Turmeric is an herb likely not in most people’s spice racks, at least by itself. Curry powder is roughly 50% turmeric. Mustard owes much of its yellow color to turmeric. I like to use turmeric in most relishes and pickles because of its beautiful bright yellow hue. It’s also great in rice.
Turmeric is not a strong flavored spice. I would call its taste a mild combination of citrus, ginger and cinnamon. I’ve even used it in pumpkin and sweet potato pies to brighten the color without affecting the flavor. While it might sound surprising, a little ground turmeric mixed in orange or pineapple juice is delicious.
We think of it as a tropical spice, but turmeric can actually be grown in our climate either in large pots or in the ground. It’s perennial here. Plants form thick fleshy tubers, which can be eaten fresh or dried and ground. These tubers are great in a stir-fry.
Fresh turmeric is gaining popularity. Often turmeric tubers can be found in grocery store produce sections. They keep well in the refrigerator.
Plants look a little like ginger lilies and have beautiful spike-like white or pink flowers. They make a great addition to the perennial garden. A large pot of them is also breathtaking on the patio.
Sometimes you might see them referred to as Curcuma, since there are several species of turmeric. All thrive in warm conditions. Plants also like moist but well drained soil and usually grow two to three feet tall. If you are growing them for ornamental use, soil texture isn’t critical. A sandy soil mix is best for harvesting tubers.
Herbalists tout this plant as one of the top superfoods around. It’s rich in antioxidants. Curcumin is just one of them and is a strong anti-inflammatory compound. It’s extracted from turmeric and used for a variety of ailments.
Not surprisingly, turmeric and specifically curcumin are used to treat different types of arthritis. It’s used to alleviate of other types of inflammation like ulcerative colitis, heartburn and stomach pain.
Turmeric supplements are also linked to improved brain function and better heart health. Herbalists recommend turmeric preparations to help fend off Alzheimer’s. Some people take it to help regulate blood sugar. Also, testing is ongoing to see if turmeric can help fight off cancer too.
Turmeric is not totally without its drawbacks. Large amounts might lower testosterone levels and decrease sperm movement. Men probably shouldn’t take this in large quantities if they are trying to father children, as curcumin can reduce fertility.
Turmeric also slows blood clotting. People on blood thinning medications probably should not take high concentrations of it. When used as a spice, levels of curcumin would likely not pose any problems but extracts very well could.
Most herbs that are not concentrated usually don’t cause major health concerns. It’s when we isolate certain chemicals and take huge doses that we have problems. As with all herbal medicines, please consult your doctor. This is especially true when taking highly concentrated forms. That’s not really natural anyway.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (email@example.com).