Turmeric spice is easily identified by its golden yellow colour and warm, earthy flavour that often brighten and base South Asian and Middle Eastern curries.
Aside from culinary use, the plant is well noted for its anti-inflammatory properties and has been a staple of natural medicine systems, like Ayurveda, for centuries.
Thanks to a generous range of preparations, turmeric can easily be incorporated into many lifestyles as a natural preventative medicine and treatment for a wealth of health matters.
Turmeric comes from the rhizomes (roots) of Curcuma Longa, a herbaceous, flowering plant of the ginger family.
Although the exact origin is unknown, it’s suggested that Turmeric plants are native to the tropical zones of Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. Curcuma Longa thrives in warm temperatures and needs abundant sunlight and rainfall to flourish.
The plant also likes space and grows to more than three feet, with big green leaves above the ground and roots growing horizontally below.
Curcumin is the active component of Curcuma Longa that holds the key to turmeric’s sought after health benefits. Curcumin is found in the rhizomes which can be harvested and used fresh or dried out to make a powdered spice used in cooking, teas or topically.
For those growing their own plants, the large leaves can also be used by adding them dried while cooking or to wrap fish for roasting and grilling akin to banana leaves. Whilst not quite as medicinally charged, the edible leaves are still packed with antioxidants and nutrients.
Health Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric is arguably best known for its powerful anti-inflammatory effects on the body. This can potentially aid with a whole spectrum of ailments from healing swelling and bruising to easing menstrual cramps.
As inflammation has now been identified as playing a part in the development of many chronic diseases, Turmeric’s strong anti-inflammatory properties could also be important in the prevention of many such diseases, including Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, asthma and depression.
Turmeric is a very strong, natural antioxidant that helps to scavenge and decompose free radicals found in the body. An overload of these infamous molecules can contribute to disease as well as cosmetic concerns such as spots and wrinkles. Increasing your consumption of foods with antioxidants like turmeric can boost overall health and is found in many skincare products.
Cancer is a group of diseases caused by abnormal and uncontrollable cell growth, responsible for 1 in 6 deaths globally. The effort to better understand and find a cure for this challenging illness continues.
Some studies have suggested that curcumin, found in the Curcuma Longa plant, can help to work against several types of cancer by fighting cancerous cells in the body. Other studies show that curcumin may increase the efficacy of chemotherapy treatments. While more research is needed to fully understand curcumin’s combative effects on cancer, it does show promising natural anticancer abilities.
Muscles and Joints
Muscle and joint inflammation can result from daily activities to chronic conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. Turmeric can be used to manage the inflammatory symptoms and accompanying pain.
The medicinal plant can aid recovery from post-workout muscle soreness, protect the joints from wear and tear and help to manage painful diseases with inflammatory aspects as in the case of osteoarthritis.
A healthy gut and smooth digestion are important for our overall health and daily comfort. Poor dietary choices, allergies and conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome can cause painful bloating, gas and more serious intestinal health issues such as “leaky gut” syndrome.
Thanks to turmeric’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties, it can help to naturally soothe many uncomfortable, digestion related symptoms as well as improving and preventing intestinal health conditions.
Skin Health and Beauty
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities found in turmeric can also have wonderful dermatological benefits. For centuries the plant has been used for its healing and cosmetic advantages.
To get a natural glow mix a face mask with small amounts of turmeric powder, Greek yoghurt and honey. Apply the concoction to your face and leave it on for around 10 minutes before rinsing off with warm water.
A turmeric powder and water paste can also be applied topically on different areas of the body to treat a number of grievances. Curcumin works it’s magic to encourage healing of wounds by reducing inflammation and oxidation. It can also help to calm acne, fade scars and even soothe the symptoms of skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Just remember that turmeric’s bright golden hue does come with some stain potential, so keep an eye on the time it’s left on your skin.
Where to Find Turmeric
As Turmeric has so much to offer, it’s widely available and can be found at most natural health food stores, spice shops, Indian and Asian markets and even supermarkets in areas where the plant has widespread growth.
The curcumin containing rhizome is available as the fresh root, a powdered spice or supplements with curcumin extract. Small amounts of curcuminoids are actually found in the root so some find taking supplements more effective as they can have a higher concentration of curcumin than the powder and root form.
Of course, your form of choice depends if the motive for using turmeric is medicinal or culinary and is needed for topical or internal application.
How to Grow Turmeric
Growing your own Curcuma Longa plants is a great option if you enjoy gardening, cooking with the freshest ingredients from your own backyard or if you’d like to have a go at making your own turmeric powder. Although the turmeric plant is native to tropical climes, it is possible to grow and harvest in cooler areas by making use of an inside space and growth lights.
Turmeric is not grown from seeds but in fact the rhizomes, so you’ll need to get hold of some organic roots from a health food store or market to start off the first growing season. Ideally, each rhizome should have at least two or three ‘fingers’ as this is where the new sprouts will grow from. You can cut down larger pieces where the fingers meet the base of the root. Do this a few days before planting to allow the exposed cut to scab over and avoid rot or disease.
