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Friday’s Flora and Fauna: Turmeric

“Then the Lord told Moses to collect the choicest of spices–eighteen pounds of pure myrrh; half as much of cinnamon and of sweet cane; the same amount of cassia as of myrrh; and 1 1/2 gallons of olive oil. The Lord instructed skilled perfume-makers to compound all this into a holy anointing oil.” (Exodus 30: 22-25)

It has been too long since I wrote either a Wednesday’s Weed Walk or a Friday’s Flora and Fauna post; way too long. I’m forgetting one of my biggest passions: herbs. And nature’s healing power, in my not so humble opinion, is better than the long list of side effects peppering the infomercials of commercial products. But that’s neither here nor there.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

When we think of herbs, turmeric probably isn’t high up on the list, being regarded more as a spice, a main ingredient in curry powder, and for many Indian recipes. However, turmeric, besides being a wonderful spice to enhance cooking, is also a powerful anti-inflammatory. I have been using it regularly in a recipe for something called Golden Milk to ease both my Irritable Bowel Syndrome and, of course, my recent shoulder injury to reduce the inflammation. Golden Milk is “a traditional Ayurvedic healing drink used to treat inflammation, such as arthritis and bursitis, and to support the immune system” (Gladstar 96). In her excellent book, Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, Rosemary Gladstar gives a recipe for Golden Milk that includes turmeric, almond oil, milk (cow’s, almond or coconut) and honey. The recipe I have been using contains 8 oz of milk (I alternate between cow’s and almond but would also use goat’s, if available, as it is great for digestion), 1 tablespoon of turmeric, 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of ginger and 1/8 teaspoon of cardamom. (Rosemary also offers these other spices as variation to her recipe…) I heat it slowly in a small saucepan, stirring constantly until warm. It tastes great alone, or in a smoothie, oatmeal, or some other type of cereal.

Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, is in the Zingiberaceae family, along with ginger and cardamom. Besides being known for its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is also an emmenogogue (supports menstruation), analgesic, chologogue (stimulates flow of bile; aids in indigestion and constipation), antibacterial and antifungal (Tierra 124). We use the tuber and the rhizome with this plant. The tuber is indicated for anxiety, agitation, seizures, mental derangement, hemorrhages, and jaundice. The rhizome for amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, painful obstructions, shoulder pain(!), gastric or abdominal congestion and pain, gallstones, hepatitis wounds, bruises, traumas or injuries, toothache, hemorrhages, arthritis, cataracts, and sports’ injuries. We use both parts for chest, abdominal, flank or menstrual pains, and swelling from trauma. Both parts also stimulate blood circulation. And, unlike a lot of other treatments, turmeric tastes good so it is a lot easier to commit to the addition to your diet.
**That being said, I have a close friend who is allergic to turmeric so, if you’ve never had it before, as with any plant-based supplement, proceed with caution until you determine if you are similarly affected.

Amazingly, turmeric is also used as a dye, producing a “bright-hued yellow” (Green 211). In the herb garden where I work in the summertime, we have turmeric in both our dye plant bed and in one of our culinary beds.

Now, for those of you who know that I am writing this from New England, and well aware that turmeric is a tropical plant (hardy to Zone 9), there is a greenhouse on campus that houses many of the warmth-loving plants throughout our snowy winters. However, if you have access to a greenhouse, or a warm, sunny room in your house, it should do quite well over winter for you. It does require regular watering–the soil should be damp, not wet–as it likes a well-draining soil, else it will rot. So, if you decide to pot it for moving indoors during cooler months, be sure to add bits of broken crockery, small pebbles, or even packing peanuts, to the bottom inch or two of your pot (depending on size). While the environmentalist says packing peanuts, or polystyrene, are fossil fuel products and bad for the environment, it is certainly better to recycle them for drainage for potted plants than in the garbage (to the best of my knowledge, they are not recyclable through the recycling plant). And, no matter how careful we are to avoid them, packing peanuts do arrive in the mail from time to time.

Turmeric will not set seeds. It requires a root cutting to propagate. Burying pieces of the root under 2 inches of soil in a container at least 12 inches across and 12 inches deep is ideal. Again, keep the soil damp and give it regular feedings, as it’s a hungry plant. If you raise earthworms and can harvest their castings, or have a friend making worm tea that will sell/give some to you, that is probably best, or you can purchase an organic fertilizer at a local nursery for optimum performance. It takes 8 to 10 months before it is ready to harvest. The leaves will start turning yellow and fall off. Cut the leaves/stems away from the root and save a few pieces for next year’s planting. Stored in a cool, dark place, the root should keep up to 6 months. PS Because it is a dye plant, you may want to wear gloves of some kind when peeling it before use; may stain your fingers.

With that being said, I’m thinking a smoothie made with golden milk doesn’t sound like a bad idea right now…bon appetit!

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

Gladstar, Rosemary. Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide. North Adams, Massachusetts: Storey Publishing.

Green, James. The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual. Berkeley, California: Crossing Press.

Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life. Berkeley, California: Crossing Press.

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