Today we’re very pleased to publish Turmeric: Fact or Fiction? by Penelope Ody. In Turmeric Penelope Ody, the UK’s leading herbalist, provides the most up-to-date guide to turmeric’s therapeutic properties and its role in alleviating twenty-first century ailments.
Turmeric has been used as a traditional herbal remedy for centuries but in recent years it has hit the headlines and shelves of the health food shops hailed as a “miracle cure” for a range of illnesses from arthritis to auto-immune disease. Penelope Ody looks at the scientific evidence behind such claims and asks “just how valid are the numerous claims made for the herb?”
We asked Penelope to talk a bit about one particularly interesting aspect of the book. Here is what she told us.
Whole herb or chemical extract?
The recent publicity over the uses of medicinal marijuana and the efficacy of its extracted “THC” and “CBD” chemicals may have left many confused as to what is and is not a legal extract of Cannabis sativa – classified in Britain as class B recreational drug.
For centuries the whole herb was quite legally used as a medicinal herb: Pliny writing around AD79, recommended it for stiffness in the joints and gout, while in Victorian times it was regarded as a wonder drug with Dr William O’Shaughnessy, a returning East India Company physician, devoting 25 pages to “Indian hemp” in his “Pharmacopoeia” of Bengali remedies.
While there are currently no legal restrictions on turmeric similar confusion abounds as to whether it is the whole herb – also used for centuries for a range of ailments – or a single group of its constituents (the curcuminoids) that are responsible for its medicinal properties.
Sadly there is very little research into “whole” herbs – why should any company invest money in expensive clinical trials involving a herb which, once its efficacy was proven, anyone could easily grow in their own gardens or gather from the hedgerow. Instead producers prefer to focus on single chemical constituents that can be patented and sold for profit.
Equally there is very little understanding of how a plant’s cocktail of chemical constituents work synergistically together to produce its therapeutic effects. Typical is meadowsweet, which under its old botanical classification of Spiraea ulmarea gave its name to Aspirin back in the 1890s, since the drug can be produced from salicylic aldehyde contained in this pretty hedgerow plant. While meadowsweet can also be used for many of the ailments treated by Aspirin, it is also an effective remedy for gastritis – a common side effect of taking Aspirin.
Whole herbs taken in excess can certainly have unwanted side-effects but compared with extracts of their individual constituents these are generally rather less significant. However, with most current research focusing on single chemical extracts many traditional uses for medicinal herbs are dismissed as scientifically unproven quackery – while those extracts that do prove efficacious, as with the THC/CBD controversy, are liable to excessive regulation limiting their wider use.
Turmeric by Penelope Ody is available here: https://souvenirpress.co.uk/product/turmeric-by-penelope-ody/