Most of us look forward to spring. The weather warms, the days get longer, and the world seems to be blooming with new possibilities. But for many, those brightly blooming flowers and trees mean nothing but trouble. According to the Food and Drug Administration, an estimated 36 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies. No wonder the shelves of your local pharmacy are ripe with antihistamines. But just as Mother Nature can cause a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, and rashes, she also supplies the remedies. One of those remedies that may be right in your spice cabinet is turmeric.
For years, here in the West, this bright orange spice has been relegated to being used only as a food coloring in yellow mustard and Halloween treats like candy corn. But in both traditional Ayurvedic medicine and more recent scientific literature, turmeric is touted as one of the most powerful non-steroidal anti-inflammatory herbs, one that every parent and allergy sufferer should know.
Turmeric’s healing power comes from its active compound, curcumin, which has the power to block mast cells from releasing histamine. According to Dr. John Douillard, it has the ability to “remove excess mucus and reduce inflammation in the sinuses and respiratory tract”. This is good news for anyone suffering the constant runny nose or hacking cough from a cold or allergies. And, because turmeric is completely natural, it is free of the side effects of dry mouth and sleepiness that accompany many pharmaceutical allergy medications.
It should also be noted that while many anti-inflammatory drugs can cause damage to the stomach and digestive tract, turmeric does not. Rather, it can reduce intestinal inflammation caused by inflammatory bowel disease while healing and repairing the cells. For this reason turmeric can be helpful not only with allergies and even muscle aches, but also with Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcerative colitis.
The beauty of this powerfully healing spice is that it can be added to just about anything. Add it to smoothies, soups, or teas. I’ve even seen it as an ingredient for matzo balls.
Two easy ways to incorporate turmeric when symptoms hit:
- Turmeric and Raw Honey: Mix turmeric and raw honey together in equal parts making sure to blend enough to last for a few days. At the first sign of cold or allergy symptoms, take a teaspoon of the mixture every hour until symptoms subside. Also, be sure to use raw honey (local is best) rather than cooked or pasteurized honey. As Douillard says, “Cooked honey causes mucus to harden, making it difficult to remove from the body; raw honey breaks up, liquefies, and removes excess mucus”.
- Turmeric Tea: If concerned about blood sugar and consuming too much honey, add a sprinkle of turmeric to a cup of dandelion tea for a powerful spring detoxifier. Or, try making this turmeric and ginger tea for a warming, anti-inflammatory brew.
For a more traditional Indian dish using turmeric, try the following Balti Mixed Vegetable recipe adapted from the cookbook Complete Indian Cooking.
What I like best about this recipe is both the anti-inflammatory spice of turmeric and ginger and that it works great with any vegetables you have lying around the kitchen. Our favorite combination is garbanzos with cauliflower, carrots, and green beans. In my “lazy” version of this dish, I tend to not even mince or grate the garlic and ginger but chop both. This will slightly change the flavor, but helps when time is an issue.
One of the secrets to this recipe is to slightly brown the onions which will bring a nice flavor to the dish. Also, remember to add harder vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, potatoes) first to soften so as not to over cook the softer vegetables.
Balti Mixed Vegetables
- 2-3 Tablespoons oil or ghee
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, grated
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 pound diced mixed vegetables (use whatever is in season: carrots, peas, cauliflower, potatoes, garbanzos and finely dice them to cut down on cooking time)
- 2-3 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
- Salt to taste
Heat the oil or ghee in a large wok or heavy bottom pan and gently fry the onions for 5-10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the garlic, ginger, chili powder, coriander, turmeric, and a pinch of salt (more if desired). Fry for 2-3 minutes.
Add the diced vegetables and stir-fry for a further 2-3 minutes. Then add the chopped tomatoes. Stir well and add a little water if needed. Cover and cook gently for 10-12 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender, adding a little more water, if necessary, to prevent the vegetables sticking to the bottom of the wok or pan.
Complete Indian cooking. London: Hamlyn, 1998. Print.
Douillard, John. Perfect health for kids ten ayurvedic health secrets every parent must know. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 2004. Print.
Srinivasan, Sujata. “Using Turmeric for Allergies | eHow.com.” eHow | How to Videos, Articles & More – Discover the expert in you. | eHow.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.