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Curry, Turmeric: How This Powder Can Help Heal Laryngitis

Indian Cooking, Turmeric

I noticed a recent flurry of talk about curry and saw a chance to share a secret. I learned of a healing power of turmeric, a major ingredient in curry, that is unknown by most Americans.

Turmeric is a deep yellow-to-orange powder that comes from rhizomes that are of the ginger family. It is the yellow of the turmeric that provides the strong coloring of curry. Turmeric is a perennial herb much like the ginger plant. Its smell is sweet, fragrant like the pollen of mango. The rhizomes are boiled for hours, dried for days or weeks, and then powdered. Curry powder, though it varies in its ingredients, always contains turmeric as a major constituent.

In India Turmeric is used for its antiseptic properties. This is where my story comes in. My daughters and my mother were arriving to spend our first Christmas together in 15 years. I had been working at the retail pharmacy full time and preparing my home for visitors in my off hours. It was my first winter in the rainy clime of Sacramento and my health was waning. In the hours before the anticipated arrival of my mother and my youngest daughter, I was working away with my pharmacist. He had been raised in India and immigrated to America as an adult. He attended university in India. At some point in the afternoon my voice became quickly hoarse and then disappeared completely. A good lip reader could communicate with me but our phone-in clients could not make sense of my raspy whispers. It was time for harsh measures.

There were no over-the-counter medications that even hinted at restoring a lost voice. The situation was becoming dire. My pharmacist pulled me aside and swore me to secrecy. He would share with me an old Indian remedy if I promised not to attribute it to him, the licensed pharmacist. He then whispered in my ear the unfamiliar term of “turmeric”. He explained that turmeric was a main ingredient in curry. I was talking to a man from India, I was not going to confess that I had seldom seen or heard the words curry or turmeric in all my years of cooking. I barely knew there was such a thing as curry. Curry had no place in the pots of sizzling greens, black eyed peas or red beans and rice pictured in my cookbooks. After explaining that “back home, in India” turmeric is a mild digestive eaten after meals to settle the stomach. That is why it is used so heavily in Indian cooking and especially in curry. I remember wondering why I needed to know this as my stomach and my vocal chords were not connected that I knew of.

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He continued with his description by expounding further on other properties of turmeric. Although the FDA had not established their opinion, turmeric’s antiseptic actions had been scientifically confirmed. He explained how when turmeric is applied to wounds, it slows bleeding. He described how it could be ground raw and made into a paste that was used on bruises, bites, stings, open wounds, and boils. He spoke of his mother and grandmother using turmeric to cure nearly every childhood ailment he had suffered. He had a captive audience as I could neither respond nor retreat.

He sent me to the grocer next door to buy some turmeric and butter. He bemoaned that it would be best if I could by a turmeric root or rhizome but admitted it would be unlikely I would find it. He gave no explanation as to what would happen next. But, being as how I was his employee and at his mercy, I did as I was told. Turmeric is sold in America in the spice section and comes in a bottle. It has a distinct dark, dark yellow color like urine after a night on the town. This was beginning to look like a gut wrenching remedy. To treat my throat, I could only assume that I would be ingesting this spice. The butter might be sweetened but it was not something I wanted to eat straight.

I returned to the pharmacy and was told to put 1 teaspoonful of butter in a coffee mug and microwave it until melted. I was then to add 1 teaspoonful of turmeric and stir the concoction, creating “a slurry”. I was only familiar with the slurry that was spread across the tops of streets and parking lots much like thin concrete or tar. This was truly not sounding palatable.

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I did as I was asked and returned with the pungent concoction staining the inside of the coffee mug and looking like something I would spread on a horse’s open wound. The pharmacist instructed me to add one cup of hot water from the coffee machine and stir. When I had completed that task he told me to drink it.

“You cannot expect me to gargle this stuff?” I was appalled and sickened by the thought.

He answered that gargling would not be necessary. I would simple need to drink the entire cup to receive the full effects. Despite all the warning signals in my stomach and brain, I did as I was told. There are no acceptable words to describe the awful smell and taste of this concoction. But, I was desperate. My family was arriving and although they would be overjoyed to encounter me unable to speak, I could not tolerate the thought.

It took me about 15 or 20 minutes to down the entire mixture. Nothing happened. I could not rasp out one intelligible sound and was now also nauseated. I glared at the pharmacist and headed for the break room. I couldn’t even call my daughters or mother to provide instructions to pick me up. Then I was paged back to the pharmacy.

When I got there I forgot that I had no voice so I opened my mouth to share my sullen sentiments with the staff. My voice was back! In less than one half hour I had regained my voice, there was no pain and I was speaking at a regular volume. I was stunned. I was able to speak for about five or six hours before I had to repeat the treatment. When my voice disappeared again, I went without speaking for a couple of hours as I tried to build up courage to down another cup.

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As much as I hate to admit it, since that day I have kept and use turmeric for a sore throat or raspy voice. I have since discovered many additional uses for this bright yellow spice. But mostly, I use it to make curry for cooking. I still can barely tolerate the taste.