The plant we know today is a hybrid between the wild turmeric and closely related plants.
It grows as a leafy herb up to around 1m tall. Its flowers are yellow and white on a long spiky stem. The flowers do not produce viable seed, its reproduction done, instead, through its rhizomes – the thick and fleshy underground stem which is ringed with the bases of old leaves.
The rhizomes are boiled for 45-60 minutes within a couple of days of harvest, dried and then often ground to produce the distinctive yellow powder that we love.
Turmeric is a powerful colouring agent, as your dry-cleaner will testify! It should only be used in small quantities and cooked thoroughly. It is widely used throughout most regional Indian cooking and often added to the hot oil before any other ingredients.
It has been used as a dye since 600BC, with its use in food coming later.It most likely originated in Western India (with some claiming its chronicled use dates back 4000 years) and reached China in 700AD and West Africa in 1200AD.
The plant we know today is a hybrid between the wild turmeric and closely related plants. It has always been considered a very auspicious plant, and its medicinal uses (see below) extend back a long way. In mediaeval Europe it was known as ‘Indian Saffron’, and is still sometimes used as a cheap alternative to saffron.
Cools Kapha, warms Vata and Pitta in excess. It affects all tissue, and circulatory, digestive, urinary and respiratory systems. It has antibacterial, antibiotic and vulnerary (wound healing) properties, and also has a stimulant effect. Its Ayurvedic uses are many: Amenorrhea, anemia, arthritis, blood purifier, blood tissue formation, circulation, cough, diabetes, worms, jaundice, eye problems, fevers, gas, hemorrhoids, edema, indigestion, ligament stretching, metabolism regulator, mucus relief, hysteria (from inhaling fumes – calms it, not causes it!), pharyngitis, protein digesting, skin disorders, abscess, urinary diseases, wound and bruise healer, improves intestinal flora, inflammatory bowel syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, chronic hepatitis, chronic bronchial asthma, psoriasis, all inflammatory conditions, acne, insect bites, sore eyes, bruises and sprains (with honey or aloe gel).Curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to help prevent cancer in rodents, but more research needs to be done to see if it can benefit humans in a similar way.
Probably shouldn’t be eaten to excess if pregnant. Stains anything into which it comes in contact…very readily!!