If you’ve ever feasted on Indian food, you’ve undoubtedly enjoyed the pungent flavor and golden color of turmeric, Curcuma longa, aka Indian saffron, an herbaceous perennial in the Zingiberaceae family that is related to ginger and cardamom.
A chemical compound called curcumin found in the fleshy rhizomes of this plant is responsible for the bright hue, as well as numerous potential health benefits.
What You’ll Learn
A Super Tasty Super Food
Turmeric has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine, which dates back thousands of years in India. Today’s cooks and health-conscious consumers join the healers of old in the ongoing demand for C. longa in dry, fresh, paste, and pill forms.
Per the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, C. longa may also be known as C. domestica, and there are two additional species they have not evaluated: wild turmeric, C. aromatica, and Javanese turmeric, C. xanthorrhiza.
The NIH also states that preliminary studies show C. longa may have health benefits for those suffering from a range of ailments from digestive to inflammatory, but warns that high doses or long-term use may result in digestive upset.
In moderation, turmeric’s fleshy rhizomes, the rootstock that grows below the soil, have the potential not only to jazz up our plates, but to help make us feel our best.
Today’s holistic health advocates call this spice a “superfood,” and recommend consuming it with black pepper, to enhance its absorption and reap its benefits to the greatest degree.
When something tastes good, and is good for you, don’t you want to think about growing it in your own backyard? Let’s find out how easy it is!
Find Your Roots
To grow your own turmeric, you’ll need bare rhizomes or established plants. You may buy some from your local grocer, but they may or may not sprout, depending upon whether they have been treated with growth retardant.
Instead, you may purchase C. longa plants from a trusted nursery. Try these, available from Burpee. They mature in 120 to 360 days, reaching heights of up to four feet and widths to three feet.
Sowing and Growing
If you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 11, you may grow perennial C. longa by planting its tuberous roots, as you would ginger or potato. You may also have success in fringe zones, provided you apply a thin layer of mulch during the dormant winter season, with adequate drainage to inhibit rotting.
Per the pros at the Missouri Botanical Garden, tubers should be planted in early spring at a depth of about 4 inches.
If grown outside its optimal zones, C. longa will perform as an annual, dying off at the season’s end. You may also dig your rootstock up in fall, remove the foliage, and store it for the winter in a slightly moist medium like sawdust or vermiculite. In addition, you may cultivate in containers stored indoors for the winter in a cool, dry place.
Keep in mind that growing in containers requires extra vigilance, as they dry out much quicker than the ground. Be sure to plant in pots with ample drainage holes, and water regularly to maintain constant, even moisture.
Choose a location that gets full to part sun. The soil should be organically rich, so add compost if necessary. This is a plant that survives monsoon seasons in its native lands, so it loves humidity and thrives on moisture. However, the soil must drain well, or the roots will rot.
There are no major disease or pest issues to worry about, provided the soil does not get too dry or too wet, both of which may render it vulnerable. If you see snails or slugs, an application of diatomaceous earth is your best solution.
Turmeric produces foliage clumps about three feet high and wide, while below ground, the rootstock matures into finger-like tubers. By July or August, the blossom buds begin to open.
This herb may take 200 to 300 days to mature. Keep in mind that to cultivate it as an annual, you should sprout your seedlings indoors and set them outside as early as possible after the last frost date in your area.
In fall, as the foliage begins to wilt and die, dig up your roots, brush off the soil, and snip away the foliage. Save a few to start next year’s plants and enjoy the rest fresh or dried.
The flowers of C. longa are also edible, and the foliage is sometimes wrapped around food for cooking or presentation.
Fresh turmeric roots store well in a mesh bag in the fridge, or an airtight zippered plastic bag in the freezer. Slice or grate them as needed. In addition, you may boil, dry, and grind the roots into a fine powder. Be sure to wear food-safe gloves and work on a non-stainable surface to avoid dying your skin and counter yellow.
Per the folks at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Gardening Solutions, a one-inch length of fresh turmeric root equals one tablespoon fresh grated, or one teaspoon ground.
Can you imagine yourself whipping up a batch of curry with fresh turmeric from your garden? And how about enjoying the cost savings of propagating your next crop from the tubers you harvest this season? Think of the thoughtful gifts you can make by drying and bottling your golden spice for friends and family!
Turmeric Red Lentil Soup with Kale
There’s nothing more comforting than a big pot of legumes such a lentils. This particular soup is made using red lentils and is flavored with tasty turmeric and cumin. Kale adds more nutrients and a pop of color that highlights green against red, making it look as a good as it tastes. We eat with our eyes as much as our tongues and stomachs.
This vegetarian soup is beautiful, vibrant, and satisfying, and you’ll be begging for more.
Krishna’s Golden Turmeric Tea
Cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, and fresh ginger join fresh turmeric in providing a plethora of antioxidants and micro-nutrients to your diet with this Indian-inspired tea.
Help prevent disease and maintain good health with this fragrant and delicious spiced beverage.
And for even more exciting turmeric-flavored recipes, check out all of the delicious offerings on Foodal.
We can’t wait to see how you’ll feature this exotic root in the garden and on the table this year, so be sure to post your photos in the comments below. And for even more zing in your diet, consider growing tangy horseradish, too!
Recipe photos © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product image via Burpee. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!