It is Pongal and the streets are filled with stalls selling the traditional vegetables for the festival. My guests from overseas were curious about all the plants I brought home from the market. As I started labeling the different vegetables and plants (yes, whole plants!) my aunts pitched in to add more interesting details. I think everyone was fascinated by the turmeric plant.
Of course, if you are a south Indian Hindu, you are familiar with the tradition of giving a piece of the turmeric rhizome with the ‘tamboolam’ during auspicious events.
The rest of the world is probably more familiar with the powdered form of turmeric used extensively in cooking Indian food. The dried rhizome (underground stem) is ground into powder.
Turmeric is used for myriad purposes in a typical Indian household. Most of these practices have been in use for centuries and handed down from generation to generation. The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin is a powerful antioxidant.
Names of Turmeric in regional languages
|Hindi , Gujarathi, Oriya||Haldi|
|Sanskrit||Haladi, Haridra, Harita|
Skin Care Using Turmeric
The commercial for Vicco Turmeric Ayurvedic cream highlights the age old practice use of turmeric in Indian households for skin care. (Am I dating myself talking about the commercial?) Applying turmeric paste on the groom and the bride prior to the mangal snaan or holy bath is an important part of the wedding preparation.
Traditionally women from South India apply fresh turmeric paste to their skin every day before bathing. This is said to prevent hair growth, especially on the face.
Turmeric paste is also applied on the face to help manage acne. A word of caution if you use turmeric paste. It leaves a slight yellow tinge on your skin.
Turmeric is an important ingredient in bath powder, a traditional substitute for soap, and in face masks
Here’s a recipe for a traditional Indian face mask that many of us made at home
- Poolan Kilangu (curcuma Zedoaria)
- Aavaarampoo (cassia auriculata)
- Carboga arisi (Psorolia corolifolia)
Take equal quantities of the above ingredients and grind them into a fine powder. Mix a spoonful of this powder with fresh cream to make a thick paste. Wash your face and pat it dry with a towel. Apply the paste on your face and leave it on for 15 -20 minutes. Wash the paste off your face leaving your skin smooth and gentle.
Other Skin Remedies
A salve made of turmeric powder mixed with coconut oil is used for common skin ailments in India, especially fungal infections such as athlete’s foot (sethu pun).
Medicinal Uses of Turmeric
Turmeric is used extensively in Ayurvedic medicines and Siddha medicines. There is a fair amount of research going on in Allopathy (English medicine as we Indians call it) on the effectiveness of using turmeric in the treatment of various medical conditions. These seem to be at preliminary stages but one thing is for certain. If you do take turmeric as a supplement, do be aware that like many other natural products, it may have adverse effects because of other medications you take. Always check with your doctor before you take any supplements.
Here are some common medicinal uses for turmeric
1. Antiseptic Paste
Ground turmeric paste is used as an antiseptic and disinfectant for small cuts and wounds. The wound should be cleaned thoroughly and then fresh turmeric paste applied.
2. Cold Remedies
Turmeric is used in many remedies for cold, sore throat, congestion and headaches.
Remedy for Head Cold
Grind fresh turmeric to make a residue. Mix a pinch of lime (calcium hydroxide/sunnambbu) with this turmeric residue. Take this mix in a stainless spoon and heat it in the flame of a candle (or more traditionally the agal vilakku or mud lamps). The reason to use such a small flame is so that it doesn’t get burnt on the flame of a stove top. The mix will boil quickly. Take a pinch of this and apply it on your scalp at the very top of your head and apply the rest as a face pack. The best time to apply this is at night before you go to bed and when you wake up in the morning the congestion clears. Make sure you use old sheets because the turmeric in the face pack will stain your sheets.
Remedy for Chest Cold – Turmeric in Milk
For chest colds add a pinch of turmeric to hot milk and drink. Turmeric milk helps soothe a sore throat and to clear chest congestion.
3. Pest control and Insect Repellant
Turmeric is used to for pest control on the field (especially paddy fields) as well as in households. It is also used in organic farming due to its anti-fungal properties.
Many homes in India sprinkle a line of turmeric powder around containers with sweets and other foods to repel ants.
4. Natural Dye
Turmeric is commonly used as a food coloring. Did you know that it was widely used as a natural dye for fabrics as well? Even now, turmeric is used to dye dhotis and sarees for special occasions.
5. My all-time favorite use – Homemade unadulterated Kumkum / sindoor
In the olden days kumkum was made from turmeric.
I still have the kumkum given to me by my grandmother which she herself made at home.
Various names of Kumkum in Indian Languages
In these days when there is fear of lead and what not in the store bought kumkum, here’s a recipe for you to make this at home:
How to make Kumkum / sindoor at home
1. Dry about ten pieces of turmeric rhizomes.
2. Powder these coarsely and add the juice of one lime. The lime gives it the deep red color.
3. Let this mix dry in shade (inside your home).
4. Then powder it fine—in the past, people used a kalvam to grind it fine. Nowadays we can use just a regular blender to grind it fine. You have your home made kumkum ready for use!
(This post was written by Jyothi)