The Chemistry and Bioactive Components of Turmeric
CHAPTER 1: Turmeric – The Miraculous Herb from Ancient India and its Historical Background
Published:15 Oct 2020
K. S. Akhila and S. Gopi, in The Chemistry and Bioactive Components of Turmeric, ed. S. Gopi, S. Thomas, A. B. Kunnumakkara, B. B. Aggarwal, and A. Amalraj, The Royal Society of Chemistry, 2020, pp. 1-29.
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Even though Ayurveda utilises drugs of plant, animal and mineral origin for the purposes of treatment, most of the Ayurvedic formulations consist of herbal drugs. Turmeric (haridra) is an important drug among them. It has been used as a food ingredient and medicine for centuries, which indicates its great medicinal value. Haridra is a part of many Ayurvedic formulations as well as being used as a single medicine, both for internal and external application. For some minor surgical procedures in Ayurveda such as ksharasutra and jalookavacharana, haridra choorna is must. It is a drug with thiktha (bitter) katu (pungent) rasa (taste), rooksha (dryness) laghu (lightness) guna (quality), ushna (hot) veerya (potency), katu (pungent) vipaka (post-digestive taste) and it balances all three doshas: kapha, pitha and vata. The four varieties of haridra: haridra, amara haridra, vana haridra, daru haridra are different in their properties. Among them, haridra is considered to be the common turmeric, Curcuma longa Linn. In various Ayurveda treatises the different mode of application of haridra for various diseases has been mentioned. It is indicated as a part of formulations such as choorna (powder), lepa (medicated paste), medicinal decoction, oils, etc.
The history of Ayurveda starts from 5000 BC onwards when the Vedas, the first written dogma in India, is considered to be written. So, 5000–3000 BC is considered as the Vedic period. Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda are the four vedas and their upavedas are Ithihasam, Dhanurvedam, Gandharvavedam and Ayurvedam, respectively. Ayurveda is the upaveda of Atharvaveda.1 Therefore, it can be assumed that Ayurvedic principles have been in practice since the Vedic period. Hence it is clear that the origin of Ayurveda is about 5000 years ago. In the Vedas, especially Rigveda and Atharvaveda, there are various references about basic anatomy, medicinal herbs, surgery, examination procedures of patients, treatment principles, etc. According to Atharva veda, oushadha (medicine) can be divided into four types: atharvani, angirasi, daivi and manushi.2 The first three categories are related to vitality or will power and the final one, manushi, was the main line of treatment in the Vedic period, in which internal medicines were used. Ayurveda, the science of life, deals with natural methods to treat and prevent diseases and ways to maintain health. For that, Ayurveda utilises the drugs of plant, animal, mineral and metal origin. But most of the Ayurvedic medicinal formulations consist of herbal drugs. The ancient Ayurvedic treatises very well describe the identification, synonyms, properties, actions and varieties of various herbs.
1.2 Turmeric (Haridra) – in the Vedic Period
Turmeric, termed Curcuma longa Linn., belongs to the Zingiberaceae family. It is cultivated all over India as a commercial crop, as it has been used as a food ingredient in various Indian cuisines. It is a tall herb, with large leaves. The useful part of turmeric is its rhizome. In Ayurveda, turmeric is called haridra. It has been mentioned in various Ayurveda treatises from the Vedic period onwards. In Agnipurana, it is mentioned that haridra was used for the treatment of diseases such as kamala,3 prameha,4 vranaropana5 and arshas.6
1.3 Haridra in Nighantus
According to its morphological specialities and other physicochemical and pharmaceutical properties, many synonyms are given to haridra in various treatises. Nighantus are the main books that discuss those synonyms in detail. Haridra, rajani, nisa, nisakhya, varavarnini, suvarna, varnini, peetha, varangi, peethangi, hemaragini, varnathree, haritha, pinga, syama, kanchani, haldi, haldika, varnavathi, varnavilasini, rangini, vishaghna, siva, deergharaga, gouri, janishta, para, aneshatha, gandhapalashika, gharshani, jwaranthika, kaveri, mehaghni, besava, pindabhara, pinda, paribhra, varnada, mangalya, lambi, bhadra, sobhana, jayanthi, krimighna, yoshipriya, hattavilasini, bharalatha and romashamulika are the common synonyms of haridra that are mentioned in Nighantus. The Dhanwanthari Nighantu7 (10th century AD) contains 18 synonyms of haridra. The number of synonyms mentioned in various other Nighantus are as follows: Shodalanighantu8 (12 AD) – 10, Madanapala Nighantu9 (14 AD) – 10, Kayyadeva Nighantu10 (15 AD) – 20, Bhavaprakasa Nighantu11 (16 AD) – 10, Raja Nighantu12 (17 AD) – 30, Shaligrama Nighantu13 (19 AD) – 10, Mahoushadhi Nighantu14 (20 AD) – 14, Priya Nighantu15 (20 AD) – 4, Nighantu Adarsh16 (20 AD) – 4. The names haridra, varavarnini, suvarna, peetha, varangi, peethangi, lambi, etc. are given according to morphological features. But the names jwaranthika, mehaghni, krimighna, vishaghna indicate pharmaceutical properties.
