Friday, January 24, 2014

White turmeric (Curcuma zedoaria)

Curcuma zedoaria is very similar in appearance to golden turmeric, although somewhat smaller-growing and not quite as prolific. The primary visual difference is that the rhizomes are white instead of the yellow-orange color of turmeric.

This species is also known as white turmeric or zedoary, although herbalists often sell several different species under the name zedoary. Sometimes they will differentiate between "long zedoary" and "round zedoary" based on the shape of the rhizomes of the different species. Apparently they have similar medicinal uses, which may explain part of the naming confusion. There was also much confusion among early plant collectors and their plant descriptions. I base my identification of this species on a scientific paper titled "Taxonomic and nomenclatural puzzles in Indian Curcuma". It's probably only worth a look if you have a background in botany or taxonomy!

The leaves are broad and thin-textured, reaching 2 to 3 feet in height. Plants are in active growth during the warm months and go dormant as the days shorten in late fall and early winter. Growth resumes by mid-spring.

The rhizomes can be dug anytime the plants are dormant. Break off the "fingers" for use in the kitchen and replant the main rhizome for next year's crop. To me it tastes something like a strong-flavored carrot-parsnip blend with a peppery aftertaste. I like it grated in a salad or finely chopped into mixed vegetables or stir-fries. It's frequently added to pickled vegetables or curries.

Zedoary is used medicinally to treat inflammation, anxiety, stress, and fatigue according to WebMD, although there has been little scientific research done on this plant. Pregnant or breast-feeding women are advised not to take this supplement. Zedoary may also be applied directly to the skin as a mosquito repellent.

Curcuma zedoaria is native to Southeast Asia. It grows well in USDA Zones 8-10 and can be grown as a container plant in colder locations.

Also see: Curcuma longa

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Golden turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Curcuma longa, commonly known as turmeric or Indian saffron, is a ginger relative that has long been used to add flavor and color to food. It also has medicinal applications, and is used to treat arthritis, heartburn, stomach pain, headache, colds, fever, depression, Alzheimers, and liver problems, all according to the doctors at WebMD.

As a garden or landscape plant, turmeric thrives in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Turmeric leaves are broad with heavy parallel venation and thin texture.

The foliage is light green and reaches about 3-4 feet in height over the course of the growing season. Turmeric grows best when it gets plenty of moisture throughout the growing season, and will tolerate sun or light shade.

Late in the year, the foliage declines as the plants go dormant. Now is the time to dig your harvest. Rhizomes branch freely as they grow, making a large mass close around the stem of the plant. Lift the entire clump and spray it with a strong jet of water to expose the golden wonder of turmeric.

You can break off the rhizome "fingers" for use in the kitchen. Grate fresh turmeric into chutney, pickles, meats, vegetables, rice and salad dressings. The flavor gets stronger as it's cooked so use it sparingly until you're familiar with the results. Turmeric tea is another easy way to get the health benefits of this amazing plant. It can also be used as a dye, so be aware that it will stain just about anything it touches a bright yellow color!
During the growing season, turmeric leaves can be used to wrap and cook food.

Turmeric stores best in the ground, so only dig it as you need it through the winter. I usually dig up a whole clump, break off what I need immediately, and "plant" the rest of the clump in a pot of mulch or compost. This makes it easy to retrieve fresh turmeric whenever I want it without digging up more clumps. It may also be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Extra rhizomes may be dried and ground to a powder for use during the summer months when the plants are in active growth.

Replant the mother stem with a portion of rhizome to grow again next year. Turmeric can also be propagated by planting some of the individual fingers just under the soil surface. When temperatures warm in the spring, growth will resume.

Curcuma longa is native to Southeast Asia and is recommended for USDA Zones 7b to 10b, but can be container-grown in colder climates.

See also Curcuma zedoaria