Turmeric is one of the oldest all-natural remedies used by humans. The earliest recorded use of turmeric has been dated back nearly 4,000 years to the people of the Vedic culture in India.
Early references to turmeric being used as medicine has also popped up in ancient China, East and West Africa, and Jamaica. In the year 1280, Marco Polo himself described this spice—absolutely overwhelmed by its healing properties and its value, both in trade and social impact.1
Today, turmeric is cultivated in tropical areas around the world and is a major part of the culinary industry. Commonly used as a spice in Indian food, it has found its way into a range of other cuisines. It also continues to be used for the health benefits it provides.
Filled with antioxidants and containing 20 different molecules with antibiotic properties, turmeric is an impressive natural healing agent.
The History of Turmeric
Turmeric, with its brilliant gold color and strong flavor, has exploded in popularity in the culinary world in the last few years but has been prized for its health benefits for thousands of years before that.
In the past, turmeric was wide as a painkiller—mostly in the Middle East, especially along the Silk Road—but later all over the world.
A collection of pottery discovered in a New Delhi archaeological dig dating back more than 4,500 years found significant residue from turmeric, as well as ginger and garlic, in pastes and salves. The inscriptions on some of these pieces of pottery have been translated to identify them as ancient medicines. 2
Additionally, ancient Ayurvedic texts and literature contain various references to turmeric being used to help heal wounds, recover from bruising, and eliminate a number of skin conditions—ranging from smallpox and chickenpox to acne.
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The Hindu religion holds turmeric in high regard; in fact, it is considered a sacred plant. A Hindu wedding tradition involves tying a string dyed with turmeric paste around the necks of the bride and groom, symbolizing that the woman is married and capable of running a home. 3
But it was ultimately Marco Polo who brought turmeric to the West, and a number of his trade journals report him discovering a plant that had all of the qualities of saffron but differed slightly. Most historians agree that he was referencing turmeric.
It didn’t take long for the Western world to embrace the health benefits that turmeric offered. This is something that remains true all over the world today.
While there are a number of different biochemicals in turmeric that contribute to its restorative and regenerative properties, curcumin is perhaps the most important. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
In addition to curcumin, turmeric essential oil contains over 300 different phenolic compounds that contribute to its health benefits. Some of these compounds include:
Combined together with curcumin, they represent the most impactful of the sesquiterpenes found in turmeric essential oil and are all molecules that pass readily through the blood-brain barrier, resulting in increased effects. 4
Uses for Turmeric Essential Oil
Some of the health benefits turmeric essential oils provide include promoting healthier skin, alleviating pain, and improving overall mood. The most important benefits this essential oil offers are highlighted below. 5
Boosts Immune System Function
In addition to acting as an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic, the active ingredients in turmeric essential oil boost the efficacy of the body’s natural defenses in preventing pathogens from causing disease. In addition, turmeric’s immune-boosting properties have been shown to help the body’s response to allergens.
According to a study in the Italian Journal of Biochemistry, curcumin, the important biochemical found in turmeric described above, causes the release of bilirubin, an antioxidant that leads to an overall strengthening of the immune system.
During cold or flu season, diffuse a few drops of turmeric essential oil in a room diffuser to reap its immune-boosting benefits and protect yourself from the cold or flu. For an on-the-go immune boost, try inhaling this essential oil through a portable essential oil diffuser like Forest or Healthy MONQ.
Improves Respiratory Function
A range of studies has suggested that many of the active compounds in turmeric essential oil, primarily curcumin, suppressed viruses. This includes the virus that causes the flu. Because of its range of healing benefits, turmeric essential oil has been known to help improve respiratory function by relieving congestion, coughs, or bronchial infections.
To alleviate the symptoms of the cold or flu, add a few drops of turmeric to a bowl of hot water, place a towel over your head, and inhale the vapors for five to 10 minutes. The steam from the hot water will thin out the phlegm that impairs breathing and the turmeric will strengthen your immune system. Alternatively, add a few drops of turmeric essential oil to a room diffuser before you go to sleep.
Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric essential oil has been shown to be effective in relieving muscle and joint pain. This includes pain from arthritis.
The compounds in this essential oil inhibit the actions of inflammatory compounds. Consequently, this prevents swelling, and the antioxidants it contains prevents damage by free radicals.
A 2012 study investigated the effects of turmeric essential oil in individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. One group received treatment with curcumin, one of the most active compounds in turmeric essential oil. This group showed the highest percentage of improvement than any other group in the study.6
To use turmeric essential oil for alleviating muscle or joint pain, mix a few drops of this essential oil with a carrier oil like almond, jojoba, or coconut oil, and massage onto the affected areas twice daily.
Remedies Digestive Issues
Since ancient times, turmeric essential oil has been used as a natural remedy for bloating, cramping, or excess gas. Two key compounds found in turmeric essential oil are zingiberene and 6-gingerol. These stimulate the digestive system, allowing for increased production of gastric juices and better digestive functioning.
Skincare and Haircare
The use of turmeric essential oil for skincare is also one of its most ancient uses. It has been dated back thousands of years to Ayurvedic medicine. Because of its antiseptic and antioxidant properties, it is ideal for treating acne or reducing the appearance of scars.
To use turmeric essential oil as part of your skincare routine, mix a few drops of the essential oil with a carrier oil and apply to areas where you may have acne, blemishes, or wrinkles.
Safety and Precautions
When used correctly, turmeric essential oils present very few side effects. But it is always important to be careful and mindful when using essential oils because of their potency.
When used improperly, turmeric essential oil can result in an upset stomach, minor skin irritation.
As with any other essential oil, using turmeric oil is discouraged for women who are pregnant or nursing.
Make sure to dilute turmeric essential oil with a carrier oil when applying it to the skin. Be sure to perform a patch skin test before applying the oil to larger areas of the body. This is to prevent an allergic reaction. 6
Turmeric has been used for thousands of years as an all-natural healing agent and food ingredient.
Turmeric is useful for aromatherapy, effective as a topical cream, and even safe for human consumption in its spice form. It is a great addition to your essential oil collection and daily routine.