Haridra – an integral part of the Indian culture
Haridra has entered deep into the beliefs and homes of Indian people thousands of years ago. Nowadays, the herb is used throughout India in ceremonies and rituals, in food, treatment, cosmetics, in various industries as an eco-friendly colorant. Haridra is the Sanskrit name of turmeric, and there are different varieties with specific properties, but the main ones are preserved in all. It can be found under the name yellow ginger, Indian saffron, yellow root, curcuma domestica, amuma curcuma, curcuma longa, tavakshiri, tumeric and others.
In order to answer the question what is haridra in Ayurveda, it is necessary first to describe the herb and outline the spheres in which it is used.
Haridra is a herbaceous perennial plant that reaches up to a meter of height and likes hot and humid climatic conditions. The leaves of the plant are with sharp dark yellow flowers, and these are big, densely positioned leaves. The root system is round and long, fleshy and, the plant has a bitter sharp taste and woody flavor. The branches are spreading out from the root system. The outside color is yellow-brown, and from the inside it is orange. The flowering may be in three seasons dpending on the varieties – in the spring, summer or autumn.
Apart from India, haridra is typical also for Indonesia, China, Australia, Haiti and Peru. The main producer and consumer, however, is India, as the plant is grown massively throughout the country – 80% of people there apply the principles of Ayurveda in their daily lives and treatment. Moreover, only in Southeast India the herb is wild, while in the other places it is cultivated.
Haridra is used so much by the Indian people that it is widespread and, despite its varied used and benefits, it is very cheap. That is why there is a saying for poor people there „his worth is less than of the root of hardira”.
Healing properties of haridra
When commenting on what is haridra in Ayurveda, we have to begin with the medical aspect and why it is applied all over the world. Haridra‘s healing properties were described in the VI century BC in one of the main texts of Ayurveda – „Sushruta Samhita”. The roots of the plant are used in various forms. Thanks to its wide effect, it is included in the composition of nearly 80 percent of the Ayurvedic medicinal recipes, because it can balance all three doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
It is also very important that it cleanses the energy channels, stimulates the chakras and improves the circulation of prana – the vital energy in the body. Research-workers believe that Ayurveda people have used the herb four thousand years ago.
Haridra is a natural and powerful antibiotic from nature with a strong antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-allergic effect. It also has a diuretic effect. The herb is useful for:
- Healing of wounds
- For cleansing of toxins, including in blood
- For stomach upset and for gas discharge
- To increase appetite and better digestion
- Regulation of metabolism
- Stimulation of the protein absorption.
One of the specific diseases for which it is used is the disturbed blood circulation, as the herb reduces bad cholesterol and improves the elasticity of blood vessels. In addition, the plant is applied in conditions such as anemia, pharyngitis, cough, diabetes, spasms, arthritis, candida, skin problems, as it promotes tissue recovery, and so on. Generally, the conditions that can be healed and prevented with the help of haridra are more than 600.
Roots are dug, cleaned and boiled, then dried without peels. They can be whole or in powder, and used for the preparation of creams, potions and teas. Various healing oils can be extracted through steam distillation – fat and essential. The haridra oil contains numerous beneficial ingredients, including, for example, tumerone – a substance that contributes to the regeneration of brain neurons and thus helps to prevent dementia. Another major ingredient is curcumine, which is used even against cancer.
The herb has contraindications for certain categories of patients, especially if taken in combination with other medicines. Haridra should not be taken by pregnant women or breast-feeding mothers, or by patients with increased Pitta dosha, with acute hepatitis, acute jaundice or by patients taking blood-thinning medicines. If taken together with other medicines against diabetes, the blood sugar may drop drastically. In fact, just like any medication, haridra should be taken according to the prescription of an Ayurveda doctor.
Haridra and nutrition according to Ayurveda
Given the healing properties of haridra, it is understandable why it is widely used in the Ayurvedic cuisine. In Ayurveda – both as a philosophy and as medicine, food is perceived as a prophylaxis and medicine, and many of the herbs are also used as spices. Of course, their use is also in line with their gustatory qualities and aroma.
The aroma of haridra is slightly spicy and the taste is slightly burning. So it is among the five spices that are used the most. The other 4 are hot pepper, ginger, black pepper and cardamom. Haridra is also the basis of the famous Indian curry.
