Turmeric: The age old remedy for old age

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A cousin to ginger, turmeric or Cucurma longa has been used as a medicine in Asia for more than 2500 years. It’s only recently in western herbal medicine that we’ve begun to appreciate the full spectrum of benefits this humble herb can offer.

One thing I love about Turmeric is that while it is powerful- it is gentle.

It’s safe to take along most prescription medications (but double check with your doc first) and it has a mild flavour which is pleasant to most. Let’s take a look at some of it’s proven benefits and uses:

Antioxidant- Protecting the body from oxidative stress and free radical damage due to chemical exposure is turmeric’s speciality. Not only do the active compounds in turmeric act as antioxidants themselves, it also helps to accentuate the body’s own antioxidant processes. It’s a must for the modern world.

Anti-inflammatory- Turmeric contains dozens of compounds which exert powerful anti-inflammatory effects. The most studied and backed by research is the chemical called curcumin. The anti-inflammatory compounds in turmeric block enzymes which promotes swelling and pain, making this herb excellent for the treatment of arthritis, chronic pain and injury. Many studies have found curcumin to be as effective in the treatment of arthritis as many anti-inflammatory drugs.

Brain Health- Curcumin crosses the blood-brain barrier and helps to increase certain enzymes in the brain responsible for repair and nerve connections. It’s role as an antioxidant and in inflammation is significant in the processes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Much research is underway to establish to what extent turmeric can delay or reverse brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, age related cognitive decline and depression.

Heart disease- A smite on the modern world- heart disease is our biggest killer. While the causes of heart disease can be both genetic and lifestyle induced- our 2 major foes, inflammation and oxidation play a major role. Turmeric can be a valuable addition to the treatments of many kinds of heart disease and are often fine to take alongside conventional drugs (please see your doctor/pharmacist or naturopath if you have any questions about drug interactions). Turmeric also appears to play a role in endothelial health, the inside wall of your blood vessels which are important in regulating blood pressure, blood clotting and many other circulatory processes. As an anti-inflammatory it may be of benefit in raised cholesterol, which often has an association with systemic inflammation.

Cancer- While much research is still needed- early studies have shown that curcumin can reduce angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels in tumours), metastisis (spread of cancer cells), as well as contributing to cancer cell death and suppressed tumour growth. There is also some evidence of it preventing some cancers, especially cancers of the digestive system (colon cancer).

Turmeric also has significant benefits on the digestive system (local anti-inflammatory action useful in IBS, inflammatory bowel diseases and autoimmunity), the liver, and in helping us to cleanse the blood and improve skin conditions. There really is no one who wouldn’t benefit from it!

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Golden green and lush- turmeric is ready for harvest.

Can’t live forever, but I’m gonna die trying.

Turmeric is up there on the list of ways to try to keep on ticking. So let’s look at some ways to get it in to ya.

We’ve talked a lot about the active constituent curcumin. Now sadly, it’s not such an easy thing for us to absorb. Not only that, the content of curcumin in turmeric is only about 3-5%. Therefore if you really want to get the most from turmeric as a medicine (pain relief or any of the reasons mentioned above)- an extract can be a good way to go. There are many excellent ones on the market these days, providing high levels of curcumin per dose, usually in capsule/tablet or liquid extract. Without directing you to a particular brand, in Australia, you can be confident with most naturopath prescribed-only companies and a few retail ranges. Products should explain their extraction method and talk about their bioavailability as a key feature. “Bioavailability” being the degree to which the active constituents become available in the blood stream. I’ve used and prescribed quite a few different ones all with great success.

For those of us that are more in to food as medicine, or who don’t have the cash to buy supplements or want to just increase the amount of nutrient dense foods in our diet with out any real particular therapeutic goal per say, preparation of your turmeric is the key. Let’s look to some of the ways we can increase the efficacy of turmeric as a whole food:

Black pepper- Piperine from common black pepper has been found to help block the break down of curcumin in the liver, allowing more of it to enter the bloodstream. In human trials adding piperine to turmeric increased it’s bioavailability by 2000%! Adding a generous dose of black pepper to your curries, or simply popping a few pepper corns whole with your turmeric and veggie juice can help increase it’s effect as a medicine.

Fat- Turmeric has low solubility in water. Therefore mixing turmeric with coconut, sesame, flaxseed or olive oil can also improve it’s bioavailability.

Heat- Traditionally, turmeric has been used in cooking, and in medicinal beverages/teas which has also been found to improve it’s absorption. Curcumin is sensitive to heat however, so while a curry might be have you frying your powder in oil and onions and simmering for ages, this isn’t the best way to get the medicinal benefit. By all means enjoy it that way- but look to heat your turmeric gently and not for long if you want it in all it’s medicinal glory.

