Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is indispensable in the kitchen and easily grown in a frost free climate. The tasty leaves and rhizomes and edible flowers are useful for flavouring and colouring food. In some countries, turmeric is used to help manage post traumatic stress disorder. After gardening in the heat and humidity of a Brisbane summer’s day, I find turmeric tea, a Javanese speciality, very refreshing. Some years ago, an Indonesian friend said “Drinking turmeric daily reduces body odour, helps keep you healthy and may prevent cancer”. Another favourite use I have for turmeric is making sfouf, aka turmeric cake, a delicious Middle Eastern recipe.
Turmeric tea is a Javanese speciality, sometimes served hot, sometimes iced. The Javanese believe it is a health tonic. Many, including Hakim, drink it daily.
Recent research identifies curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric, helps alleviate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Laboratory research indicates that regular consumption of turmeric alleviates inflammation in humans and it helps laboratory test animals to fight off certain cancers.
Dr. Kevin Curran, a biology professor at the University of San Diego, teaches Cell Biology and Botany courses. Dr Curran discusses the science and history behind medicinal foods and maintains ethnoherbalist, a website promoting these topics. He asked me to link this website to his own webpage for turmeric (13.4.16).
“Some proponents believe turmeric may prevent and slow the growth of a number of types of cancer, particularly tumours of the oesophagus, mouth, intestines, stomach, breast, and skin.
Turmeric is promoted mainly as an anti-inflammatory herbal remedy and is said to produce fewer side effects than commonly used pain relievers. Some practitioners prescribe turmeric to relieve inflammation caused by arthritis, muscle sprains, swelling, and pain caused by injuries or surgical incisions. It is also promoted as a treatment for rheumatism and as an antiseptic for cleaning wounds. Some proponents claim turmeric interferes with the actions of some viruses, including hepatitis…”
Supporters also claim that turmeric protects against liver diseases, stimulates the gallbladder and circulatory systems, reduces cholesterol levels, dissolves blood clots, helps stop external and internal bleeding….It is also used as a remedy for digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, Crohn’s disease…”
Make Turmeric Tea
* Wash turmeric, rhizomes especially. Remove and discard any wispy roots;
* Slice and chop thinly as you would chilli (or quickly chop in a blender);
* Add to boiling water, return to the boil, then simmer gently for thirty minutes;
* Bring off the heat, add juice of one lime or half a lemon per 500 ml. Add honey or sugar to taste;
I find one small, whole stem of a turmeric plant about 40-50cm high, including a rhizome, can be added to one litre of water and this makes enough tea to produce four mugs.
Caution: Please consult your doctor before giving this drink to children, people with heart problems, high blood pressure. People who are taking medication for arthritis, rheumatism, high blood pressure, heart conditions and treatment for cancer should also consult their doctor before taking Turmeric Tea.
Make Sfouf, or Turmeric Cake
This is a moist, sweet cake developed in the Middle East with several recipe variations. This vegan version is my favourite. So far…
1.5 cups of semolina flour
0.5 cup self-raising flour 1 tablespoonful ground turmeric (made from turmeric root: sliced, roasted, ground) 1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1.25 cups raw sugar
0.5 cup shredded or desiccated coconut
0.75 cup of sunflower oil
1 cup almond milk
roast pistachio, almond or pine nuts
Two mixing bowls
Blender or cake mixer
Line a 22.5cm (9 inch) square baking pan;
Pre-heat the oven to 175C;
Mix the semolina flour, self raising flour, bicarb, turmeric and coconut in one bowl;
In the other bowl, thoroughly dissolve the sugar in the almond milk;
Add the flour mixture, stirring thoroughly, then add the oil. This mix should then be put into the cake mixer or blender and stirred for five minutes, which helps the mix thicken. Take no shortcuts;
Pour the mix into the baking tray and sprinkle the nuts over the top;
Bake for 35 – 45 minutes;
Cool and slice into squares.
Note: The cooking time can vary slightly, around 40 – 50 minutes. So after 40 minutes into the cooking time, I push a bread and butter knife into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake has baked through. If not, give it another ten minutes.
To enhance the flavour, I add one level teaspoonful of ground cardamom.
