Turmeric is best known these days for its anti-inflammatory properties, but this herb is also used as a condiment, a textile dye, and medicinally. Part of the ginger family, turmeric can be a stubborn plant to grow as it needs very specific growing conditions, but more often than not, you'll find the benefits worth the extra trouble. Particular weather conditions will give you the best results, but turmeric can grow almost anywhere, including indoors in a pot.
Turmeric requires 8 to 10 months of frost-free growing, from seeding to harvest. This herb is typically planted in the winter after the final frost, and then harvested the following fall or early winter. Like ginger, turmeric prefers well-drained, slightly acidic soil and humid conditions. In places where the ground doesn't freeze, it can be grown outside year-round in either the ground or in containers. Turmeric performs best when it's lifted and divided every five years.
Turmeric can grow quite large, maxing out at the height of three feet. This plant thrives most when planted 12 to 18 inches apart, with 6 to 12 inches between plants. The root of turmeric is most often called a rhizome and it is classified as a horizontal underground plant stem. This means that it forms a rootstalk that can produce multiple roots to create new plants, creating a larger base plant.
The turmeric plant is quite fond of the sun but can be sensitive to scorching. Like most plants, too much time in the hot sun will cause leaves to turn brown and wilt. It will thrive well in full sun to partial shade but benefits from afternoon shade if planted in hotter climates where temperatures rise above 90 degrees.
Turmeric loves humid conditions; it prefers moist soil but will begin to rot if soggy. It is important not to let your turmeric plant become too dry or it will lose its leaves and the plant will stop flowering. Water about every two days, and spray the plants with a mist bottle in between. This helps mimic a humid environment and will keep your plant happy.
Fortunately, not many pests bother the turmeric plant specifically. However, soil that becomes too dry can provide a home for mealybugs and spider mites. These small insects can be controlled by horticultural oil sprays or wiped away with rubbing alcohol and a few drops of dish soap. Using alcohol and dish soap is a natural way to suffocate the mites without harming the plants they are residing on. Luckily, if the insects appear in small numbers, turmeric plants can usually survive the infestation.
A fungal disease called mushroom rot is easy to spot: the leaves of the turmeric plant will turn brown and the topmost ones will fall off. If you slice open the rhizome — the main stem — and find mushy brown flesh, your plant most likely has root rot. Sadly, there is no treatment for the roots already affected by this fungus, but the infected parts can be cut out. The remaining healthy roots can then be repotted in fresh soil to optimize healthy new growth.
During the winter months in most climates, turmeric plants will need to be brought indoors to protect them from chill. Potted plants should be kept in a cool and dry space. For those planted in the ground, carefully dig the roots out in the fall when the leaves begin to turn yellow. Remove the loose soil from the roots and then leave them to dry in a warm, sunny place. Once the plant is dry, it is best to store the roots in a container with coarse sand or peat moss indoors.
Most turmeric plants are sterile, so do not expect to see any seeds unless it is a wild collected species. In this case, the plant will need to be hand-pollinated in the summer. If seeds appear, It is best to collect them in late fall and then germinate them at a warm temperature.
The rhizomes can also be divided and replanted to allow new plants to grow. The fleshy root can be cut, separating the rhizomes. Dividing should be done in spring or summer, placing the rhizomes at least four inches below the surface.
Turmeric is ready to harvest when the leaves and stem start to turn brown and dry, typically seven to ten months after planting. Once it is time to harvest, dig up the plants and shake the soil off your fresh turmeric. It is best to cut the stems off about an inch above the mass of the rhizomes and then rinse the rhizomes well. Turmeric leaves are edible, as is the rhizome, which can be eaten fresh, boiled, dried, or ground into a powder.
Turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. It helps fight foreign invaders and has a role in repairing damage in your body. Studies also show that the consumption of turmeric improves memory and attention and may lower your risk of heart disease, help prevent cancer, and even fight against symptoms of depression.