Bioflavonoids- These are substances found in plants. A major bioflavonoids called Quercetin can help prevent the metabolism of curcumin in the body- enhancing it’s effectiveness. A favourite way to take turmeric is to combine a tsp dried powder in 1 cup of boiling water with the juice of ½ a lemon and some honey to taste. Lemons are naturally high in Quercetin, and hot lemon in water is famous as a liver tonic. Add turmeric – and what a way to start the day!

The Kitchen Medicine Essentials: 

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Golden Paste-

Making a batch of Golden Paste will make it easy for you to add bioactive turmeric to dishes and drinks regularly, and it’s the base of golden milk a traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It’s easy:

¼ cup turmeric powder

½ cup water

1 tsp black pepper

2-3 tsps of coconut oil

Mix all of the ingredients in a sauce pan until the mixture becomes a smooth rich paste. You may need to add a little bit more water if the mixture becomes too thick. Stir over a low-medium heat for 5 minutes. Trasfer to a glass jar and store in the fridge. This paste will last for 2-3 weeks.

Golden milk-

You’ll find many versions of this around, here is my favourite. If you’ve made golden paste- it couldn’t be easier:

½ tsp golden paste

1 cup milk -Of your choice. Traditionally it’s cows milk- but I prefer almond or coconut milk

Honey to taste

A dash of cinnamon/ground ginger or cayenne pepper if you like

If you haven’t made up your golden paste in advance, it’s not really that much more complicated:

1 cup of milk- as above

½ -1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp coconut oil

a dash of black pepper , cinnamon, ginger or cayenne

honey taste

Method:

In both cases- combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer for 2-3 minutes (leave the honey out till the very end). Remove from heat and put the lid back on and let sit an extra 5 mins. Stir and serve up the liquid gold, adding honey now if you want a bit of sweetness- you’ll love it! Depending on your therapeutic aim- drink 1-3 cups per day.

Ps- If you have the fresh grated root, you may wish to blend your ingredients in a high speed blender before heating- to give it an extra smooth consistency.

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Move over Weetbix- My raw cereal

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I have a few staples that I always have on rotation. Things I prepare in big batches and have on hand for times when life is busy. In these times, I’m hoping I’ve got cupboards full of jars and freezers full of boxes. One of the great staples I’ve discovered, is my raw cereal. I call it a cereal because that’s how I like to eat it, with some kind of milk, or yoghurt, often with fruit and a drizzle of honey. My daughter prefers it more like a biscuit or a cookie. I try to make batches of it where I don’t include any nuts, and then they are perfect in her lunch box at school. The combinations are endless, and dehydrating is a great way to make use of any seasonally abundant produce you may have.

If you haven’t yet run out and bought a dehydrator, after the enthralling and compelling  Kale chips  post- then let this serve as further motivation! Like I said, when I got my paws on my Excalibur, I never looked back. But whatever the brand- you are making an investment in your wholefoods kitchen and increasing the efficiency of all kinds of food preparations/preserving. Now, like the Kale chips, you can make this in your oven, and I know many folks who do. There are a few draw backs with using the oven- 1) you don’t have control over the temperature to the same extent, which means you can easily burn or cook your cereal. 2) Lack of temp control means you can’t really say your end result is bonafide “RAW”- this may or may not matter to you 3) A dehydrator is set up to accommodate many rows or trays. Mine is a 9 tray. In terms of energy and time efficiency you get more bang for you buck (and hour) with a dehydrator. 4) A dehydrator can be left on all night or when you go out. You may or may not like to leave your oven on in the same way, especially if it’s gas. So there. Put that dehydrator on the top of your wish list. Until then, don’t let me put you off trying some of these goodies. The more you get in to the swing of making and enjoying them, the more likely you are to get the right equipment for the job.

The base

I have tried a lot of different bases for the cereal, and I have found that raw buckwheat is the best. It becomes soft with soaking/sprouting and when it is dehydrated, it is nice and crunchy without being too hard. I’ve tried spelt grain in the same way, and the dehydrated result, though entirely edible, isn’t as nice. Depending on the batch size, you may start with 1- 2 cups of raw buckwheat, and soak in double the amount water over night. If you want to sprout the buckwheat, to enhance nutrition and digestibility, check out the method described on my post on the fermented dosa. Buckwheat is amazing versatile and under utilised. It is a seed, not a grain, high in protein and bioflavonids, and it is also gluten free. Time for the humble buckwheat to take to the stage- front and centre please!

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Here my buckwheat has already been soaking and has been drained and rinsed. 

The second half of the base, I usually use another nut/seed of some kind.

