Curcuma longa, a perennial herb and member of the Zingiberaceae (ginger) family, grows to a height of three to five feet and is cultivated extensively in Asia, India, China, and other countries with a tropical climate. It has oblong, pointed leaves and funnel-shaped yellow flowers. The rhizome, the portion of the plant used medicinally, is usually boiled, cleaned, and dried, yielding a yellow powder. Dried Curcuma longa is the source of the spice turmeric, the ingredient that gives curry powder its characteristic yellow color. Turmeric is used extensively in foods for both its flavor and color, as well as having a long tradition of use in the Chinese and Ayurvedic systems of medicine, particularly as an anti-inflammatory and for the treatment of flatulence, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, hematuria, hemorrhage, and colic.
Turmeric can also be applied topically in poultices to relieve pain and inflammation. Current research has focused on turmeric’s antioxidant, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, and antimicrobial properties, in addition to its use in cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal disorders.