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Friday, January 31, 2014

The Benefits of Eating and Growing Your Own Turmeric

If you're remotely interested in either natural health remedies OR yummy food, you've probably already discovered the many delicious and healthful benefits of turmeric.  Amazing in curries, butters, soups and stews, etc., turmeric was even once a main ingredient in England's wildly popular and beloved instant custard mix:  Mrs. Bird's Custard Powder.

Turmeric, a member of the ginger family, is a rhizome (an underground stem of a plant that is able to produce the shoots and root systems of a new plant), rather than a root and has a distinctive yellowy color that is used in everything from food to medicine to makeup to dyes.  Its flavor is a kind of warm, earthy, mildly bitter, faintly peppery taste that is versatile in sweet as well as savory recipes.

It’s sold in both a fresh form (looks like a root) and the much more common dry powder.  Fresh roots are pretty expensive in the volume my little inner chef would like to use them, though.  So imagine my absolute glee when I discovered that, if you have a little patience, you can grow your own fresh, organic turmeric at home! In pots!!  Whoo-hoo!

But before I get to the 'how-to'. . .let me park on the 'why' for a minute.

Turmeric’s active ingredient is called curcumin.  Curcumin is generally regarded as the heart of what makes turmeric medically beneficial in addition to just plain delicious.  It's naturally antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, a natural pain killer, and has antibacterial properties.  Various websites and studies list a HUGE number of conditions and diseases that turmeric is supposed to cure, minimize or aid in the treatment of.  Some of these include:
Cancer, colds, lung infections, loss of appetite, bronchitis, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, heartburn, diarrhea, gas, bloating,  allergies, arthritis, liver problems, gallbladder disorders, jaundice, leprosy, fever, headaches, weight problems, water retention, kidney problems, and even worms.
Pretty impressive array of possible benefits, isn’t it:

In fact, in my digging around, I’ve only seen two potential warnings:  It can be a uterine stimulant, so pregnant women should definitely check with their doctor before adding turmeric to their diets.  Also, those with gallstones or bile obstructions should not use turmeric.

And, really, anyone EVER thinking about adding a medicinal amount of something to their regular routine should do their own research and then ask their own medical professional whether it’s right for them.

All that said, though, the research looks pretty promising.  And if you add the potential health benefits to the already long list of culinary uses, you can probably see why I am so dang keen on seeing if I can grow it at home!

So here's the ‘how-to’ bit (apparently, it’s pretty easy to grow indoors in a pot, though it’s not a ‘windowsill’ plant as it can grow fairly large, nor is it a short term project as it can take 8-10 months from planting to harvest.  Can’t WAIT to get mine going!):

What you’ll need:
  • A pot at least 12 inches in diameter and16 inches deep with a drainage hole and plant saucer
  • Organic planting medium
  • Root Hormone
  • Water
  • Liquid Fertilizer
  • And, of course, organic Turmeric

Method:
  • Planting in spring is best (which is when you would plant it outside)
  • Fill pot with potting soil, breaking up any clumps
  • Dip roots in water
  • Then dip into the root hormone
  • Plant rhizomes about 12 inches deep
  • Place pot in a sunny or partially sunny spot
  • Water
  • Keep soil moist as the plant appears and grows
  • Fertilize at least bi-weekly or even weekly during the growing season (You may even see flowers!  They don’t need to be removed, though. . .they won’t affect your rhizomes, so enjoy them!)
  • When the plant leaves begin to yellow and die off, turmeric is ready to harvest
  • Dig up and cut the turmeric rhizomes from the stems
  • Wash off any dirt and you are good to go
  • Replant one or two pieces if you want to repeat the process
  • To store, put in an airtight container and keep in a dark, cool location
  • They should last for up to six months!

Note:  Remember to wear gloves when you peel the root for use. . .if you don’t, your fingers will be stained yellow for a number of days!

Also, if all you have ever used is the powdered form, be warned:  fresh turmeric is far stronger and a little more peppery. . .use sparingly.

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