Growing a turmeric plant at home is easy! Here’s how to grow turmeric to add to your spice (and medicine) cabinet.
You can make your own dried turmeric powder from the roots!
All About Growing Turmeric at Home
When you hear “turmeric,” you may immediately think of the deep golden colored spice that is a common ingredient in curry powder. It’s a must-use ingredient for bread and butter pickles, too.
That familiar spice is made from turmeric roots, dried and ground into a fine powder. When you grow your own turmeric plant, you can use the roots fresh, dry your own, or even use the bright roots as a dye plant.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a tropical plant related to ginger and in fact is grown, harvested, and used much like ginger. Here in Hawaii, it’s called ‘olena.
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What Does Turmeric Look Like Growing in a Garden?
Turmeric leaves are broad and ribbed, giving the plants a tropical look. They 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 without damaging the rest of the landscape. The upright plants make an excellent addition to colorful flower planters, too.
Near the end of its growing cycle, turmeric plants develop beautiful white (in most cases) flowers. There’s a very famous Hawaiian song about it, Pua ‘Olena.
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Varieties of Turmeric to Grow
There are more than 130 varieties of turmeric grown around the world. There are a few named varieties you can look for to plant turmeric at home.
Hawaiian Red is a deep dark orange. Because the darker the rhizome, the higher the curcumin levels in turmeric, this variety makes a good one for people including this in their diet for health reasons. Order seed rhizomes here.
Black turmeric (curcuma caesia) is a fun variety worth noting. Rather than the yellow and orange coloring, this turmeric has a deep blue root. Order seed rhizomes here.
Fresh roots from the grocery store or health food stores may be treated with a growth inhibitor, much like potatoes. It’s worth trying to get these to sprout, but just know that this can impact your success. If you can find organic turmeric, you’ll have better results with that.
How to Grow Turmeric
To plant turmeric outside, work the ground well and incorporate some organic matter or compost into your planting area. Separate rhizomes into fingers that each have at least two buds, or eyes. Plant about 2-3″ deep and 12″ apart. Buds up? Buds down? I haven’t found that it matters much!
Leaves should start to appear in six to eight weeks.
If you’re replanting your own rhizomes to grow turmeric, choose the best, plumpest roots for use in the kitchen and set aside those that are less beautiful for planting. The small rhizomes will sprout easily. Break large rhizomes into smaller pieces to make the most of what you have.
The “mother,” the main stalk of the plant with a small portion of root, is often the most productive piece you can plant. Go ahead and plant it in the ground with portion of the stalk remaining.
Can you Start an ‘Olena Plant from Seed?
Not really seeds; you’ll need turmeric seed rhizomes to start a new plant. This is the same thing as the fresh turmeric root you’d eat. These are available for sale from a variety of sellers online.
Once you have grown this perennial herb yourself, though, it’s kind of a perpetual crop, as you’ll harvest the roots and replant some of those each year. In my garden, the plants often appear in the same place they grew in previous years, rooting from a piece of rhizome left in the ground.
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Requirements for Growing Turmeric
‘Olena is hardy outdoors in zones 8 and higher. It thrives in the tropical climate of my garden here in Hawaii; to grow it in cooler regions, you’ll need to give it a little extra care. (See below for how to grow turmeric indoors.) The plant has a long growing season, requiring 8-10 months in the ground before being ready to harvest in late summer.
Choose a sunny spot in the garden in most regions. If you regularly get scorching days (say, 85 degrees or higher) during the summer months, they will appreciate a little midday shade.
Fertilizer and water requirements
‘Olena plants are pretty carefree. They prefer moist soil with good drainage. If you’re growing yours in containers, you’ll want to side dress with a handful of compost every month or so, to make sure it has enough nutrients to thrive.
Planting Turmeric in Containers
Turmeric grows well in containers. ‘Olena plants grown in containers can be moved to assure the best lighting during the growing season.
Use a pot that’s roughly 12″ wide and just as deep; a really large pot is unnecessary. Smaller pots won’t give the roots enough room to multiply.
Fill with good quality potting soil, and plant the turmeric rhizomes 2-3 inches 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.
Growing Turmeric Indoors
This root crop is native to southern India and Indonesia and thrives in warm climates. In the US, you’ll need to be in zone 8 or higher in order for the plants to grow well outdoors all season long.
If you’re gardening in cooler climates with lower temperatures, you can still grow this crop. You’ll just need to adjust your methods a bit. It takes a turmeric plant between 8-10 months to mature for harvest. In cooler regions, you simply won’t have enough warmth for a long enough period to make this happen.
Here’s the workaround: Starting turmeric indoors.
Plant the rhizomes in a container during the early spring, move it outdoors after the last danger of frost has passed, then — if it’s not ready to harvest yet, move it inside again when you’re expecting your first frost. 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
Turmeric’s fleshy roots are actively growing under the soil when the leaves are a lush green. When the leaves start to brown and die back, it’s harvest time. There are two ways you can do this. One, use a shovel to dig up the entire root ball.
One note of caution: Keep an eye on the browning leaves if you’re growing the crop right in the garden. Once they die back completely, you’ll have a hard time finding the 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. Leave 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 fresh turmeric rhizomes 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 turmeric as described above.
We’ve found that the best way to store turmeric in its raw form is in an open-air container. When stored in sealed containers, the rhizomes tend to mold. We harvest (and use!) lots of turmeric, so we store it in a large garden trug which allows air to flow around the roots.
Homemade turmeric powder will keep longer than the fresh roots. If you prefer keeping the powder on hand, you can make your own.
Using Turmeric in the Kitchen
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. Use a microplane to finely shred the fresh root and add that to recipes; use twice as much fresh root to replace the dried, more concentrated powder.
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:
- Chicken noodle soup with turmeric
- Golden milk
- Homemade curry powder
- Gourmet mustard
- Bread and butter pickles
Using Fresh Turmeric as a Dye
If you’ve ever used turmeric, you know that the bright yellow color of the tubers stains terribly. Spill it on your counter, get it on your hands; the yellow will last for quite some time. So you won’t be surprised to know that turmeric has been used as a dye for centuries. You can use it to dye Easter eggs, too!
Using Turmeric for Better Health
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, especially as an anti inflammatory.
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 veda meaning “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.
Originally published in December, 2015; this post has been updated.