
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  • 11. Zhao, B. L. et al., Cell Biophys., 14, 175 (1989).
  • 12. Ammon, H. P. T. and Wahl, M. A., Planta Med., 57, 1 (1991).
  • 13. Ammon, H. P. T. et al., Planta Med., 58, 226 (1992).
  • 14. Chainani-Wu, N., J. Altern. Complement. Med., 9, 161 (2003).
  • 15. Ramsewak, R. S. et al., Phytomedicine, 7, 303 (2000).
  • 16. Srivastava, K. C. et al., Prostaglandins Leukot. Essent. Fatty Acids, 52, 223 (1995).
  • 17. Chandra, D. and Gupta, S. S., Indian J. Med. Res., 60, 138 (1972).
  • 18. Funk, J. L. et al., Arthritis Rheum., 54, 3452 (2006).
  • 19. Funk, J. L. et al., J. Nat. Prod., 69, 351 (2006).
  • 20. Tilak, J. C. et al., Phytother. Res., 18, 798 (2004).
  • 21. El-Ashmawy, I. M. et al., Basic Clin. Pharmacol. Toxicol., 98, 32 (2006).
  • 22. Miyakoshi, M. et al., Biofactors, 21, 167 (2004).
  • 23. Mohanty, I. et al., Life Sci., 75, 1701 (2004).
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  • 25. Kuroda, M. et al., Biol. Pharm. Bull., 28, 937 (2005).
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  • 31. Kundu, S. et al., Int. J. Low. Extrem. Wounds, 4, 205 (2005).
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