Turmeric is the main spice in yellow curry, giving it its warm flavor and golden coloring. Ongoing research suggests that turmeric may have extensive health benefits as well. Grown for its root, it’s much like ginger. And here’s the cool thing about turmeric: growing it is easy.
Of course, I live in a tropical region which means I can grow this healthy tuber outside, but even those of you who live in cooler climes can grow it in pots.
Most recipes call for the dried powder standard on your grocer’s spice rack, but if you’ve got fresh tubers on hand, you can use it instead.
Where to find roots to grow
Admittedly, finding the roots might be harder than actually growing it. Fresh turmeric — here it’s called ‘olena — is pretty readily available at our farmers markets. If you live in a cooler region, you might have better luck checking Asian supermarkets. It’s also available to order online
To plant outdoors: Work the ground well and incorporate some compost into your planting area. Separate rhizomes into fingers that each have at least two buds. Plant, buds up, about 2-3″ deep and 12″ apart. Leaves should start to appear in four to six weeks. The plants have lovely wide leaves and can work easily as part of a front yard landscape, so long as they’re placed somewhere that can be dug up once a year or so.
To plant in pots: Use a pot that’s roughly 12″ wide and just as deep. Fill with good quality potting soil, and set rhizome 2-3″ deep. You’ll only plant one finger in each pot. Turmeric likes it warm and will be fine outside during the summer months, so long as you keep the soil damp. It’s freezing weather that’s a problem — you don’t want the roots to freeze. You can start your turmeric plant inside during the early spring, move it outdoors for garden season, then — if it’s not ready to harvest yet, move it inside again when it starts to get cold.
Whether planted in the ground or in a pot, your turmeric plant will appreciate some protection from the hot midday sun.
When to harvest
Turmeric roots are actively growing when the leaves are a lush green. When the leaves start to brown and die back, it’s time to harvest. There are two ways you can do this. One, use a shovel to dig up the entire root ball. Alternatively, you can harvest just some of the turmeric by loosening the soil around the plant and harvesting from the outer part of the root ball, leaving the main portion of the root ball intact, much as you would harvest new potatoes. The plant will sprout green leaves again when it comes out of its dormancy, and produce fresh rhizomes. With this method, the center part of the root ball will get dark and soft. If you pull up an older plant, be sure to use just the robust bright orange fingers.
Wash the soil away from the roots and store in a cool, dry place. You’ll replant some of those rhizomes to start fresh plants. If the tubers start to sprout in storage, plant them as described above.
How to use fresh turmeric
As a dye: If you’ve ever used turmeric, you know that it stains terribly. Spill it on your counter, get it on your hands; the yellow will last for quite some time. You won’t be surprised to know that turmeric has been used as a dye for centuries.
Medicinally: While lately turmeric is the talk of the town — so to speak — in natural healing communities, its use as a nutritional supplement or herbal treatment is not new. These days, there’s discussion about its ability to aid osteoarthritis pain, reduce inflammation, or even assist in the treatment of cancer, but it’s been used medicinally for a long time. PBS talks about the history of turmeric and its medicinal uses.
It was around 500 BCE that turmeric emerged as an important part of Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of natural healing that is still practiced today. Ayurveda translates to “science of life”– ayur meaning “life” and vedameaning “science or knowledge.” Inhaling fumes from burning turmeric was said to alleviate congestion, turmeric juice aided with the healing of wounds and bruises, and turmeric paste was applied to all sorts of skin conditions – from smallpox and chicken pox to blemishes and shingles.
Dry it: The dried powder will keep longer than the fresh roots. If you prefer keeping the powder on hand, you can make your own. Head over here to find out how.
Cooking with turmeric: You can use fresh turmeric in place of powdered in recipes. Substitute a one inch piece of turmeric for one teaspoon of the ground spice. You’ll want to grate it finely for most recipes. One of the easiest ways to incorporate this healthy spice into your diet is to simply toss a piece of the fresh root into a smoothie. A one inch piece will do nicely; add more if you’re especially fond of the flavor it brings.
Recipes to try:
Golden milk [Fresh Bites Daily]
Fire Cider [Joybilee Farm]
Turmeric Tonic with Coconut Water, Ginger, and Honey [Mommypotamus]
Iced Golden Tea [Fresh Bites Daily]
Turmeric Ginger Lemonade [Cotter Crunch]
Immune Boosting Hash Browns [The Homestead Lady]
Breakfast Muffins [Green Kitchen Stories]
Persimmon Porridge [Nutrition Stripped]
Scrambled Egg Curry [Tickling Palates]
Curried Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowls [Back to her Roots]
Turmeric and Cinnamon Pumpkin Pancakes [Produce on Parade]
Turmeric Bombs [Empowered Sustenance]
Lunch and Dinner:
Chicken Tikka Masala [The Roasted Root]
Coconut Curry Chicken Noodle Soup [Chew Out Loud]
Curried Cabbage with Cashews [Washington’s Green Grocer]
Grilled Turmeric Chicken [Serious Eats]
Butter Chicken [Recipe Tin Eats]
Chicken Shawarma [Jo Cooks]
Roasted Cauliflower [Reluctant Entertainer]