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There and Back Again: Turmeric by Roxana Villa

Posted on January 17, 2017 0

There and Back Again: Turmeric by Roxana Villa

In December of 2009 my daughter suggested we watch Julie and Julia, a film inspired by a blog writer named Julie Powell who decided to make 524 recipes in 365 days from Julia Childs' landmark cookbook. My daughter was correct; I enjoyed the film on many levels, so much so that on the first day of the new decade (January 1, 2010) I began a weekly blogging event called Perfume Illuminated with my friend Beth Schreibman Gehring.

As a cook and scent maker I often contemplate the relationship of cooking and making perfumes on a regular basis. Certainly this is not a new concept, after all scent and flavor are intrinsically intertwined.Tom Robbins wove them together beautifully in his master piece book Jitterbug Perfume.

Like salt and pepper, Beth and I brought our creative talents to the table, offering an eclectic synergy of fragrance and flavor. Each Friday a new installment would feature recipes, formulas, history and a little whimsy.

A few weekends ago, when my husband Greg brought home fresh turmeric root from our local farmers market, I thought, “Oh, I’ll do a Perfume Illuminated type piece about turmeric!” And thus, here I am.

Turmeric (Curcumba longa), which looks like its relative ginger but is a brilliant orange when fresh, is known as a powerful detox and good for digestion in Ayurvedic medicine. The root grows in the warm, wet tropics of Southern Asia. “Besides being ground for food and drink it is also used for dying clothe, in cosmetics and, as mentioned previously, in Oriental medicine.”1

I discovered a beverage made with turmeric and milk ages ago at a local health-oriented restaurant here in Los Angeles called Hugo's. Since then, Greg and I have been making different versions of turmeric milk using the dried powder with fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seeds, cardamon (Elettaria cardamomum) and fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) or variations on that theme.

Healing foods, just like healing scents, are vibrant and add to our vital life force. Author and PhD James A. Duke cites in his book, The Green Pharmacy, the benefits of turmeric for preventing cataracts and strokes and a lengthy list for treating such things as athlete's foot, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes, headache, liver, and more. Turmeric contains high levels of the compound curcumin, which at high doses can “stimulate the adrenal glands to release the body’s own cortisone, a potent reliever of inflammation and the pain it often causes.”2


Turmeric is a relatively new ingredient and not widely used in the palette of the botanical and natural perfumer. Curcuma longa is available as a distillate from Vietnam and a C02 extract from India -- extracted from the dried roots.

Perhaps one day someone will do an extraction of the fresh roots as has become common with its sibling ginger. According to Robert Tisserand, the compound curcumin is found in the C02 extract but not the essential oil, which tends to be more pungent.3   As a top to middle note fragrance, turmeric adds a warm, spicy character to a perfume, exhibiting woody  accents. Use it with other Indian roots and flavors to deepen the spice note. Since turmeric is a "warming" essence I like to use it during the cold months in the bath or for massage to stimulate circulation. For a natural perfume I suggest creating a woody chai fragrance by first blending a few spice chords with turmeric and then pairing it with a wood/resin chord of cistus (Cistus ladaniferus), frankincense (Boswellia sacra), labdanum (Cistus ladaniferus), orris (Rhizoma iridis), patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) and sandalwood (Santalum austrocaledonicum). Once you have found a good proportion of each chord then add a few citrus top notes for added sparkle and sweetness, and vanilla bourbon CO2 or vanilla absolute (Vanilla planifolia) if you need to round off the blend.


I decided to make a detoxifying spice tea using the intensely colored roots. First, I gathered fresh turmeric and ginger roots, seeds of fennel, cumin (Cuminum cyminum) and cardamon.

I then peeled the turmeric and ginger roots and grated them using my ginger grater from Sur la Table. I kept the peels since my friend and local nutritionist Hagit Ammer of Kitchen Rejuvenation made me realize how important and nutrient rich they are.

Next I opened up the cardamon pods and placed them into my mortar for some gentle grinding along with the fennel and cumin seeds.

It then occurred to me that vanilla would be a nice addition. As a botanical perfumer I usually have vanilla pods on hand for making a tinctures and infusions. I cut the ends off a pod, slice them length wise, cut into inch size pieces and then add to the mixture.

All the ingredients were put into the infuser of my glass tea press, which I then poured hot, filtered water over. I used the tea throughout the day adding an Indian black tea in the morning and later drinking it straight up.

My recipe was inspired by Hugo's restaurant in Los Angeles, our own blends and Feasting at Home, a beautiful blog by Sylvia Fountaine

 Turmeric Spice Tea



  • 1 Quart boiling, filtered water
  • 1-2 Tablespoons grated, fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • 1 Tablespoon grated fresh turmeric (Curcumba longa) (or ½ -1 tsp ground)
  • 1-2 teaspoons whole cumin (Cuminum cyminum) seeds (or ground)
  • 1-2 teaspoons fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seeds (or ground)
  • 1-2 teaspoons cardamon (Elettaria cardamomum) (or ground); I used four pods, removing        the seeds.
  • 1 sliced vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) bean


• Place all of the ingredients in a glass tea press.
• Infuse for at least five minutes before plunging.
• Refill the tea press one more time with boiling water.

Ideally drink a total of two quarts in a day. If you do not have a tea press, simmer the ingredients on low for about five minutes in a pot, then strain before drinking.

Turmeric is great for detoxing and perfect for the spring season!


1. Swain, J.O., The Lore of Spices, Senate Publishing 1991
2.  Duke, J.D., The Green Pharmacy, Rodale Press 1997
3. Tisserand, R. and Young, R. Essential Oil Safety, 2nd ed., 2014

About Roxana Villa:

Like the facets of a gem, Roxana’s pure botanical perfumes reflect a myriad of synergistic disciplines. Professional training in aromatherapy cultivated her nose with a firm knowledge of the healing attributes found in the plant kingdom. As an award-winning artist, she brings gifts of storytelling, conceptual thinking, and a strong visual aesthetic to her work in fragrance. These two disciplines weave seamlessly, together with her natural instincts, into authentic expressions of olfactory art. 

To learn more about Roxana, please visit her website at:
www.illuminatedperfume.com or email her at: roxana@illuminatedperfume


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