Home Food 101 What’s the Deal with Turmeric?

What’s the Deal with Turmeric?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

When I was at the Yoga Journal conference last month, I had the pleasure of meeting the team representing the Turmeric brand of drinks in the expo room. The drinks, a blend of cardamom, coconut, citrus, vanilla, green tea, matcha and – of course – turmeric, are designed to deliver high doses of the all-powerful plant… while doing its best to make it palatable.

I mean, let’s face it. The stuff tastes terrible alone. That doesn’t change the fact that, for the training body, it’d be wise to keep it on hand in as many forms as possible.

A couple of months ago, I attended another conference (no wonder I feel so burned out) here in the city, the One Body One World Conference by ECA, where I sat in on a panel that discussed inflammation (read: pain) and natural ways to heal it. High upon the list… was turmeric. Hmmmm….


Raw turmeric is a root plant that looks an awful lot like raw ginger. You know how you can tell the difference between yams and sweet potatoes? It’s the same with turmeric and ginger. The insides of turmeric are a beautifully bright gold color, a color that’s reflected in the dried powder we receive when we buy the spice in its most familiar form.

Speaking of the turmeric that we buy in the spice aisle, it’s nowhere near as potent as the fresh turmeric squeezed from the root, or juiced from the plant. The spice is prepared by boiling the entire root, then drying it in heat as opposed to naturally in the sun. Not only is it possible that the heat from the drying process has weakened the potency of the plant, but it’s without a doubt that the boiling has usurped many of the more valuable antioxidants and acids from the plant. That being said, while you can get some benefits from regular use of the spice, you’re far better off working with raw turmeric.

And what does that raw turmeric do for you? According to the book The Herbal Drugstore, you can count on curcumin (the active agent in turmeric, also known as curcuma longa), a long-loved spice in South and Southeast Asian cuisine, for digestive health, fever treatment, and arthritis… but that’s not what I’m most interested in, here.

Yes, this plant whose roots have been used for thousands of years also reportedly provides care for “indigestion, poor circulation, cough, amenorrhea, pharyngytis, skin disorders, diabetes, arthritis, anemia, wounds,” and “bruises.” Because of the effects turmeric has on the blood, it is also credited with fighting free radicals, aiding blood circulation and lowering cholesterol, and is also being explored for its ability to slow down the creation of cancer cells as well as its ability to prevent the spread of HIV in the body. In other words, it’s a superspice (or superroot, if you will.)

But my particular interest has been that which involves inflammation, or pain, and how to naturally alleviate it. For me, turmeric does exactly that. For the past six or so weeks, I’ve been suffering a pinched nerve in my neck due to inflammation from a training injury, and it had resulted in numbness all along the side of my scalp and the right side of my neck and shoulder blade. I’ve been pretty much laid out on my back, on a steady diet of tylenol and prayer. I went back into my notes, found the information on natural sources of pain relief, and realized the turmeric was an option.


After I told Eddy I was considering trying this, he mentioned to me that the Organic Avenue near his route home sells one-ounce bottles of turmeric shots – turmeric, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, and purified alkaline water (all organic) – and that they were pretty potent. Okay, let’s see how it goes.

As soon as I drank the shot, I definitely stopped feeling the pain in my neck, if for no other reason than the taste of the shot took my mind off the pain. However, in less than 10 minutes, the pain started to fade, giving me a good 9 hours of pain relief before feeling like I needed to take something else to add alongside it. Curcumin serves as a natural blood thinner that neutralizes the enzymes responsible for pain internally, doing the same things that your basic NSAID – nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, also known as naproxin or ibuprofen or aspirin – does without the risk of damage to the intestines and digestive system that normally comes with them.

(It’s also worth noting that turmeric isn’t the only source of these naturally anti-inflammatory properties, it just happens to be really trendy right now and I wanted to explore the “why” behind it.)

I returned to Organic Avenue and picked up a few more bottles of the turmeric shot, and resolved to drink one every morning. I am both pleased – and terrified – to report that the pain I’d been experiencing for weeks is now 100% gone, and the numbness is 95% gone. I’d changed nothing about my diet, I’d stopped training (well, for the most part: I stopped any impact-based training and laid off of any strenuous yoga poses), and simply given myself time to rest. I’m unable to find research to back up my experience, but I’m comfortable saying that outside of those with hepatitis, those on blood thinners, those who are pregnant and those who are trying to conceive, there’s little risk in testing out the shot for yourself. Juicing a piece of turmeric root with equal parts turmeric juice and grapefruit to two parts water and 1/2 parts lemon juice should do the trick at home if you’re unable or unwilling to pay the $4.50 for the Organic Avenue shot.

