How to Grow Turmeric

I'm not sure why turmeric isn't more popular, considering that growing your own, Thai food and DIY projects are all the rage. Curcuma longa is a tropical rhizome with an intriguing past that looks just as great in the garden as it tastes on the table. The whole plant is edible; the roots are boiled, dried and ground up to produce turmeric powder, the leaves make a wrap for steamed fish, and even the flowers can be eaten as an exotically beautiful vegetable, like lettuce with a kick. Oh, and did I mention that impersonating turmeric is a crime in India?




Why You Should Grow Turmeric

First of all, its large ribbed leaves create a lush and tropical look in any garden, and it's easily dug up and overwintered in northern climates. It has been the toughest and most reliable plant in my garden, with one rhizome increasing to hundreds more over the course of a few years with no effort on my part. The large green and white inflorescences nestled between the leaves are beautiful both as cut flowers or enjoyed in the garden. Besides it's appeal as a garden plant, Curcuma longa is also incredibly useful in the home and kitchen.

This might be one of the world's healthiest foods; so healthy in fact that I wouldn't hesitate to call it a miracle drug. Not only does it contain a healthy serving of iron and manganese, It's proven itself as a cancer treatment, both preventing and destroying cancerous cells. Curcumin, turmeric's active ingredient, actually lowers cholesterol by working in tandem with the liver to remove harmful cholesterol from the body.

Turmeric's antiseptic and antibacterial properties make it useful for cleaning and treating wounds, and its anti-inflammatory properties allow it to treat arthritis, psoriasis, headaches and even blood clots! Think of it as Motrin, but with none of the harmful side effects. None of these health benefits are new to South Asians, who've been cultivating the plant and using it for over five thousand years for both treating ailments and treating themselves to some delicious curries.


Despite it's status as one of the world's healthiest foods, turmeric is probably most widely used as a dye. You see turmeric every day as a food dye in mustard, margarine, chicken soup or just about anywhere else a golden color is called for, but it can also be used to dye Easter eggs, saris or even skin. If you've ever accidentally stained a tablecloth or dish towel with turmeric powder, you've already been acquainted with it's efficacy. I've even used some small rhizomes as a sort of sidewalk crayon or chalk!

The fact that turmeric is both yellow and a spice has given it the unfortunate nickname of "Indian Saffron" for it's use as a substitute or knockoff of the much costlier spice, saffron. This isn't to say that saffron is better than turmeric; it's just different! Turmeric has it's own unique flavor; warm, peppery and earthy, tasting nothing like saffron. Saffron is harvested from the stigmas of Crocus sativus and has been used for for thousand years (almost as long as turmeric) in Europe and central Asia, but is now mostly used for Spanish dishes like yellow rice.

Even so, the yellow rice mixes sold at the grocery store are made with lots of turmeric and barely any saffron at all. Even Mahatma 'Saffron Yellow Rice' lists turmeric as one of the top ingredients in the saffron flavoring, with real saffron followed only by the silicone dioxide used to prevent caking. It's amazing that passing off turmeric as saffron is don with such ease nowadays, especially considering that in the medieval days of Germany offenders were executed; burnt alive or buried along with their illegitimate spices under the safranschou code. An article in the Times of India looks like the coverage of a drug bust until you realize that the contraband is in fact rice husks and bad turmeric, not meth and coke.

Curcuma longa's leaves, close up

How To Grow Turmeric

Growing this miracle drug couldn't be easier, and anyone can grow their own provided it receives enough moisture. Curcuma longa is naturally deciduous from fall until late spring, which makes digging and overwintering abundantly easy. You can buy it on Ebay by searching for Curcuma longa, but I bought mine as 'hidden ginger.' There are different kinds of hidden ginger, but only the rhizomes of Curcuma longa, Curcuma zedoaria and Curcuma aromatica should be grown as spices.

Turmeric in the garden

Moisture, Sun and Soil
Turmeric will handle anything you throw at it, returning from drought and sailing through floods. Mine grows in the dry shade under the house's eaves as well as constantly soggy soil. Garden literature will tell you that it requires moist and well drained soil, but it thrives in the clay and muck of my back yard like a weed. Turmeric can grow in full sun, but only if the soil remains constantly wet. Otherwise, provide mid-day shade. If the plant is stressed by drought or too much sun, the leaves will hang limp and develop burnt tips.

Climate
Gardeners in zones 7b through 11 can grow turmeric in the ground over winter through its dormancy period. Everyone else can just dig up the rhizomes in fall and store them in a cool place over winter. I've seen a few sources which erroneously state that turmeric can only be grown in the tropics, but anyone can grow it as long as the roots don't freeze.

Planting and Overwintering
Plant turmeric in spring once all danger of frost has passed, or in northern climates, start it in a container. The pleated leaves will eventually become plumes four feet tall in ideal conditions, and green and white cones of yellow flowers will emerge between the leaves in summer. After a stem has finished flowering, cut it to the ground to encourage new growth. By late fall the leaves will begin to decline and turn yellow. Cut them back if desired or let them die back naturally.