It is used for many meals – meat, fish, rice, vegetables, pilaf, eggs sauces, salads, soups, and so on. In addition to giving freshness to the dishes, it also increases their shelf life. In small doses, it is used to enrich the taste of the marinade, even the taste of the pastry specialties.
If the roots are powdered they have another function in the culinary – coloring the dish in yellow. It does not take a lot – a pinch of ground dried roots is enough to color and flavor 4 portions. Here we should mention that you should be careful with the doses. If you put more, instead of enriching the dish, it will get worse, because the herb is strong and will suppress other flavors. This actually applies to any spice.
Haridra loses its gustatory qualities over time, as well as some of its healing properties, so it should be purchased in small quantities. If the herb is powdered, it must be kept in a tightly closed jar in a cool and dark place. Fresh roots should be kept in the fridge.
Haridra as a cosmetic agent in Ayurveda
Haridra is included in numerous recipes for clean, fresh, smooth and beautiful skin. It is contained in creams and masks for face and body, as well as in oil extracted from the plant, practically slowing down the aging of the skin. There are masks for dry skin, for oily skin, for loose skin, and for treatment of various diseases.
As mentioned above, the herb is a powerful antioxidant. It neutralizes free radicals and prevents various harmful effects. Haridra suppresses the enzyme elastase, which breaks down the elastin fibers in the skin the action of which leads to the formation of wrinkles and skin sagging. In addition, the plant is traditionally used for skin whitening and to improve the complexion, as it helps to lighten the age spots and freckles. The herb can be combined with chickpea and lemon for better whitening effect.
Impaired skin pigmentation caused by the decrease in the melanin pigment can also be treated with cosmetic products based on the herb. It is used for the vitiligo condition, which is characterized by white spots on the skin.
Haridra can help the effective removal of blackheads, acne, eczema, chronic inflammations such as rosacea. It is usually mixed with clay, honey or chickpea flour, with fresh milk or yoghurt, as well as with plant oils, most often with sesame oil, and then used for oil massages.
These masks improve the blood circulation, stimulate the cell regeneration, inflammations are reduced, blackheads disappear, as well as the acne and redness of the skin. The tone improves and the skin becomes tight and rejuvenated, more firm and elastic, and wrinkles are reduced. If you have dark circles under the eyes, you can apply a mixture of the herb with a tablespoon of yoghurt, and a mixture of haridra with castor oil can help you deal with the cracked heels.
Haridra paste /powdered roots with water/ can be used as a relieving anti-inflammatory and antiseptic agent to remove the irritation during epilation by applying it to the specific areas. It can also be used to treat dandruff and to strengthen the hair. A mixture of haridra, amla, sesame oil and sandal wood should be rubbed into the head.
If applied as a powder or as paste to the skin, it gives light yellow color which can be washed away immediately. Creams, even if they are yellow, do not give the skin a yellow hue. They do not color the skin and they have whitening effect. But if you leave the herb to penetrate deeper into the tissue, it is difficult to wash away.
Haridra and Indian rituals
Haridra is a sacred plant for Indian people, because it contains Satwa guna – the positive qualities and aspect of the spiritual constitution of the person, as it brings harmony, goodness and pureness. It is associated with fertility, luck and success. That is why it is used in numerous religious rituals and ceremonies.
Rubbing in the body of haridra powder or paste brings purification. If there is a wedding, haridra is thrown on the way of the newly-married couple as a ritual for luck and happiness. Dry roots of the plant are placed on the necklace as a symbol of sacred marriage union, and this ritual is recognized by the Marriage law in India. The necklace corresponds to the wedding rings in the Western tradition. Moreover, the haridra roots are a gift that can be given on special occasions – engagement, when visiting a pregnant woman, etc.
The herb is used by girls and married women when bathing, but not by widows – they are supposed to have given up the joy of life. And because it is associated with luck, the herb is not allowed in the houses where mourning has been declared.
It is believed that haridra protects from evil forces, which is also included in the wedding rituals. Balls of food are prepared (herb mixed with the food) and then they are scattered around the newly married couple for protection. It is also believed that if you have a root of the plant in your pocket it will protect you from diseases. These roots can also be worn on the neck on a silver thread.