1.4 Varieties of Haridra
Bhavaprakasa describes four varieties of haridra: haridra, amra haridra, vana haridra and daru haridra.17 In theses varieties haridra is the one which is used very commonly in Ayurveda formulations, and is identified as Curcuma longa Linn., i.e. common turmeric. The rhizome of the plant Curcuma amada Roxb. is known as amra haridra, which belongs to zingeberaceae family. It is commonly called mango ginger and is cultivated throughout India; due to its rich flavour it is used in making chutneys. Research reveals its anticancer activities against some human cancer cell lines. Also, the rhizome extract shows antioxidant, anti-allergic, antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic and anti-inflammatory activities. Curcuma aromatica Salisb. (Zingiberaceae family) is considered as vana haridra. Next to common turmeric it is the most widely used turmeric species that has been mentioned in various Ayurveda medicines. In Ayurveda treatises it is described as a remedy for various skin diseases and respiratory disorders. It has been in traditional use as a medicinal cosmetic to enhance complexion. At the same time, it carries a very promising therapeutic value as it is very effective in sprains, bruises, skin diseases, etc. It has also been used as an antidote for snake bites. It is already proven that this particular drug has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-allergic, antioxidant, anticancerous and wound healing properties. Daruharidra is a native shrub that is found commonly in the Himalayas, India. The plant Berberis aristata is considered as daruharidra, which belongs to the family berberidaceae. It is commonly called Indian barberry or tree turmeric. According to the ancient Ayurveda treatise bhavaprakasa, it is a very good remedy for various eye, ear and mouth diseases. It has been used for treating various skin disorders and haemorrhoids. Its fruits are a rich source of vitamin C, the roots are used to prepare some types of alcoholic drinks and the whole plant is a very good source of dye. In Ayurveda, it is used for the preparation of a special type of anjana (collyrium) known as rasanjana, which is useful in infective conjunctivitis.
1.5 Rasa Panchaka (Five Properties of Drug) of Haridra and its Therapeutic Effects
According to Ayurveda principles each dravya consists of five properties called rasapanchaka. They are: rasa (taste), guna – qualities, virya – potency, vipaka – taste conversion after digestion, prabhava – action that cannot be explained. They are intended to explain the pharmacological activity of the particular drug. Of these, the first four, i.e. rasa, guna, virya and vipaka, are perceptible. Haridra is tiktha katu (bitter and pungent) in taste, rooksha (dry) in quality, ushna (hot) in potency and katu (pungent) in post-digestive taste.18 These properties clearly declare its action on tridoshas (vata, pitha and kapha) and haridra balances all three doshas. It has been used as a home remedy for thousands of years and its effect on various physical ailments has been proven naturally by repeated usage. It is found to increase skin tone and complexion, heal wounds and scars, manage chronic wounds and skin lesions and is used as an antidote for poisoning. Many studies have been done on the therapeutic effects of turmeric that report anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antimicrobial, immunomodulatory, antioxidant, hepatoprotective, antidiabetic, anti-asthmatic and anticancerous properties.
