Turmeric, or cucurma longa, is the root that gives curry powder its bright yellow hue, and it is available as a ground spice, in capsules and tinctures, and fresh roots. Fresh turmeric looks like a smaller version of fresh ginger, and while 70% of our current supply comes from India, it grows as a perennial in hot climates, or in a pot on your windowsill. Turmeric has a long history in India, and archaeologists have found evidence of turmeric being used medicinally there in 2500 BC.
Related: How To Grow Turmeric Indoors (It’s Easier Than You Think)
While the scientific community wants more long-term, human studies before going all-in for turmeric, people in the healing community are forging ahead and adding turmeric to everything from soup to nuts. The top health claims made for curcumin, the compound in turmeric credited with its healing effects, are pretty spectacular. (Here are 7 more spices with serious health benefits.)
In animal studies, it prevents Alzheimer’s, cancer, and a host of inflammatory problems. Inflammation is a driver in everything from arthritis and achey joints to heart disease, so anything that helps with that sounds good. Turmeric has also been useful in balancing blood sugar to prevent Type 2 diabetes. It’s even been shown to help ease the symptoms of PMS and period pain. (Here are 9 ailments turmeric can help treat.)
Why I tried it
My own obsession with Indian food and alternative healing put turmeric on my radar back in the 90s. I read some books about Ayurvedic healing, and it was recommended for clear skin, menstrual cramps and good digestion, as well as preventing a whole host of ills. I rode my bike across town to the Indian grocery to buy the hard-to-find fresh turmeric, and put it in curries. And like all good resolutions, it kind of faded in and out of my life over the years.
But as the evidence in turmeric’s favor has continued to mount, I’ve bought turmeric capsules for aging relatives, and gone out of my way to add it to my meals. As an old-school whole foods person, I like to use things in fresh, whole form when I can. The Western idea that we should take one thing, like cucurmin, out of a food and take it in pill form neglects the synergy of all the chemicals in a food. The thousands of years of backstory on turmeric are for whole turmeric, not an extract, and with most foods, fresh is best. Luckily, the popularity of fresh turmeric has brought it to my local grocery store, so it’s easier than ever to find.
Related: 5 Things You Need To Know Before You Buy A Turmeric Supplement
To test the effects of my favorite spice, I decided to drink turmeric juice every day for a month. I make myself fresh juices in the blender or a cold press juicer at least a few times a week, anyway, and this would add healing benefits. (Here are 4 juicers that are worth the counter space)
Of course, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell whether it was helping with future Alzheimers or cancer, but I could see whether it has an effect on things like my aging joints, skin, and digestion. And my brain can always use a boost!
I purchased a big bag of fresh turmeric roots at my local co-op, and cut them into 5 gram portions—about three-quarters of a root—which is at the mid range of the recommended doses I found online. (These varied wildly: A daily, preventative dose can start as low as half a gram, while a treatment level dose, for say, arthritis pain, might go as high as 7 grams.) I figured a higher does would yield more dramatic results—and studies show that even in high doses, the active ingredients in turmeric are safe.
To make them last the month, I put them in the freezer, next to my other smoothie ingredients; and to clear the decks, I completely eliminated turmeric from my diet for the month leading up to my experiment, and paid close attention to how I felt.
I’m over 50, and I have my almost-senior moments. I also have a pretty regular exercise schedule, so before I started, I journaled about how sore I usually am after my Monday weight training, kickboxing on Wednesday, spin on Friday, and the various hikes and walks I take during the week. I took a searching look at my skin, and tried to quantify my level of spaciness and brain fog.
And then I started drinking it daily. Here’s what happened.
I learned to work with its flavor profile
One thing I had to adjust for was that the earthy, slightly bitter flavor could overpower my other juice ingredients, so I made sure to add a little more apple and lemon to balance it out. Sometimes I drank the juice on an empty stomach, which is supposed to be problematic when taking it in pill form, but I never felt any kind of discomfort. When I put it in my smoothie, I just had to make sure it got completely pureed, or I would end up with a chunk of turmeric stuck in my straw. (I also quickly learned to wipe up any spills immediately! Turmeric will stain.)
To keep from losing my mind, I decided early on I would need to vary my turmeric delivery system, and I had fun adding turmeric to a variety of drinks, from a juice blend to a latte or a smoothie. I usually added black pepper to the mix, because a big sticking point with turmeric is absorbability, and the piperine in black pepper enhances curcumin’s bioavailability by 1,000 times. (Here are 5 more tasty ways to cook with turmeric.)
On busy days, I simply threw my knob of turmeric in the blender with water, half a lemon, an apple, a few black peppercorns and a shot of maple syrup. As time went on, I got a little bored with the same juice, and I shook things up with some pineapple chunks instead of apple, and I tried it with a whole, peeled orange, both of which were tasty. I made some golden milk with almonds and honey and you-know-what, and experimented with a version with matcha, which was a strange shade of greenish brown. I made some green juice in my slow juicer, enhanced with the golden glow. But my favorite way to drink it was after a workout in a green smoothie with spinach and berries, with the turmeric and pepper add-in.
I had so much turmeric that I started adding it to other parts of my day. Turmeric pulp leftover from juicing went into a veggie burger and gave it a nice tint of yellow. I even tried making a paste of turmeric and yogurt to put on my face.
Related: 12 Things Juicing Fans Can Make With Their Leftover Pulp
I was less sore than usual—and my skin looked great
My quest coincided with the first flush of spring, so I was out gardening and hiking even more than usual. I’d have to say that the most noticeable thing was that I did feel less sore that I usually do. A day of stoop labor, weeding and digging, left me with only a few light aches, not the usual groan-worthy soreness. My knees and elbows felt relatively pain free, and that is saying something.
My skin behaved well, with less redness than usual, and no new wrinkles appeared. The turmeric and yogurt paste was revelatory, as long as I didn’t get it on my clothes. It left my skin feeling smooth and looking calm. I’ll definitely do that again, anytime my skin seems red and cranky.
I found myself looking forward to my daily drink, and seeing the prep and drinking as a little “me time.” I felt energized and nourished afterwards, and it felt much better than drinking coffee. My afternoon “crash” was definitely less dramatic than it would have been with coffee. (Here are 10 more ways to boost your energy levels without coffee)
Related: I Swapped My Coffee For A Daily Cup Of Bone Broth, Here's What Happened
I was more focused
As far as my brain goes, I didn’t have any big memory fails. When I sat down at the computer to write, I was better able to focus. And I don’t think it was just my imagination.
So for me, I’d say it was a win. When you consider that turmeric is a natural food, eaten by thousands of people for thousands of years, it has had way more safety testing than many supplements. It certainly seemed to keep me pain-free, and I experienced no negative side effects.
Related: I Tried Eating 3 Eggs Every Morning For A Week—Here’s What Happened
I’m happy to say daily doses of turmeric are a new habit that stuck. After the 30 days was up, I was still enjoying my turmeric drinks—especially my after-work smoothies—and I plan to keep tossing a knob of turmeric into my concoctions.