Zedoary – better known as white turmeric – is not exactly like the golden foundation of the curry we know and love, though it is a turmeric variety which means it belongs to the family curcuma. In fact, the rhizomes are almost identical to zingiber officinale. Zedoary is said to carry a flavor that’s similar to the ginger as well, but with a slightly bitter aftertaste. It can be used to create spices, perfumes, massage oils and cosmetics. Let’s put this beauty under the microscope.
ZEDOARY: HOW I MET WHITE TURMERIC
I can’t recall an encounter with zedoary while growing up in Jamaica, though it is quite possible with all the time I spent in the wild. It was not that long ago that an Indian colleague introduced me to an Indian market in our area, thinking I’d find authentic spices and oils that would pique my interest. I was browsing through the refrigerated items and found what appeared to be ginger. As I was sorting through a few select pieces, an employee walked over and asked if I was looking for ginger. When I confirmed his suspicions, he was happy to provide clarity. I’d been looking at white turmeric. He was kind enough to show me to the ginger basket but the white turmeric lingered in my thoughts. You know what I did, right? Research. I wanted to learn all I can about this strange zedoary thing and today, I’m happy I did. I started growing my own and I’ve got to share how rewarding the experience is with you guys.
Zedoary 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 white 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 golden blooms that peep from between bracts of pink and white, there are others that range in colors from orange to pink, to indigo, to violet, to a deep plum. You can see zedoary’s gorgeous buds of sunshine popping out from beneath the folded bracts of violet, pink, green and white. The white turmeric’s pleasantly fragrant and shiny, broad leaves hang gracefully. The ability to grow, thrive and produce in small spaces – coupled with the lovely flowers – make for not only a rewarding ornamental, but a great conversation piece that’s also useful.
White 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 and 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. This can lead to root rot and we do not want that. 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 zedoary 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 your white turmeric in a bowl of water for 24 hours. In another three months you can have fresh zedoary rhizomes for your household once more.
HOW DO WE GET FROM HARVEST TO SPICE?
…So how does a white turmeric rhizome transform into powdered spice? 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 zedoary rhizomes in a clean kitchen towel. I like to use a white towel because white 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 grind them by hand, with a blender, or food processor until powdered. I like to keep my turmeric and ginger powder pure. I simply mix in other spices as I’m cooking or making drinks but if you’d like to really make your powdered spice 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. It’ll take 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.
Zedoary produces a chemical we call curcumin that is used in medicine and coloring for health, cosmetic and artistic purposes. Curcuma plants are 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. I’ve tweaked it to add a little activated charcoal and aloe for my skin treatment and it works! White turmeric is also an excellent alternative to the golden turmeric the recipe calls for because it doesn’t stain my nails. Zedoary oil can also be used in perfumes, aromatherapy, massages and skin treatments and as I said, to aid in reestablishing healthy, supple skin.
White 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 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!