Nuts are a fantastic source of protein and omega fatty acids- however, in the modern world of the hysterical immune system- anaphylactic allergies are rampant. Meaning of course the end of the P.B.J era (peanut butter n’ jelly in case you missed it)- but also the end of this healthful food being allowed at most schools/preschools. As a health conscious parent, this is a REAL drag. But of course, we don’t want to risk anyone having a reaction to our lunch, so… seeds it is. I usually mix together equal parts of flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds- ALL RAW. Chia seeds and sesame are also included at times- and if you can get your hands on hulled hemp seeds, by all means- add them too. If I was using nuts for a home-only batch, I would probably go for almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans. I generally use equal parts seeds/nuts to buckwheat, soaked 24 hours.

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This batch is a home batch- so I’ve got almonds to add to the mix. Along side is flax seeds, chia seeds, desiccated coconut and coconut flour. 

Next you need some kind of fruit.

I use seasonal fruit and there are no rules. I often use bananas as they never really out of season where I live (I’m spoiled). They make a great creamy consistency to the mix, are naturally really sweet, and dehydrate well. When I made this batch- I was drowning in mangos (incredibly decadent). I’ve written a post on eating seasonally and foraging, inspired by the bumper crop we had this year. Frozen berries can work too, or a combination of whatever you’ve got.

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Spotty mangos from a friends tree. Gotta preserve these guys FAST!

Those are basic ingredients to your raw cereal. But don’t stop there! There are heaps of extras you can add to the mix to create a particular flavour or variation that makes each batch it’s own special thing. I often have a couple of batches on the go. One say, really chocolate- another more fruity/tropical.

Some extras to consider adding to your cereal may include: Raw cocoa (can you say- cocopops?!), Acai powder, Maple syrup, Honey, Vanilla bean, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Essences of almond/orange/rose (rose and pistachio with strawberries! YES!), Fruit slices- thinly sliced strawberries or banana spread out over the top, salt (I use Himalayan salt), Spirulina (Great with cocoa and mint essence) … As you can see- the possibilities are endless.

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Blending Once you’ve combined all the ingredients- it’s time for the blender. I’m sure you could use a bar mix for the job- I use a high speed blender. I like to have quite a chunky mix- so there are lots of textures. Crunchy nuts and leathery dehydrated fruit all get their place. One way to achieve this is to blend half the mix until it’s a smooth porridge consistency- then add the other half and just pulse it enough to chop. The trick is adding just the right amount water to make the combination porridge-like. Add a 1/4-1/2 cup of water- blend- then stir before adding more.

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You can also at this stage add extras to the mix- like sweetener. I won’t lie. If I’m making a kid friendly batch- I need to add sweetener. Mine don’t LOVE it just with the sweetness of fruit. I’ll usually use honey or coconut sugar at this stage, though maple syrup sometimes is a nice flavour addition. I’ll leave you to decide how much sweet is good for you- taste as you go. Another thing I may add at this stage is coconut flour. I’ll stir through just enough to make the texture of the mix a bit more creamy- it can really add a lovely consistency. Make sure it’s completely blended and smooth, not dry.

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Stir in the honey and coconut flour. 

Laying it out on trays

Next step is to spread the mix out on your dehydrator trays. I use baking paper to line my trays. I didn’t buy the teflex sheets that some people use. I did a bunch of reading on both teflex and the silicon in baking paper- and there seemed to be areas of concern for both. It’s unclear if either substance leeches in to the food at low temperatures, and seeing as this will be dehydrated at the standard for raw foods- 41C or 105F, I’m comfortable with that. Spread the mixture using a spatula until it’s about 1-2 mm thick.

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I’m pressing desiccated coconut on to the top of the batch- not blended- to add extra crunch and texture.

Dehydrate at 41C or 105F until crisp

There’s no exact time you need to leave you cereal going for- somewhere between 10-12 hours. Once they’ve become solid enough, peel the paper off, as it helps them to dry faster. Make sure there are no soggy or moist bits and any fruit chunks are throughly dehydrated before storing. Break the sheets of dried cereal in to “flake” size bites, or leave in larger chunks and eat as a biscuit. The cereal keeps for couple of months in an air tight container or jar.

IMPORTANT! This recipe is for a sweet, cereal or biscuit. However simple variations can make an equally delicious savoury crisp bread! Instead of fruit- add tomato/grated zucchini, carrot, beetroot, fresh herbs (dill, basil, oregano are great), garlic/onion, diced spinach/kale, nutritional yeast, smokey paprika, balsamic vinegar. I once made a batch of raw nachos using buckwheat, almonds, sweetcorn, garlic and nutritional yeast. YUM. Top with avocado/hummus and microgreens and you’ve got a delicious quick snack.  So many variations are possible. Just get creative and let the produce of the season inspire you.

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Photography courtesy of Rebecca Rushbrook Photography.