The healing herb- Difference between Curcuma longa and Curcuma aromatica

The science behind grandma's solution to everything: turmeric, its benefits, physical properties and difference between the two species of the plant Curcuma are explained in this article. Read on to know of its chemical ameliorating and rejuvenating properties.

India is the largest producer consumer and exporter of the plants of the genus Curcuma. There are more than seventy species of the genus known. Of these, Curcuma longa and Curcuma aromatica have been most extensively used and researched for their benefits and potential in medicine. The ample concentrations of curcuminoids and essential oils in their rhizomes and leaves make them highly bio-active and thus, in demand.

The golden spice – Curcuma longa

Curcuma longa is native to India. It can be found throughout the country growing wild and in cultivation. The dried powdered form of its rhizome is actually the commercial spice 'turmeric'. Turmeric has been used as a dye, food coloring and as spice in south Asia since the Vedic times. It has vernacular names in almost all Indian languages, and also in French, Cantonese, German, Italian, Japanese etc., pointing to its popularity around the globe. Ayurveda documents it as a remedy for sprains, skin problems, indigestion, and irregular menstruation, among others.

Composition of Curcuminoids

A biochemical extracted from curcuma plants is the compound curcumin. It is what gives turmeric its yellow color. Curcumin is a pleiotropic nutraceutical. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-catabolic and anabolic properties. Nutraceuticals are food derivatives that have preventive and treatment properties against specific diseases along with their nutritional value. The amount of curcumin in Curcuma longa ranges from 2% - 9% of powder.

Benefits and uses of Curcuminoids

Due to its anti-inflammatory function, curcumin relieves the symptoms of different types of arthritis. It helps heal the inflamed joints, and prevents further injury to the cartilage within. The medicinal doses of curcumin work far better than NSAIDS against arthritis that too, without any adverse effects. The anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin work hand in hand to prevent inflammatory heart diseases and cancer. A study has shown that curcumin not only helps maintain the nervous system, but has neuro-protective functions which help prevent and treat various neuro-degenerative and neuro-psychiatric disorders. It acts as a natural anti-depressant, which can psychologically help any patient. It is also very helpful in accelerating wound healing, be it stomach ulcers, septic skin wounds or minor bumps. Recently it has shown success against the HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) by preventing its multiplication. The list grows on till date.

Turmeric essential oils

There are volatile and non-volatile oils present in the rhizomes of Curcuma longa which have medicinal properties too. They have proved to be anti-fungal, anti-venom, anti-tumor, and anti- diabetic.

Benefits and uses of turmeric essential oil

Dermatophytosis or ringworm is caused not by worms but by fungus called dermatophytes. Ringworm is quickly healed by applying turmeric oil for a week. Another topical use is that it is mosquito repellent. It has anti-venom effect against bites of pit vipers when injected into blood.

In type-2 diabetes, also called insulin independent diabetes, the glucose levels skyrocket in blood. This can be fatal for the brain. For short-term alleviation of this symptom, turmeric oil prevents digestion of carbohydrates like starch and glycogen to form glucose, and the blood levels of glucose decrease.

Turmeric oil has found its use in respiratory problems, too. Inhaling vapors of turmeric oil removes sputum, relieves cough, and helps prevent asthma attacks. It cures peptic ulcers caused by excessive drinking, in lieu of its anti-oxidant properties. Lesions and ulcers on stomach wall reduce considerably just by orally administrating turmeric oil.

The 'cosmetica' – Curcuma aromatica

Curcuma aromatica grows wild and is mainly in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. It is native to China. It is an endangered species and efforts are being made for its rapid micro propagation. In olden times, paste of rhizomes of this plant was applied by women of south Asia to add a vibrant touch to their dark complexion and for its aroma.

Today, it is used as main ingredient for its fragrance in perfumes, for its healing properties in creams. It has never been used as spice due to its bitter taste and camphoraceous smell. It is used in medicines for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties against coronary diseases and epilepsy.

It also helps in quickly healing sprains, bruises and skin eruptions when its creams are used topically, just like its famous counterpart, turmeric. It has anti-bacterial action against pathogens causing infection in the body.