North of zone 7b, dig up the rhizomes in fall, rinse off excess soil with a hose and nozzle, snap off mushy and rotting pieces and let the rhizomes air dry before storing them dry peat or sawdust until spring. Check on them periodically for rot or pests.

Turmeric is to the left and middle, along with some other rhizomes.

Processing
I haven't found a universally accepted method for making turmeric powder, but the general consensus seems to be as follows:

1. Clean the rhizomes thoroughly
2. Boil rhizomes for 45 min.
3. Peel off the skins
4. Dry in shade for at least a week
5. Break up rhizomes with a hammer
6. Grind rhizomes using a mortar and pestle, or a food processor

Again, I haven't done this myself yet but I plan on trying it myself soon. If you happen to have a recipe, please share!

If you can't find turmeric, it's also really easy to grow edible ginger from roots found at the grocery store. Here's my tutorial!

Also, How to Grow Passion Fruit from Leftover Seeds 

.

38 comments:

  1. wow, this is another great post. i didn't know turmeric was a hidden ginger! sounds like a great idea for pots in nc. have you cooked with the leaves? just wondering if they taste like turmeric too, or more herby.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I never considered where tumeric comes from. Thanks for this post.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Daricia:
    Try planting it as a 'thriller' in the middle of a container planting! I've nibbled some shoots while gardening and they do have a little bit of a kick, kind of like turmeric.

    Katie:
    I had been growing it for a couple years before discovering that it was Curcuma longa, so you're not alone! I also grow galangal, another edible ginger.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great I was jut wanting to grow some but I had read that it didn't grow outside the tropics, now I'm definately growing it i love turmeric!! yummy!!!
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  5. I just freeze the rhizomes whole and grate them as needed into curries.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Nice post. It is cutomary to plant a bulb of turmeric every year around Jan. By the next Jan, we will have a whole bunch of turmeric bulbs that can be used in the year's cooking, and also as a face cleanser.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It's illegal to impersonate tumeric? How about Ginger Rogers?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have just got a plant, now to keep it still spring to plant it!!!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Need to order some from someone!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Where can one find a turmeric rhizome to plant?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Go to the farmers market, where they usually sell it, and plant a piece!

      Delete
  11. If you search for 'hidden ginger' rhizomes online, they're usually turmeric! It's more popular in the US as an ornamental than as an herb. Thanks for visiting!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have a ton of them growing right now! But I did not know they liked sun/moisture so thanks! Now I will be able to plant them in the ground instead of the cramped pot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How do I get a plant started from a piece of turmeric root? thank you anybody....

      Delete
  13. I forgot to add that we found ours at the local Asian Market. Or an ethnic grocery store would have the tubers as well. Thanks for the info!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I am in love with turmeric leaves, in Goa where I come from we prepare rice rolls with palm sugar and grated coconut filling. It has distinct flavour, when the steaming takes place, entire kitchen is filled with aroma This month I was in Goa I was all excited to see it enjoying rains. It is mainly a monsoon plant in Goa.

    We removed all the leaves and did this Patoli. I will post those pictures on flicker tonight.

    Now I am so desperate to grow them in Qatar, I even bought rhizomes. I dont know if I should plant them right away or wait for winter

    Amira

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi Steve,
    Is there a way to privately message you? I tried your dotcom address and got "Not Found. Error 404."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so glad you alerted me to the problem! I've fixed the email link now and it should direct you to steve_asbell@yahoo.com.

      Delete
  16. Wow! I have a hidden ginger. Now I need to figure out is it's tumeric. I hope so!

    ReplyDelete
  17. We live in Cairns Qld Australia
    Have grown turmeric/tumeric for a few years now.
    If you peel the turmeric and very thinly slice it,lay out on oven paper.
    Then put it in a very low heat oven (45 Deg C)let it roast for a few hours until it is crisp dry.
    Grind it up in a spice grinder.
    Then you can put the powder in gel capsules

    We use it regularly as an anti-inflammatory.
    William

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have started eating it raw. I was not sure I liked the taste at first, but it has grown on me. I am considering grating it on my salads.