Fair warning, it tastes like drinking watered down mustard, and for that… you might be mad. Just know that I still love you.

However, I’m sold. The entire experience has made me wish I had a juicer… mainly because buying the little shots regularly is going to cost me just about as much as it would’ve to get one.

Raw turmeric is hard to come by – it’s not available in regular grocery stores and, unless you have a bustling South Asian community in your neighborhood, you might find yourself coming up short on locating it. You can order it online, though I’ve not given that a shot yet. I’d also suspect that you can boil it and drink it like tea, much like how we do with raw ginger. Maybe I can avoid plunking down the cash for a juicer, after all.

Natural sources of pain relief are valuable for the training body because what do we do every day? We kick our own asses! What better way to heal, than with a carefully chosen combination of fruits, vegetables, roots, and spices? It’s worth exploring healthily with your health care practitioner, just to be on the safe side, to ensure that it doesn’t conflict with anything else you’re taking or prescribed.

The Turmeric – Elixir of Life drinks that I mentioned earlier are actually quite tasty, which makes me feel like there isn’t enough turmeric in them. The Japanese matcha flavor tastes like there might be the absolute most turmeric in that one, and the coconut nectar drink is the best-tasting, so… that might have the least. They did tell me that each drink had a different amount of turmeric in them, so if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck (the drinks do carry a steep price) then you’d go for the one with the most turmeric in it, the Japanese Matcha. And, if you want to test out cooking with the spice, I have a recipe for you to try.

And, as always, if you’re a juicer, then you know what time it is. Add a little bit of turmeric to your blends, your smoothies, whatever you do. And let me know how it goes!

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Loretta June 11, 2014 - 8:33 AM

I have a sciatica nerve problem. I was on this awful perscrible drugs that had me in a fog…….I will be trying this today. Hope I can find it . Will post my results later. Thank you Erika

ohradiogirl June 11, 2014 - 3:32 PM

This is a very useful post. Thanks for being a trooper w/the taste test. I’m going to add a bit to my smoothies just to get started.

Valerie June 12, 2014 - 10:38 AM

If you are able to get your hands on some actual roots, you can make a tincture that you can take on a daily basis. For a traditional tincture, you would need a glass jar, vodka and turmeric. Peel and slice the turmeric, place in the jar about 1/3-1/2 full and add vodka to cover-leave about 1.5-2 inches at the top and let sit for six weeks. Strain off the liquid, discard the root, label and date. Use about 1-2 tsp (yes tsp, not Tbsp) a day. For a glycerite tincture-if you’re worried about the alcohol, use 60% glycerine and 40% water instead of vodka. Place a folded towel in a crockpot, place jar on top and fill crockpot with water. Turn on low and heat for 3 days. Refill crockpot with HOT water as needed. Complete process as previously directed. I’ve done this with several different herbs to get their concentrated benefits quickly and it lasts a while and can save money. The glycerite tincture is safe for children as well.

Lenora B Pierce June 16, 2014 - 12:23 PM

Hi Ericka is there place where I can buy the turmeric shot. I think I would prefer the small bottle instead of trying to boil or taking pills. If you know a place where I can buy them please let me know soon I have been having problems ith pain in my knees. I live in Tn. but I hope I can order this product


Gina December 29, 2014 - 12:18 PM

Erika: Love your site and was drawn to it (not because I’m black but for the good info!) Have been using turmeric along with cinnamon, ginger and honey for a while now. I have hypothyroid and arthritis for which these herbs really do help. Thanks for getting the word out there!

Beena March 27, 2016 - 4:17 PM

yup, in India turmeric is a prized part of the medicinal cabinet. If you cut your hand, place a pinch of turmeric powder, clots the cut and heals it quickly…its an antibiotic. Have it with a glass of warm milk, it relieves muscle aches of all kinds.Its extensively used in cooking it just makes food look more appetising. The weight loss bit is new to me…should give it a shot

Wendy August 23, 2016 - 2:58 AM

Hi Erika! I came across your blog/Wonderful newsletter as I was looking for info re: ‘turmeric and weight loss’. I’ve recently begun incorporating (powdered) Turmeric into my diet, and on a daily-several-times-a-day basis, for pain. Nerve-related pain. I was diagnosed with MS over 20 years ago and am incredibly grateful it’s as mild as it is. Anything natural that can help me deal with chronic pain, I’ve been game to give it a try.