Composition of Curcuminoids

The curcuminoids content is low, about 1.5% . The major composition of curcuminoids in C. aromatica is a derivative of curcumin, demethoxy-curcumin and not curcumin itself.

Uses of C. aromatica Curcuminoids

Demethoxy-curcumin wonder compound gives C. aromatica anti-tumor properties as it prevents angiogenesis or formation of new blood vessels around tumors.
It also increases bio-availability of other medicinal drugs. Some drugs are digested by a set of P450 enzymes in the small intestine, before they can be absorbed into blood, rendering them useless or making them less bio-available. Demethoxy-curcumin down-regulates the functioning of these enzymes, allowing the specific drug to pass directly into blood.

Composition of C. aromatica essential oil

The essential oil of Curcuma aromatica is anti-tumor and anti-bacterial. 4-8% of its rhizomes are oil; Curdione, germacrone and eucalyptol are the major constituents of this oil. The strong bitter taste is due to the presence of camphor and its derivatives in the plant.

Benefits and Uses C. aromatica essential oil

Curdione present exclusively in this species of the curcuma genus impart to it qualities to cure intestinal problems and treat cancer. C. aromatica oil infused in blood of hepatic cancer patients shows positive therapeutic results by inhibiting proliferation of hepatoma cells.

Germacone is another compound absent in C. longa oil. It prevents influenza virus, the cause of common colds and staphylococcus bacteria which cause skin, stomach infections. Such common viruses become resistant common medicines available in the market. The world of medicine constantly needs to adapt and evolve with the growing resistance by discovering new anti-viral and anti-bacterial drugs such as germacrone.

Also, the oil ameliorates fibrosis of the kidney tissue which decreases kidney efficiency. Kidney fibrosis is the scarring of tissue after injury which usually occurs after any kind of kidney problems. The oil of C. aromatica has eucalyptol as the major constituent.

Eucalyptol dovetails C. aromatica to the healing of bronchitis and other upper respiratory disorders.

Physical properties

Rhizomes: Rhizomes are modified stems that give rise to shoots and roots and help in vegetative propagation. The rhizomes of C. longa are usually deep orange in color inside, 5-8 cm long and more in number than the thicker C. aromatica rhizomes.

Reproduction: The C. aromatica plant bears white colored seeds after flowering in spring season. Its seeds then germinate to form new saplings and then new plants. C. longa doesn't bear any seeds after flowering in July but propagates vigorously via its rhizomes.

Of the two, C. aromatica is lesser known and researched. It is also an endangered species owing to its lesser ability in vegetative propagation.


C. longa has higher curcuminoid content and C. aromatica has higher essential oil content with drastically different composition. Ar-turmurone, a,ß-turmurone, and curlone are abundant in oil of C. longa and absent in the other's. Curdione, eucalyptol, germacrone, are the dough of C. aromatica essential oil.

C. longa and C. aromatica are the two most researched species of Curcuma. Each component has its own idiomatic properties. Hybridization of the two species to form a more valuable plant is a tantalizing path. But, the formed turmeric is too bitter to be used as a spice, and there is always fear of loss of unique characters and thus, hybridization is discouraged.


C. longa curcuminoids and its essential oil have the potential to ameliorate many diseases. They can cure the disease or at least alleviate symptoms of heart diseases and cancer, arthritis, neuro-degenerative and neuro-psychiatric disorders, AIDS, respiratory problems, type-2 diabetes, dermatophytosis, etc.

C. aromatica brings forth anti-venom, mosquito repellant benefits and many other advantages. It holds the capacity to cure cancer, intestinal problems, common colds, stomach infections, kidney fibrosis and bronchitis.


Both species' in minimal and medicinal doses have positive effects against myriads of ailments. Their history of healing since eons and limelight they have received in the Ayurveda, the Japanese Kampo, and the ancient Chinese medicine has stirred up the young scientific thirst for proof. With their anti –depressant, anti-tumor, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti- inflammatory, healing properties, it doesn't take a soothsayer to foresee their bright future in the field of medicine.

Differences between Curcuma longa and C.aromatica
[Table created by author]

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