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

1 comment:

DC Tropics said...

I love curcumas as garden plants--used to grow Curcuma elata and it was easy enough to overwinter indoors as dormant rhizomes, but I wish wish wish they were just a bit hardier!