I’ve been gluten-free since June 2014 and, for one type of especially increasingly-debilitating MS nerve pain I was experiencing, eliminating gluten from my diet has totally changed my life. It took nearly a year for that Grade E Excruciating pain to be completely resolved, Save for the unfortunate times I’ve been unsuspecting victim of ‘gluten cross-contamination’. In which case, the painful/awful reaction has been worse than before I gave up gluten. I never set out to eliminate gluten from my diet. I’d only said, “Sure, I think I’ll try it,” to the guy at Trader Joe’s who told me about a new gluten-free pasta they carried. Oh, am I Glad I did. That was just the start of trying other gluten-free foods, and noticing how much better I felt when I ate them. Didn’t take me long to make the change…and for Real. Which put a whole spin on ‘dining out’. It’s so worth it! Other physical ailments and things I’d been dealing with have also cleared up. I have to say, it was an eye-opener as I began noticing these things (and some of them pretty major) just starting to clear up.
I’m so glad I’ve found your site, and thrilled to learn more about how to use Tumeric to effectively deal with/treat pain and other physical things. It’s nice that I like the taste of it, too! 🙂
Anyway… Thank You, Erika! For your blog, for everything you’re doing & sharing!
Have a Wonderful day and week!
In Great Health, Wendy 🙂

Jeaux Fendr October 11, 2016 - 3:19 AM

Lose weight get knocked up.Priceless lol!!!!!

Angela Jackson October 15, 2016 - 6:08 AM

Great information; knowing its your own personal experience makes me a believer… ..Thank you.

Dani November 18, 2016 - 1:33 PM

Turmeric KILLS my stomach in a way that is much, much worse than any anti-inflammatory I have ever taken so to make a generalized statement that it works like an ibuprofen or naproxen is a mistake. I have even taken an eggshell membrane supplement which I believed when I bought it that it was only EM. After taking one capsule, I was bent over in extreme pain and recognized it as the way I feel if I had taken turmeric or too much naproxen and there it wqs in the ingredients list, turmeric. I avoid it at all costs and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Some people are sensitive to salicylates and turmeric is very high on the salicylate list of foods, etc. Also, it should never be taken for a broken bone, nor should any anti-inflammatory because inflammation is what causes bones to heal.

Erika Nicole Kendall November 18, 2016 - 1:43 PM

The fact that you have an adverse reaction to it doesn’t change the fact that it does, in fact, work in a way similar to an ibuprofen or naproxen. The fact that people are allergic to NSAIDS doesn’t change the fact that they are beneficial to many, either.

I also suspect that a person who recognizes that they’re sensitive to salicylates also recognize that turmeric would be on that list of foods to avoid, as well.

I would also caution against telling people with broken bones to avoid anti-inflammatories, because the care required for that kind of problem differs depending on where it has occurred. Inflamed muscles surrounding the joint might help, but in many cases extended inflammation is a sign that healing is not going well at all. A person with broken bone needs to seek individualized, specific care for their particular injury, and that’s not just for the location of the injury, but the lifestyle they lead.

All that is to say, I understand what you’re saying, but this is a weird pair of bones to pick (no pun intended) with an otherwise clear statement.

Etosha November 26, 2016 - 9:33 AM

I been taking it for about three weeks I have ms it makes me feel do much better I truly bless not taking all those prescriptions and praying my balance better I working on walking better it truly blessings to me

Rick June 6, 2017 - 4:40 AM

Hi. I don’t see any guys here commenting – so if any of you have a guy that gets up to go… in the middle of the night. History: I started to take it on advice from one of the corner men in a pro boxing match years ago.
He said it would work on my joint pain and it sure did – but I also noticed something else – no midnight journeys
to the boys room.

Be safe ladies!

Tess September 24, 2017 - 8:36 PM

Erika ..Came across your page today,and found it to be filled with great useful information. Thank you for sharing it. I use Turmeric / Curcumin but with piperine which helps with the absorption. I have a spinal disease which one day will have me in a wheel chair for life. So I have chronic pain ,but I love my turmeric it helps so much it makes a huge difference in my life.

or you can make “Golden Milk:” Take a quarter cup of high quality, certified or organic turmeric powder mixed in a half cup of pure water and simmer for a few minutes on medium heat, stirring constantly to form a slightly moist, thick paste.

Let it cool and put it into a glass jar. It can keep for weeks in the refrigerator. To consume a dose, dissolve a small portion of the turmeric paste in a bit of warm milk or coconut oil. Add some pepper to take advantage of piperine’s nutrient absorbing properties.

If those shots you’re purchasing don’t contain piperine you really aren’t absorbing it into your system. so make sure it has a fat content..like sprinkle it on avocado slices. Thank you for sharing!

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