1.6 Haridra in Ayurveda Treatises – Charaka Samhitha, Ashtanga Hrudayam, Susrutha Samhitha and Sarngadhara Samhitha
Charaka Samhitha is noted as an excellent Ayurveda treatise on internal medicine. It is believed to have been written between 400 BCE and 200 BCE. It consists of eight sthanas (parts) and 120 chapters in total. The eight sthanas are suthra sthana, nidana sthana, chikithsa sthana, vimana sthana, sareera sthana, indriya sthana, kalpa sthana and sidhi sthana. Ashtanga Hrudaya, which is written by Vagbhata, is considered as the collected information of all eight branches of Ayurveda: kaya, bala, graha, urdhwanga, salya, damshtra, jara and vrisha, in simple language. It is considered to be written around the seventh century AD. It consists of six sthanas and 120 chapters. Suthra, nidana, chikithsa, sareera, kalpa and uthara are sthanas of Ashtanga Hrudaya. It contains all the salient features of Charaka Samhitha, Susrutha Samhitha and Ashtanga Samgraha. Susrutha Samhitha is a book of excellence in the field of surgery. The composition of this book may have begun by Susrutha in the last centuries BCE and it was completed by Drudabala (300–500 CE). It contains six sthanas and 186 chapters in total. The sthanas are: sutra, nidana, chikithsa, kalpa, sareera and uthara. Sarngadhara Samhitha is a well-documented text of pharmaceutical processes and useful medicinal formulations. It is believed to have been written by Sarngadhara around 14th century AD. It contains three sections and 32 chapters in total.
1.7 The Drug Groups of Haridra
All of the main Ayurveda treatises contain dravya ganas (drug groups) where the drugs of similar properties or actions or a particular indication are grouped together under a specific name. These are called ganas. Haridra is included in many such ganas in various treatises. Charaka included haridra in lekhaneeya gana19 (drugs with an ability to reduce excess tissues are said to have lekhaneeya property and they are shown to have a great effect on weight reduction), kushtaghna gana20 (beneficial for skin diseases), vishaghna gana21 (potency to pacify toxic effects), praja sthapana gana22 (fertility drugs), vamanadravyas23 (vamana is one of the panchakarmas in which the increased doshas are expelled out of the body through the mouth), Kashaya skanda dravyas24 (drugs that have an astringent taste) and sirovirechana gana25 (sirovirechana or nasya is a panchakarma in which medicine is applied through the nasal cavity to eliminate excess doshas). According to Vagbhata, haridra is a member of tiktha skanda dravyas26 (drugs having a bitter taste), haridradi ganam27 (indicated for amatisara, adyavata and sthanya dosha, and for alleviation of medas and kapha, which means it can be very useful in obesity and diabetes), musthadigana28 (indicated for yoni – sthanya amayaghna, mala pachana, which means it is very useful in uterine vaginal disorders and for purifying breast milk. Also, it is a digestant) and theekshna dhooma dravyas29 (quickly penetrating medicated fumes). Acharya Susrutha included haridra in haridradi ganam,30 musthadi ganam,31 lakshadi ganam32 (useful for treating ulcers and cutaneous infections), valli panchamullam33 (roots of five medicinal creepers), samshamana oushadhas34 (drugs for pacification), kapha samsamana varga35 (that alleviate kapha, which is one of tridoshas), thiktha varga36 (drugs that have a bitter taste) and nirooha varga37 (nirooha is one of the panchakarmas, in which medicine is applied through the anal root to expel the increased doshas).
