Who knew curry came from the powdered root of a gorgeous ornamental plant? Did you? Well, there’s much more to discover about the turmeric plant, its’ uses, benefits, habits and history. Wait until you learn how amazing the golden spice of life really is!
TURMERIC | CURRY & I
The Jamaican turmeric is known by locals as tambric. In fact, that’s the name I grew up hearing so even now when I ask my grandmother to procure fresh rhizomes from her garden I have to ask for tambric or she’ll be lost. I wasn’t introduced to the term turmeric until after I’d moved away as an adult but rest assured, I was fully aware of its potent curry flavor; its’ gorgeous white flowers with tips tinged in pink perfection and golden buds of sunshine popping out from beneath the folded petals; the pleasantly fragrant and graceful, shiny, broad leaves. Yet, there was so much more I was ignorant of.
One of the saddest realizations I’ve had about the land of my birth is that it’s a country swimming in treasures; It’s a hefty slice of the Garden of Eden – a potential pinch of Utopia… but why is this saddening? It is so because we do not know it. Jamaica is brimming with a host of rare, exotic, tropical, breathtakingly beautiful, ornamental, nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich, superfood, heirloom treasures that are jam-packed with benefits and until recent years, locals have been – for the better part – oblivious to how blessed they are to be born and raised on Paradise Rock. While curry is a staple of the Jamaican kitchen cabinet, most West Indians don’t actually realize that turmeric can be used for so much more than flavoring and food coloring. Nor do they know just how helpful consumption can be to the overall wellness of the body.
Turmeric makes an excellent ornamental plant, even in smaller spaces. That’s something I know most of us in colder regions can appreciate as you can keep your turmeric pot in a small space like your kitchen windowsill or next to the shoe rack in your tiny New York apartment. While most of the more familiar and commercially cultivated turmeric varieties produce blooms of pink and white petals, there are others that range in colors from orange to pink, to indigo, to violet, to a deep plum. The ability to grow, thrive and produce in small spaces – coupled with the lovely blossoms – make for not only a rewarding ornamental, but a great conversation piece that’s also useful.
Jamaican turmeric plants behave similarly to their relatives, zingiber (Jamaican ginger). Broad leaves that appear as larger bear leeks (allium ursinum) emerge from a central stem in fountain-like folds that hang gracefully outward. The plants, however, are much shorter than the zingiber do not grow to be much taller than two feet. They prefer partial shade with filtered sunlight in an area protected from strong winds. To keep the rhizomes healthy, plant your turmeric in rich, breathable soil. If your soil is heavy, mix in a generous portion of sand, sawdust and wood chips to create some breathability. You may water generously if your plants are in the ground and the water is able to run off but do not leave your soil waterlogged, especially if your plants are potted. It is also good to allow the soil to dry a little between watering.
If you live in colder regions and your plants are outdoors, the foliage will die back at the cusp of winter. You can harvest your turmeric and use them however you like. Just remember to save a few rhizomes for planting next spring. You can wrap them in an old newspaper and keep them in the bottom of the refrigerator until you’re ready for planting. They will remain fresh for months. When you’re ready to put them back in the ground, soak them in a bowl of water for 24 hours. In another three months you can have fresh turmeric for your household once more.
HOW DO WE GET TO CURRY?
…So how does a turmeric rhizome transform into curry powder? It’s actually a very simple and easy process if you’d like to try it at home. It’s also a great project you can get your whole family involved in. Children love seeing how something they helped create can be useful. After harvesting your rhizomes, rinse them thoroughly in a bowl of cool water. Under water, rub them between your fingers to shake all the soil loose. Discard your water and repeat the rinse with clean water as many times as necessary until your water is clear when you pour it off. You can dry your turmeric rhizomes in a clean kitchen towel. I like to use a white towel because turmeric tends to stain and whites are easy to bleach and I don’t have to worry about ruining a color or pattern.
You can then cut your rhizomes into thin slices and dehydrate. Some of us may use a dehydrator tray, your oven or the sun. Once dry, you can crush the pieces and grid them by hand, with a blender, or food processor until powdered. I like to keep my turmeric powder pure and mix in other spices as I’m cooking but if you’d like to really make your curry powder interesting, you can add other dried spices like ground thyme leaves, basil and dried peppers. You can store your freshly made spice in a mason jar in your kitchen cabinet. Curry takes years to expire and does not need to remain refrigerated. It’s also a terrific gift idea I you’re not the one hosting thanksgiving dinner this year. Turmeric has also been used for eons to flavor cheeses, butter and mustard.
If you’ve ever held a natural turmeric rhizome then I’m sure you’ve noticed the bright orange pigment. That is because of the presence of a golden chemical we call curcumin that is used in medicine and coloring for health, cosmetic and artistic purposes. Turmeric is also becoming a more widely accepted way of treating skin conditions like acne, rashes or dry skin. I stumbled upon THIS article that included recipes for a turmeric face mask for both dry and oily skin types that I hope you guys find enlightening and useful. Turmeric oil is also sometimes used in perfumes, massages and skin treatments and I said to aid in reestablishing healthy, supple skin.
Turmeric has been used in treating arthritis, heartburn, joint pain, stomach pain, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, bypass surgery, hemorrhage, diarrhea, intestinal gas, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, jaundice, liver problems, infections, stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gallbladder disorders, diabetes, water retention, worms, high cholesterol, skin inflammation from radiation treatment, and fatigue. It has also been applied for headaches, bronchitis, colds, lung infections, inflammation, fibromyalgia, leprosy, fever, itchy skin, topical pain, ringworm, sprains and swellings, bruising, leech bites, eye infections, acne, inflammatory skin conditions and skin sores, soreness inside of the mouth, infected wounds, gum disease and some cancers. Share your thoughts on health with your health care provider. I was fortunate to have a one who was and still is a strong believer in Mother Nature’s ability to heal without the side-effects that medication can bring in the trunk. I hope your efforts prove just as fruitful. Happy gardening!