Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a native perennial plant of India that is grown for both function and beauty. The plant produces broad leaves and an interesting flower stalk that ranges in color from deep red to white.
Turmeric is a member of the large ginger family and the plant roots are harvested for their flavor and wide ranging health benefits. It has certainly gained more attention recently (with the recent Covid-19 pandemic), but more of that later. Learn how to grow turmeric with these tips so you can enjoy the benefits this tasty gift of Mother Nature has to offer.
Since turmeric and ginger are closely related, they share most of the same basic growing requirements. Turmeric grows best in a sunny location that at the same time provides a little shade from the afternoon sun and is not too windy. Plant it so that it is located on the east side of taller plants or a structure so the herb will receive full morning sun and yet be shaded from the heat of the afternoon sun.
This herb is a tropical plant after all, and will die if exposed to frost or below freezing temperatures. If you live in a cold northern climate, grow turmeric in a container that can brought indoors during the winter.
Create a soil mix that is 50-50 garden soil and compost. The soil pH can range from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline. Turmeric propagates from underground rhizomes/roots, and this “seed” piece is sometimes called the “mother”. Turmeric rhizomes grow best in soil the light, airy, and filled with organic matter as compost. The compost will also promote good drainage of excess water while keeping the soil moist, which is the ideal soil condition for growing turmeric.
When to Plant Turmeric
This is a slow-growing herb that can take up to 8 weeks to sprout. The root can be sprouted indoors in late winter in a warm location so it will be ready for spring planting outdoors.
This is an herb that can be planted outdoors, but only when all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to 65°F. An ideal temperature range for it would be 68-95°F (20-35°C). The best time to plant it is during spring-summer. Turmeric is after all a tropical plant and hence, does not thrive in cold soil or frosty conditions. If you live in a region below USDA Zones 7b-11, turmeric is best grown as an annual, or in a pot indoors/greenhouse.
But if you still wish to grow turmeric in a cold region, how do you overwinter it? If grown in a pot, it is a simple matter of bringing the plant indoors. But if grown outdoors, reduce watering towards the end of fall. When the leaves turn yellow and start wilting, this is the sign to prune the plant back to the ground. Doing so hibernates the turmeric for winter.
How to Plant
Turmeric rhizomes have ‘eyes’ or growing points (like potatoes) and should be planted with their eyes facing upwards to facilitate their sprouting. If the rhizome has eyes all around, plant with largest eye facing upwards.
Dig a shallow trench 2-3 inches deep and lay the rhizome in the trench. Space the rhizomes 12-16 inches apart, cover with prepared soil and water thoroughly.
Turmeric can also be grown in a 12-inch or larger container/pot. Use a large container, because turmeric can easily grow above a height of 1 m/3 feet. Use a compost-rich potting soil and place container in a location that will receive the morning sun.
Keep soil moist but not soggy and waterlogged. Turmeric is still susceptible to rhizome rot if the soil becomes waterlogged. If the soil dries out in warm weather during the growing season, don’t hesitate to water it again. Turmeric only have few pests, but may suffer from scales and red spider mites.
Feed turmeric with water-soluble plant food once a month. When the plant foliage turns yellow at the end of summer, the turmeric root is ready to be harvested. The leaves can also be used to wrap food with for cooking.
Turmeric Health Benefits
While turmeric looks exotic on its own as a garden plant, it is best known for its health benefits. Turmeric has become very well known as an anti-cancer herb. The chief active agent of turmeric is curcumin, which has been found to kill many kinds of cancer cells, and also has potent anti-inflammatory effects, and thus beneficial for conditions like arthritis, digestive problems, liver problems, kidney problems, and many more.
Turmeric is one of the herbs that are widely believed to be beneficial for Covid-19, although there is no evidence that it will cure or prevent it if you are exposed to the virus. Since turmeric has strong anti-inflammatory effects, some believe turmeric may help the patient to better weather the over-reaction of the body in fighting the virus (or the cytokine storm), which is what makes Covid-19 dangerous.
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