      Delete
  18. I don't remember what site I found the following recipe on. I have been looking for tumeric in a store around here to make this recipe and no one has it. Frustrating.
    A Recipe for Turmeric Juice: A Powerful Healing Beverage
    When I lived in Bali, I fell in love with the Balinese-style turmeric juice, Jamu Kunyit.
    Tumeric is known to be one of the most powerful healing herbs. It is great for bones and joints as it has anti-inflammatory properties. It prevents metastases from occurring in many different forms of cancer. Turmeric's also a natural liver detoxifier and a kidney cleanser, and it speeds metabolism and aids in weight management. Plus it heals and alleviates conditions of depression, psoriasis, damaged skin, arthritis and more. For these reasons, turmeric is ubiquitous both in Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine.
    Here's what you'll need to get started:
    • 5-7 inches turmeric
    • 5-7 tamarind
    • 2 lemons
    • raw honey
    • water
    • blender
    • strainer
    • bowl
    • mason jar(s) or other glass jar with lid
    1. Peel turmeric. Your fingers will turn yellow. Don’t worry! All-natural dish soap gets it right out. If your cutting board or countertop get stained, slather on dish soap and rub it in. Let it soak in for 5 min or longer, then scrub with water and sponge. The turmeric stain will vanish!
    2. Crack and open tamarind. Make sure you get all the inner roots off, too. We’re only going to use the inner fruit.
    3. Fill a big pot with water, put peeled tumeric in and let it boil for at least 20 minutes until the water becomes a rich and vibrant marigold color.
    4. While the tumeric water is boiling, get a pan and pour 1 inch of water in with the peeled tamarind. Move the fruit around with a wooden utensil, mix it in with the water so it can melt and dissolve into a jam like texture. More water shouldn’t be needed, but if it’s lookin’ a bit dry, pour water in as needed.
    By this time, you should be able to see the little seeds coming out. When the texture looks soft, turn heat off and let it cool down.
    5. Go back to the tumeric water. By now, the color should look ready. Pour a little bit of cold water to lower the temperature. Take the turmeric water and pour it into the blender with the tumeric. We boiled it so the root could soften and have more flavor, now it’s ready to buzz in the blender for even more flavor and richness! Blend, blend, blend. The color now should look like an extra extra fiery marigold.
    6. Go back to the tamarind in the pan. Pour substance into the strainer that is placed on top of a small bowl to catch the tamarind. Swish the jam like substance around in the strainer with the wooden utensil-- we only want to use the soft bits of the fruit. No seeds, no seed peels.
    7. Pour the tamarind that has been caught in the bowl into the blender with the tumeric water. Buzz it around again.
    8. We’re almost done. Squeeze your lemons into the blender. Now take the blender and pour your yummy juice into your mason jar(s). Add honey to taste, close with lid, shake it up to mix.
    9. Store in fridge up to 3-4 days and drink daily!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. how much a day do you drink?

      Delete
  19. I live in climate that has warm weather from April to October so I was wondering can my turmeric produce edible rhizomes in that period? I planted small rhizomes indoors and they just now got "activated". Actually I would like to know how fast would they grow if I provide them with enough sunlight, water and good soil? In Croatia turmeric powder is hard to find so I decided to plant my own plant but I`m not sure what to expect in growth period that lasts 7-8 months.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. my parents grew turmeric the funny part is, we never used what is grown but always bought ready made powder. But for sambar and rasam powder it was taken out and ground with other spices. Now my husband bought it yesterday to grow it in our garden in La.

      Delete
  20. I found turmeric rhizomes at the 'Thrifty Produce' store in Palm Bay, Florida. Yellow and white. Going to plant some to see what comes out.

    ReplyDelete
  21. is verigated ginger edible?

    ReplyDelete
  22. another interesting use...grated fresh turmeric combined with bottle wash powder creates a vivid red for dying. The stains look like dried blood. (great for zombie costumes.)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Interesting. I'm a little late on this post. I've only ever really used tumeric when my Harlequin Great Dane had stage 1 cancer. She's doing great. Thankful not to have to amputate her leg. I'll have to try growing this in my St. Pete garden.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Couldn't you use a dehydrator to gently dry the turmeric root? I would think it would take less time.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I have not done this personally but to my knowledge fresh mature turmeric is sun-dried and milled to a fine powder. Turmeric powder is used in practically every dish in our (Indian) cooking but though it grows easily I have never heard of it being powdered at home. Too hard for processors. And sadly my turmeric plants are always stunted and never bloom. Nothing like the height in your photos. Maybe time I dug them out and found a better home. They have been stuck under a mango tree for ten years now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi I think that the leaves that fall from the Mango tree inhibits the growth of anything you're trying to grow under it.

      Delete
  26. I lived here in East Texas and it is hard to find any "Asian" ingredients ... do you sell your Tumeric roots ... I would like to get some. Thank you. I am at cehappybug@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  27. I have some for sale. Email me mmmmary(at)yahoo(dot)com

    ReplyDelete
  28. Hey I used to grow lots of turmeric in my backyard. The turmeric available in market is usually mixed with impurites in my country.. I will grow again.. Thank u for tutorial

    ReplyDelete
  29. I grate a little turmeric into a small sieve, put boiling water over it, let it sit for a few minutes and drink it as a tea. It give you lots of energy! Why I'm writing now, however, is that the ones I've just dug up are white and not the deep orange colour that I originally planted. Why??????

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have the same experience. Mine is a pale yellow colour. Have you found out why?

      Delete
  30. Turmeric is a powerful healer. I like to cook with it and make a tea. Last year I bought a piece organic root from a health food store - so expensive $13.99 lb. I potted it and it's growing. I did the same thing with a ginger root. It did take a long time to sprout. I was a bit worried that it won't happen. Unfortunately one of my pots I had in backyard table was attacked by a squirrel so I had to throw out one pot. I forgot to label the pots so I'm not sure the one I have left is turmeric or ginger I believe it maybe turmeric by the way it looks.
    Http://LivingItUpAlternatively.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete

Please feel free to share your questions, ideas and suggestions!