Make Haldi ki Subji, turmeric curry
This is a delicious traditional dish from Rajasthan, guaranteed to help you use up any surplus turmeric you grow!
Conventional turmeric, Curcuma longa, is one of 100 species in the genus Curcuma, many of which are cultivated in tropical climates. Turmeric is a winter herbaceous perennial, and needs six hours of morning sunshine, or all day dappled shade. Plants thrive in a compost rich, freely draining, well dug soil. I keep the soil in my Spice Border at pH 6.5 and test the pH annually. Plants sprout as the spring storm season progresses towards the summer wet season. For best results plants should be watered weekly in dry weather.
Turmeric is winter herbaceous, so when plants die down to the ground in winter this is the gardener’s cue to harvest the rhizomes. Save some of the best rhizomes for replanting next year’s crop – plant them about 5cm deep, spacing them 30cm apart.
You can buy turmeric rhizomes ready for planting from fruit stores. Green Harvest sells a cultivar called ‘Madras’.
Black turmeric, C. caesia, is now becoming more widely available. It is the same size as conventional turmeric, but the rhizomes have a stronger flavour. Young leaves have a decorative purple blotch, making them very ornamental.
I bought native turmeric, C. australasica, from Barung Landcare. Taller growing than conventional turmeric, this is native to Queensland, the Northern Territory and New Guinea. It is striking in flower. In the Northern Territory, I have witnessed a mass flowering in December about thirty years ago. Driving to Darwin from Alice Springs I suddenly reached the edge of summer rainfall.
About four hours south of Darwin I drove over a gentle ridge and the landscape instantly changed from dry to damp. It was surreal, as if someone had drawn a line across the landscape – south of it was brown and north was green. There, amongst the shrubby landscape in amongst the widely spaced trees, hundreds of native turmeric flowers were emerging from the red soil in response to this recent soaking. That dramatic response to a sudden soaking breaking the dormancy of turmeric is an experience I will never forget.
Response to watering
A similarly dramatic response to water can be had a t home. I have found that growing turmeric in self-watering containers, or standing plastic pots in saucers and watering from the bottom, get better results faster than growing them in a garden bed with an occasional watering to supplement rainfall. The latter is how I have mostly grown turmeric because most of the time I have gardened in Brisbane, drought or erratic rainfall has been normal.
I have acquainted myself to getting a decent return from this occasional watering of turmeric growing in my spice border, so it is surprising and encouraging to observe how much more productive turmeric can be if you supply all the water they can use while you grow them in either of these two different types of container. In 2019, I recorded a doubling of yield as a direct result of providing consistent water to one batch and my ‘water saving’ routine to the rest.
Flowers and leaves
Turmeric flower spikes look good in flower displays, and individual flowers are edible. Curcuma alismatifolia has been developed to produce a range of ornamental flowering cultivars which can be bedded out. Native to SE Asia, this so-called ‘summer tulip’ is often seen bedded out in Vietnam and Thailand.
Culinary turmeric flowers are also edible. Pick them out of the inedible, fibrous flower spike and use them as garnishes in larb salads, stir fries, and curries.
Tender turmeric leaves may be thinly sliced and used in cookery, curries and a personal favourite summer dish, king’s salad.
Make Turmeric Spice
Turmeric rhizomes for eating can be dug up at any time of the year. Wash, dry, then store in the fridge crisper. I place them in a paper bag because plastic bags encourage decay.
This is a great way to warm the kitchen (and yourself) on a cold winters’ morning. Select firm, young rhizomes. Brush off soil, wash, remove any wispy roots that are attached.
Put in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil, then simmer for 40 – 45 minutes. Cool, then peel with a potato peeler. I peel turmeric under a dribbling tap, this rinses off any debris and prevents the turmeric from staining your hands.
Slice turmeric and place as a single layer on a lined baking tray (pictured below, top right). Oven dry at 120C until crisp, which takes about an hour, depending on the thickness of your slices. Black turmeric turns blue, while conventional turmeric remains saffron coloured.
Cool, then grind into powder using a mortar and pestle (pictured below, bottom, right). Store spice in an airtight jar away from sunlight which can bleach the turmeric of colour.
20th January 2015, revised 18.6.20