Everyone seems is taking turmeric in some shape or form. It’s for inflammation or pain or gut health or else. It’s currently for everything and everyone. From a Chinese medicine perspective we are familiar with three different medicinals of turmeric. All of those belong to the ginger family.
Curcumae Rhizoma (E Zhu)
E Zhu is in the category of blood regulating substances; herbs that invigorate the blood to be precise. This means that these substances will facilitate the flow of blood in the vessels. We believe in Chinese medicine that once the blood flow has been slowed, obstructed or becomes static it can lead to many health problems. E Zhu is slightly warm, pungent and bitter in taste. If used alone, its actions and indications are: breaking up blood stasis promoting the movement of qi as well as alleviating pain. We us it in patterns with abdominal pain and masses that are due to blood stasis. The rhizome is the part of the plant that grows a horizontal stem and forms new roots and shoots. We tend to dry-fry the roots to make them less aggressive and easier on digestion.
Curcumae longae Rhizoma (Jiang Huang)
Jiang Huang has similar properties to E Zhu: it’s warm, acrid and bitter. It’s used to invigorate the blood and to unblock menstruation. Its action is to resolve blood stasis caused by cold from deficiency. It can also be applied topically to treat swelling from trauma or in the early stages of abscesses. According to Chinese medicine, it expels wind and can be used for damp-cold obstruction which means, arthritic conditions that are aggravated by environmental cold. It’s the turmeric rhizome and the literal translation from the Chinese is ‘yellow ginger’.
Curcuma Radix (Yu Jin)
Yu Jin is in the same category as E Zhu and Jiang Huang. It’s in the category of blood regulating herbs. It’s cold in temperature and acrid as well as bitter in taste. Because of its cold temperature it’s better used for situations where the pain is caused by stagnation and accompanied by heat. In practice its best used for constraints of the liver that also has caused heat accumulation. Yu Jin is the tuber part of the plant which are enlarged structures in some plant species used as storage organs for nutrients. Yu Jin doesn’t’ necessarily require dry frying or any other preparation before ingesting it. In that respect it’s less aggressive than E Zhu.
In Chinese herbal medicine, we use the various species in different situations. But most importantly, we always combine individual herbs to a well-balanced formula. A formula is like a recipe that makes sure that all potential side effects of one particular herb are counteracted or balanced with other herbs. This an elegant way to combine herbs and at the same time takes advantage of a synergetic effect. This overall action of a formula will be used to treat a pattern of disharmony rather than a single symptom.
Also, we never give turmeric (any) to a pregnant woman, as it can cause bleeding. Being a promoter of the flow of blood, it should be taken with caution when taking other blood thinners (such as aspirin).
To understand all this can be challenging, as the entire philosophy of Chinese medicine is based on Yin yang and the five elements. In this way, we undertake treatments for a pattern of disharmony and not a single symptom. A group of symptoms in our world represents a pathological pattern.
Recently I came across information that investigated the intake of turmeric capsule versus taking turmeric powder and integrate it into cooking food. It turns out that if taking capsules alone and in isolation, it’s not effective with DNA methylation and won’t stop cancer cell formation. However, when cooked with and as food, then the result of prevention cancer are very promising. I can clearly see that this discovery is mind-blowing and hence the whole hype about turmeric being a cancer preventative.
Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, 3rd edition, Bensky, Clavey, Stoeger, 2004, 1993, 1986