1.8 The Main Named Formulations of Haridra
The main formulations, where turmeric is a major ingredient, in Charaka Samhitha are: thikthekshuku taila38 (skin diseases), mahatikthakam ghrtham39 (skin diseases), mahakhadiram ghritham40 (skin diseases), kalyanaka ghrtham41 (mental disorders, infertility), sidharthakadi agadam42 (psychiatric conditions), maha panchagavyam ghritham43 (epilepsy, psychiatric problems), patoladyam choornam44 (ascites, jaundice), moolasavam45 (indigestion), kadukadyam ghrtham46 (bleeding disorders), haridradi ghrtham47 (jaundice), punarnava mandooram48 (anaemia, spleen disorders), goudarishtam49 (anaemia), Manasiladi ghratham50 (respiratory diseases), gudoochyadi ghrtham51 (respiratory diseases), mrthasanjeevani agada52 (poison), ganadha hasthi agada53 (poison, skin diseases), maha gandhahasthi agada54 (poison), ksharagada55 (bladder stones, haemorrhoids), khadhira gudika56 (tooth ache, gingivitis, stomatitis) and khuddaka tailam57 (burning pain). In Ashtanga Hrudayam, vagbhata details the following formulations of haridra: vasishta rasayana58 (cough, dyspnea), trikandakayam tailam59 (diabetes), mahathikthaka ghrtham60 (skin diseases), nisothamadi kashayam61 (skin diseases), guggulu marichadi tailam62 (skin diseases), vajraka ghrtha63 (skin diseases), gulgulu thikthaka ghrtham64 (arthritis, haemorrhoids, skin diseases), gruhadhumadi choornam65 (arthritis), rajanyadi choornam66 (digestive and respiratory disorders in children), laksha tailam67 (for body massage to strengthen bones), sidharthakadi ghrtham68 (mental disorders), sidharthakadi agadam69 (psychiatric illness), bhootharava ghrtham70 (psychiatric problems), mahabhootharavaghrtham71 (psychiatric problems), hareethakyadi nasyanjanam72 (psychiatric problems), haridra dwayadi ghrtham73 (psychiatric illness), kalyanaka ghrtham74 (mental problems, emaciation), mahakalyanaka ghrtham75 (mental problems, emaciation), mahath pachagavya ghrtham76 (fever, epilepsy), hreeberadi nasyam77 (eye diseases), khadiradi gulika78 (tooth pain, gingivitis), arimedadi tailam79 (tooth problems), jathyadi ghrutha80 (non-healing wounds), madhukadi tailam81 (fistula), bhadradi tailam82 (skin disease, skin ulcer), samudradi varthi83 (pilonidal sinus), manjishtadi trivrtham84 (facial melanosis), kashmiradi ghrtham85 (vaginal diseases, infertility), phalasarpis86 (infertility, uterine disorders), chandrodaya gulika87 (poison), panchavalkadi agadam88 (snake poison), vajra gulika89 (snake poison), vilwadi gulika90 (poison, indigestion), rajanyadi pratisaranam91 (scorpion poison), agara dhoomadi lepanam92 (rat poison), dwinisadi ghrtham93 (rat poison). Susrutha also describes some very effective formulations that contain haridra. They are aragwadhadhi varthi94 (wounds), mahathikthakam grtham95 (skin diseases), vajraka tailam96 (skin diseases), mahavajraka tailam97 (skin diseases), sanjeevani agadam98 (poison), mahagadam99 (poison), kalyanaka ghrutham100 (mental problems, infertility), mahakalyanaka ghrutham101 (fever, general tonic), panchagavya ghrutham102 (pyrexia), triphaladi ghrutham103 (fever, respiratory disorders), lakshadi tailam104 (pyrexia), sidharadhaka ghrtham105 (psychiatric problems), panchagavya ghrutham106 (epilepsy), kalyana ghrutham107 (psychiatric diseases, respiratory diseases) and phala ghrutham108 (infertility). Sarngadhara Samhitha contains information on the following formulations of haridra: punarnavadi kwatha109 (oedema), laghu manjishtadi Kashaya110 (skin diseases), bruhatha manjistadi kashayam111 (skin diseases, paralysis), pathyadishadangam112 (headache, eye diseases), sudharshana choornam113 (fever, pain), panchanibachoornam114 (skin diseases), chandraprabha guggulu115 (diabetes, renal stones), paniya kalyana ghrutham116 (fever, epilepsy, infertility), mahathikthaka ghrutham117 (skin diseases, arthritis), kasisadyam ghrutham118 (skin diseases), jathyadi ghrutham119 (non-healing ulcers, pilonidal sinus), thriphala grutham120 (eye diseases), gouradyam ghrutham121 (poison, skin diseases), phala ghrutham122 (infertility), lagu phala ghrutham123 (vaginal diseases), lakshadi tailam124 (pyrexia, cough), ankarakatailam125 (fever), arka tailam126 (skin diseases), marichadi tailam127 (skin diseases), thriphaladi tailam128 (seborrheic dermatitis), jathyadi tailam129 (burns, wounds), patadi tailam130 (sinusitis), chandhanadi tailam131 (fever, epilepsy), vacha tailam132 (thyroid diseases), dhathoora tailam133 (arthritis, paralysis), kumaryasavam134 (diabetes, irritable bowel disease), devadharvarishtam135 (diabetes, arthritis), mahavahni rasam136 (ascites, abdominal distension), kushtadi prathisarana choornam137 (bleeding gums), dhashanga lepam138 (poison, skin diseases) and rasanjanavarthi139 in nakhtandhyatha (night blindness).
