Helpful Herbs: Turmeric

Turmeric’s flavor is most commonly compared to mustard, its growing style is the same as ginger.  Though it won’t survive a cold winter, it can be grown indoors in a greenhouse year-round, or outside anywhere that temperatures don’t fall below 65 degrees for most of the year.

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Like ginger, Turmeric is started from a section of root, or rhizome, not from seeds.  Turmeric root is sometimes available at your local nursery, or can be purchased online.  A large root section can be planted in damp, warm soil, about two inches under the surface.  Turmeric loves it moist, so the soil it grows in should be kept damp at all times, but never soaking or the root may root.  It usually takes about a month for the Turmeric to sprout.

Within ten months you can start to harvest your Turmeric.  It is easier to dig up the whole plant and harvest the full root section.  You’ll know that your plant is ready to harvest when the leaves begin to yellow.

Once you’ve dug out the roots you can set a few aside to start new Turmeric with.  Clean the roots you plan to harvest thoroughly, and boil them in hot water for approximately 45 minutes.  Peel the roots (an arduous process) and let them dry in a cool, dark place for 1-2 weeks.  You can then break them up by crushing them, and further grind them into dust for use in your kitchen.

The flavor of Turmeric is distinct and most commonly included in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.  It can be used as a substitute for mustard or saffron, but it has its own distinctive qualities.  Powdered Turmeric is a crucial ingredient in curries, giving them their special spice.  You can also make tikka masala and other Indian spiced dishes with Turmeric, and use it to give a special seasoning to steaks and chicken.  There are even recipes using Turmeric to flavor cakes and smoothies, and it makes a zesty tea.

Turmeric is considered one of the healthiest spices you can consume.  Its is one of the most effective natural herbs in treating various forms of cancer: studies have shown it to reduce cell death in brain, skin, and prostate cancer.  It also works well in conjunction with chemotherapy, making cancer cells more receptive to the treatment and helping them recover faster.  Turmeric is also used to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, helping to prevent the progression of the illness.  Curcumin, the primary chemical in Turmeric, is also used to treat Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, along with helping your liver and eyes stay healthy.

Not only is Turmeric both tasty and healthy, it also is used as a traditional dye.  It is still regularly used in India for dying clothing, and it is also a natural food dye for various dishes including broths, mustards, and yogurts.

Turmeric has a rich culinary and medicinal history.  In Ancient India and Hawaii, Turmeric was used to heal infections and intestinal issues.  Easier to eat raw than fibrous ginger, Turmeric was chewed by Indians and remarked upon by Marco Polo.  Though it did not spread through Western culture in the way that ginger would until the late 20th Century, Turmeric was used for dying, healing, and cooking throughout Asia since the very first cultures there.

A part of traditional Hindu ceremonies, Turmeric was used to dye the robes of Hindu monks.  Yellow and orange represent the solar plexus and sacral chakras in Hindu culture, making the coloring of Turmeric powder important to many rituals.

One of the most powerful healing herbs you can add to your garden, Turmeric connects you with rich traditions and may quite possibly prolong your life.  A truly remarkable and potent herb, Turmeric is a wonderful plant to cultivate.


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2 thoughts on “Helpful Herbs: Turmeric

  1. We love using tumeric in many of our dishes. I learned to cook Indian food from an old woman from India, and tumeric is used as food and medicine. Enjoyed this post, thank you!
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