Curcuma Longa prefers even soil that’s a little loose and slightly acidic, with no big clumps or rocks dotted through. If you’ll be planting in a container make sure there are holes in it for drainage. As the plant can reach over three feet tall and has horizontally growing roots, width and surface area are more important than depth when it comes to soil space.
To plant, dig a small hole between two to four inches deep and place one rhizome in with the fingers facing upwards, this points it in the right direction for growing. Plant the rest of your rhizomes leaving four to six inches between each one. Then carefully cover up each planting spot with soil and water around it to moisten.
For those living in a tropical climate, turmeric can be planted at any time. If frosts may interfere, it’s better to start your plant inside in winter and then move it outside in the warmer months for summertime sprouting and growing.
It’s worth noting that patience is needed to cultivate turmeric as the long growing season lasts between 8 to 10 months with no interruptions of frost. It may take your plant 3 months to sprout or even between 5 and 6 months in a cooler climate so don’t lose hope!
Pre-sprouting there isn’t a whole lot of maintenance, the plant just needs to be sheltered and warm with the soil kept moist.
Post-sprouting your plants will need more care as they start to grow. They’ll now need enough light, either from the sun outside or grow lights indoors if there isn’t sufficient sun exposure in the garden. If you’re in a sun-drenched climate you may need to set up a shade cloth to provide some relief in the afternoons and avoid scorching.
If you’ll be moving your plants from inside to outside after the final frost or in warmer summer months, it’s a good idea to do this in stages as a sudden change could shock your turmeric. Start by putting them in a sheltered and shady place in the garden for a little while the first few days and then gradually increase time and exposure over a week before making the transition.
Your plants will now be much thirstier so keep testing the moisture level of the soil by dipping your finger a couple of inches in. If there are rains at this point, nature may take care of the watering for you. Just note that the soil wants to be moist and not soggy as this could cause rot. You can stop watering all together a couple of weeks before the harvest.
Plants also get hungry as they grow and your sprouted turmeric roots will appreciate a few treats of compost throughout the lengthy season.
How to Harvest Turmeric
As the season rounds out after around 10 months, your turmeric’s leaves will begin to turn a yellow-brown colour.
To harvest, dig down around the turmeric stalks in a wide circle. As the soil loosens, gently pull the stalks up and support them from below to extract the plant.
Cut each rhizome away from the stalk and give it a rinse to remove any soil before air drying in an open space.
If you’ll be making turmeric spice, break up the roots into smaller pieces and sun dry them. Then run the dry sections through a blender to transform them into a bright orange powder ready for use.
How to Store Turmeric
If you plan to use your turmeric fresh, it’s best to use it within the first few weeks of harvesting or buying from a store.
You can store rhizomes in the fridge and putting them in an air-tight container helps keep them fresher for longer. They’ll also last for up to a year in the freezer and can be grated straight up for immediate use.
If you’ve harvested your own turmeric, set aside several rhizomes for the next planting season and keep them in a cool, dark place until then. It doesn’t matter if they start to sprout in this case as that’s the aim once planted.
Turmeric powder is best stored in a sealed container in a cool, dark space and used within six months.
Dosage and Absorption
Between 500 to 2,000 milligrams of curcuminoids are needed per day to reap the benefits of turmeric. To get an idea, there are typically around 200 milligrams of curcumin in one teaspoon of powdered or fresh turmeric and supplements state how many milligrams here are per serving on the box.
One of the main issues with turmeric is that the active ingredient curcumin is not easily absorbed by the body when ingested, which hinders its efficacy as a natural medicine.
Studies show that piperine, found in black pepper, increases the absorption of curcumin in the body by up to 2,000%, so adding a quarter of a teaspoon or a few black peppercorns to cooking and teas can greatly enhance turmeric’s beneficial effects.
Many supplements now include black pepper as an additional ingredient, so be sure to check the information when buying or ordering online.
How to Use Turmeric
Turmeric’s versatility makes it a pleasure to work in to cooking routines and beauty rituals. The root can be grated, sliced, fermented, frozen, dried and boiled – part of the fun can be experimenting!
In it’s fresh or spice form, the golden root can be added to curries and other dishes, adding a golden tint and warming, distinct flavour.
Fresh turmeric can be boiled in water with other ingredients like ginger to prepare a tea, and powdered turmeric stirred into honey and lemon with black pepper makes a wonderful home remedy to support the immune system.
Golden milk is another delicious way to take turmeric as a drink, just heat up your choice of milk and stir in a spoon of turmeric powder, a pinch of cinnamon and honey to taste.
For topical use on skin, turmeric powder is the best as it can be easily mixed into a paste with water and other health packed ingredients such as honey.
Turmeric is revered for having super powers due to its strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It can be used to treat the symptoms and in some cases potentially the root of a wide range of illnesses and general health qualms.
It’s possible to grow your own turmeric plants or buy the golden root from health food stores and Asian markets in fresh or powdered form, as well as supplements. Taking black pepper alongside turmeric greatly enhances its beneficial effects.
Fresh and powdered turmeric can be used creatively in cooking and topically to involve this wondrous spice in your lifestyle and enjoy the natural health benefits.
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