1.9 Other Sources where Haridra is Mentioned in Ayurveda Treatises
Even if haridra choorna is indicated for prameha in bruhath trayis (Sharaka Samhitha, Susruta Samhitha and Ashtanga Hrudaya), Ashtanga Hrudaya says haridra is the agryoushadha of prameha.140 Charaka suggests turmeric powder added with honey and amalaki swarasa,141 but Vagbhata states that raw haridra along with dhatree rasa (gooseberry juice) will cure prameha.142 And another important thing, haridra is used as a lepanoushadha for vranasudhi in the context of medo arbuda chikithsa143 (cancer treatment). Haridra is indicated as a garbhasthapana oushadha144 (for pregnant women) in Charaka Samhitha. Intake of haridra choorna along with gomutra (cow's urine) is suggested as a good medicine for chronic skin diseases.145
Some important choorna prayogas (powder formulations) of haridra available in ancient literature are: for various types of skin disease,146,147 for external application in parswaruja148 (pleurodynia), swelling,149 oedema,150 for udwarthana151 (external rubbing) in kushta, mukhadhavana choornam in anorexia,152 for kasa153 (cough) for moothrarodhaja udavartha154 (abdominal pain due to retention of urine), swasa roga155 (respiratory diseases), pandu156 (anaemia), rakthapitha157 (bleeding disorders) and amathisara chikitsa158 (diarrhoea).
The oil formulations where haridra is a main ingredient are: taila for abyanga after cutting the umbilical cord during delivery,159 tailam for shirovirechanam160 (a therapy in which medicine is applied through the nose), for sandhigathavatha161 (arthritis), of tailam for pana, abhyanga and anuvasana162 (application through mouth, anal orifice and skin), kaphaja vrudhi chikithsa163 (hernia), dhava twagadi nasya tailam,164 vranaropana tailam,165 taila for pana, abhyanga, gandhoosha, nasya and vasthi,166 taila for nadivrana167 (pilonidal sinus), taila for ropana and bhagandara vinashana,168 taila for bhagandara (fistula).169
Kashaya yogas (medicinal decoction) where haridra is included are: for kaphaja prameha,170 for pithaja prameha,171 kaphapithajanya kushta,172 kashaya yoga for tridosha jwara,173 athisara,174 pakwathisara,175 kashaya for pana and abhyanga,176 sannipatha jwara,177 amathisara chikitsa,178 pithathisara chikitsa,179 kapha jwara,180 kapha jwara,181 mooshika visha182 (rat poison), kashaya for visha damsanm183 (snake bite), kashaya yoga for prameha chikithsa,184 kaphadhika vataraktha185 (rheumatoid arthritis).
