By Dr. Steve Dubey, ND, LAc


We are so fortunate to be in Hawai‘i, with such a large diversity of plants that provide beauty, food, building materials and medicine. The Hawaiian herbal medicines, also known as La‘au Lapa‘au, includes ‘olena, also known as turmeric. The Latin name is curcuma longa, and is known as a “canoe plant” in Hawaiian culture and history.

These are plants brought to Hawai‘i from other parts of Polynesia with the earliest peoples who settled in the Hawaiian Islands, approximately 2,500 years ago. Bananas, ti, coconuts, mango, ginger, ‘olena and kalo are examples of other canoe plants.

Traditional Hawaiian usage of ‘olena include use of it in respiratory, digestive, and general tonic preparations. Usually, it is boiled or simmered, like other roots. It is often combined with ginger, its cousin. One use for the fresh root juice is an ear drop for treating earache. There are far too many turmeric folk remedies in various tropical cultures to list here.

Turmeric grows well in tropical and subtropical climates, with lots of rainfall. It is a perennial, meaning that it dies back in the fall or winter, and sends up new growth in the spring. Many of us know this plant in our gardens and as an ingredient in curry, giving it its characteristic yellow color. It is known that the common turmeric plant is native to India, where it has a very long history in cooking as well as Ayurvedic medicine.

Turmeric has a been the topic of many research studies throughout the world in the last 20 years or more, and enjoyed huge popularity.

It is grown organically here on Kaua‘i by several farmers and throughout Hawai‘i.

The compounds known as curcumin (polyphenol) found in Turmeric root have been studied for their medicinal/bio-pharmacological properties. It is estimated that curcumin makes up only 1-6 percent of ingredients in common turmeric. So, scientists and gardeners sought after the various sub-species of turmeric for the higher yielding varieties. Both “BKK Turmeric” and “Black Turmeric” have been analyzed and found to have higher amounts. Both of these are grown on Kaua‘i and throughout Hawai‘i.

One of the problems with curcumin administration is its difficulty of absorption. Eating it may not yield results due to its poor absorption, rapid metabolism and rapid elimination. It has been shown in various scientific studies that combining it with Bioperine, an ingredient in black pepper, will increase its absorbability by 2000 percent. It is also combined with MCT oil (medium chain triglyceride) or coconut oil to achieve a similar effect.

So now we enter into the realm of supplementation, where many companies are touting their curcumin formulations and extracts. The point is to isolate and use the active ingredient curcumin. Many products state they contain 95 percent curcumin, which is more desirable. Many people are using curcumin supplements for health benefits to avoid the taste of turmeric, as it has a strong, peppery taste.


So, what does science say about curcumin? A brief search in the National Library of Medicine (Pubmed) shows hundreds of published studies coming in from round the world studying the medicinal effects of curcumin in the last 20 years.,

Agreement on curcumin’s effectiveness in various conditions is growing: in aiding in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety and hyperlipidemia, to name a few. Many studies are done with animals, but more so with humans using double-blind crossover studies showing positive effects. Double-blind crossover studies are the “Holy Grail’ for proof in a medical/scientific study.

Curcumin, a polyphenol, has been shown to target multiple signaling molecules in the body, while also demonstrating activity at a cellular level, which has helped to support its multiple health benefits.

Specific studies have looked at its use in treating: depression/anxiety, high blood fats, inflammation, age-related cognitive decline, and kidney function disorders.

In my naturopathic practice in the last 42 years, I have heard some impressive testimonials from individuals using both raw or cooked turmeric, as well as curcumin extracts. But how to prepare it for the best effect?

Juicing fresh turmeric, fresh from the garden if possible, and blending the juice with a small amount of coconut oil (one tablespoon for each cup of fresh juice), along with some fresh ground pepper (for Bioperine to increase absorbability) and taking approximately one fluid ounce daily. For convenience and storage, use an ice cube tray to freeze the juice blend and add an ice cube to your daily smoothie, with fruits, protein powder, etc.

Steve Dubey

Several years ago, I attended a naturopathic medical conference. One of the speakers was a PhD research person whose main field of interest was turmeric and curcumin. She stated she attended conferences around the world, and studied the work of other researchers and their findings. She said that approximately every two years another bio-medicinal effect for curcumin was discovered. She stated if curcumin was a pharmaceutical, it would be a multi-billion dollar industry. Her joke was that it would be much simpler and cheaper to just add it to our drinking water, as everyone would benefit.

Again, let’s remind ourselves how blessed we are on Kaua‘i, where we can just grow our own!

  • Steve Dubey is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor (ND) and Acupuncturist (LAc), practicing on Kaua‘i for the last 41 years, He is a founding member of NOMA, the Naturopathic Orthopedic Medical Academy, based in Portland, Oregon, that specializes in RIT trainings and research.

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