I was delighted, yesterday, to see turmeric root for sale at my local grocery store. In fact, it’s the first time I have every seen it - so I had to buy it!
The first thing I did, when I got home, was to give them all a good rinse. They may or may not have been sprayed with a growth inhibitor (it’s not uncommon), but there’s no telling what our produce comes across between farm and grocery bag - just sayin’.
Before we learn how to grown our own, let’s clear up a couple of things: pronunciation and medication. Many people mispronounce the word ‘turmeric’ by leaving out that first ‘r’ to make it ‘tumeric”. The correct pronunciation is ter-mer-ic. As for medicinal properties, I’ve got some bad news - it doesn’t have any. Wild, far reaching claims have been made about the medicinal qualities of turmeric, but the science has not been able to verify any of those claims. Studies are being conducted, and we may find that turmeric really does have some health benefits, but for now, let’s just enjoy it in our curry and let that be reason enough to grow it.
Turmeric is a close cousin to ginger and is frequently used in Asian cooking. It is a major ingredient in curry powder. It’s bright yellowish-orange color have also made it useful as a fabric dye. The plant is a herbaceous perennial grown mostly for its nubby rhizomes that grow underground. The powdered turmeric you buy in the spice aisle is made from rhizomes that are boiled for 30 to 45 minutes, dried in an oven, and then ground into a powder.
The turmeric plant
Turmeric is a tropical plant. As such, it prefers moist, warm temperatures (85 to 95°F). If it isn’t warm enough, your turmeric rhizomes will rot, rather than sprout. Seedling heat mats can be used to keep your turmeric toasty warm. Mature plants can grow 3 feet tall and the large green leaves make it a lovely houseplant. Just be sure it gets plenty of sunlight and an occasional misting. Once your turmeric plant has become established, and if it is particularly well suited to its location, it may send up a greenish-white stalk and you may even get some stunning pink flowers! What you’re really growing, of course, is the lateral underground rhizomes. If you have a sunny protected spot, and you are in Zones 8 - 11, you can even grow turmeric outdoors.
How to grow turmeric
If you take a close look at one turmeric rhizome, you will see little nubs. Those nubs are buds. You can break a larger chunk into smaller pieces, just make sure each chunk has 2 or 3 buds. For each chunk of root, fill a medium sized container with rich, loose organic soil and place the root 2 inches below the surface with the buds pointed up. [If a nub has two buds, pointing in opposite directions, lay it down so that the buds point to either side and let nature do the rest.] Water it well, the first time, making sure the container drains properly. After that, water only when the top inch or so of soil has dried. Your turmeric plant will take 7 to 10 months to reach a harvestable size.
Harvesting turmeric is a lot like harvesting potatoes. You really can do it at any time. The longer you wait, the bigger the bounty. Gently dig your fingers down into the soil, near the stem, and feel for the rhizomes. If they feel large enough, wriggle them loose and pull them up. Then, just take what you need and put the rest back in the soil for the next harvest!
The rhizomes can be boiled and eaten like any other root vegetable. The leaves are often used as food wrappers for steaming, the same way corn husks are used to hold tamales.
Add some turmeric to your windowsill garden today!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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