Lepana yogas (medicated paste) where haridra is an ingredient are: in kushta chikithsa,189 in arshas haridra choorna along with sudha ksheera,190 thwak vishudhikara lepam,191 vathakapha vathasonitha,192 dadru,193 nakha danthadi visha,194 moosikka visha chikitsa,195 lutha visha,196 vrschika visha,197 savarnakara,198 pithaja nalivrana,199 twak visudhi,200 vrana sodhana,201 aroomshika,202 lepana yoga in kukoonaka chikitsa203 lepana for vrana sodhana,204 lepana for pithadhika vataraktha,205 lepana during asmari chikitsa,206 lepa for nadi vrana,207 alepanoushadha for arshas,208 lepa for kushta chikitsa,209 lepa for swithra,210 lepana for kaphaja upadamsa,211 lepana for nyacha, vyanga chikitsa,212 lepana in aroomshika chikitsa,213 lepana after rakthamoksha in visha chikitsa,214 siro lepam,215 kushta,216 kandu,217 dadru,218 shopha,219 vrana shodhana,220 vasikarana.221
Ghrutha yogas (medicated ghee) that contain haridra are: mrthdosha peeditha,222 of mrthikakrthan sarvan vikaran,223 mrthikothbhava roga,224 vathajanya yoni rogam,225 manovikaras,226 pitha vidradhi chikithsa,227 kapha vidradhi chikithsa,228 karnavardhana ghrtham,229 pandu,230 swasakasa,231 for dhara and pana,232 for vranapurana,233 ghrutha for abhyamga on face,234 for snehapanam235 and ghrutha for kushta.236
Nasya (nasal therapy), anjana (collyrium) applications that contain haridra are indicated in diseases such as: unmada and apasmara,241 anjana in the treatment of visha, which affect kaphaja srothas,242 gulika yoga for nasya and anjana,243 anjana for grahabadha,244 anjana for vishoochika,245 anjana for nakthandhyatha,246 anjana for divaseshu avasyatha,247 anjana for timira,248 nasya for pitha rakha janya peenasa249 and anjana for abhishyanda.250
Haridra in rasayana chikithsa (rejuvenation therapy), is an ingredient in sodhanoushadha, which is indicated prior to rasayana seva,251 a rasayana yoga of abhayamalakeeya rasayana poda containing haridra, and that yoga is indicated for longevity and health,252 virechana yoga in rasayana vidhi,253 jaladadi rasayanam254 and suntyadi rasayanam255 contain haridra as a main ingredient.
Haridra in visha chikithsa (treatment of poisons and toxins) it is used for gharshana in visha chikithsa,256 haridra is good as an agada in the sixth vishavega,257 kalka yoga anjana, nasya and lepana in visha sopha,258 kalka yoga for sarpa visha,259 agada yoga for visha,260 gruha godha visha chikithsa,261 agada for nakha, dantha kshatha visham,262 chathushpada dashtanam agada,263 amrtham ghrtam sarvavishahari,264 Vrana shodhana kshalana kashayam and lepam,265 peya yoga in visha chikitsa,266 dhoomaprayoga in vrishchika visha267 and prathisarana for ugra, madhya visha vruschika damsana.268
Haridra in vrana chikithsa (treatment of wounds and ulcers) is used in preparatory procedures julooka avacharana,269 avagharshana choornam,270 vranashodhana grtham,271 vranashodhana tailam,272 vranashopana grtham273 and vranashopana tailam.274 For bandhana in kaphaja vrana haridra pathra is used,275 ropana taila for sadyovrana,276 ropana taila for sadyovrana,277 sodhana taila,278 vrana sodhanoushadha279 and vrana puranam in kapha vidradhi chikitsa.280
Haridra in nethra chikithsa (treatment of eyes) kashaya yoga for nethradhara,281 varthi for kukoonaka chikitsa,282 dhara in arma chedana vidhi,283 manjishtadi dhara,284 pundrayashtyadi for plutha,285 dhara for Sudha sukkla chikithsa,286 Kashaya dhara for sushkakshipaka,287 ghrtha for dhara and nasya in pithabhishyanda288 and aschyothana in praklinna varthna.289
Other modes of application of haridra like vasthi (medicated enema), virechana (purgation), gulika (pills), leha (a semi-solid preparation from drugs) and dhooma (inhalation therapy): vasthiyogam for kapharogi,290 in athisthoulya,291 of virechanayoga in udara chikithsa,292 gulika yoga for kushta,293 a gulika yoga for swithra and kushta,294 leha, choorna yoga for pithathisara,295 gulika for gulma,296 leha for swasa,297 varthi for dhoomapana,298 lehyam for aruchi,299 kalka dhooma prayoga for kandu yoni,300 vasthi yoga for kapha, pandu,301 etc.
Nowadays, innumerable research efforts are taking place on the anticancerous, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and many other properties of turmeric and it is considered as one of the most precious drugs. However, turmeric (haridra) has been a part of Indian food culture for centuries and it is mentioned as a herb with many medicinal values even in the Vedas, the first written dogma in India. It was used as a home remedy, both for internal external applications. All Ayurveda medicinal treatises mention haridra as a single medicine or as a part of formulations. So, it is clear that the medicinal properties of this precious drug were first recognised by the great science of Ayurveda.