The Grocery Store Gardener: Turmeric
Thank goodness for modern food distribution systems. One can now find fresh Turmeric in specialty stores. The Grocery Store Gardener is excited to find new and exciting plants to grow. Turmeric is great for use in recipes from curry to smoothies. It is even easy to make your own fresh dried Turmeric for all your favorite Indian dishes. That is just the start of the fun you can experience with this herbaceous perennial related to Ginger. And, on top of everything this is a great house plant.
Turmeric is a very old herb that many believe has been used by man for over 5000 years. The original species is believed to originate in Southern India. Over time it spread to Indonesia. From there it is believed the Canoe travelers who populated the Pacific Islands carried it to the Hawaiian Islands a long time ago. It is still grown in some areas of the islands.
This continues to be a popular dye. In fact, one should be careful when working with either fresh or dried Turmeric. Hands and clothing can be stained easily. It will take quite some time for hands to turn back to a normal color. Cloth turns a bright yellow color when soaked in a dye from this root. Perhaps you may have noticed that many Buddhist Monks seem to be in yellow robes? It isn’t a coincidence. Using Turmeric to dyed cloth is even older than Buddhism.
Turmeric is closely related to Ginger. Click here to see a recent Hub on this herb. It originated in roughly the same part of India before being spread to other areas. It didn’t travel quite as fast as Ginger. It can be grown outside in areas that do not get very cold. Frost will kill the leaves. Ground freezing will kill the roots. Therefore most of us in the Northern Hemisphere will need to grow this as a house plant where we can bring them inside in the fall. Locate produce departments that don’t keep this in the refrigerated display cases. The cold storage will harm the tubers.
A mistake many make growing plants is planting too deep. Turmeric is one of these. These small tubers need not be more than an inch below the surface. You will find that it grows similarly to iris in that the tuber often grows right on top of the soil. Don’t fight it by burying deeper. For this reason you need not plant in deep containers. Let me suggest a large bonsai container which is attractive as well as versatile.
Turmeric can be harvested once the foliage dies back. Many sources list September through March as the time when Turmeric has lost the leaves and stalks. It is often a bit later than this for most of us. Normally the tubers have gone to sleep by about Thanksgiving and begin growing again about the beginning of April. This is the time to find tubers in your favorite food co-op. Plant them while dormant. Keep the soil slightly moist but not sopping wet until new foliage begins growing.
When the foliage begins growing again you can provide a mild organic fertilizer and begin increasing the water. Remember these come from Southern India where rainfall is abundant. Most places are double to quadruple the rainfall in South Central Indiana. This means from 60 to over 100 inches per year. Be sure the potting media is one that won’t get soggy. You will want a media that drains quickly.
Using Turmeric as a Dye
One can achieve from a dull pale yellow to a vibrant yellow fabric color depending on how long the material is left in the dye. There are only a couple of steps to follow and an all natural dye will brighten your project. There are two steps to the process. The first step is the “fixing” step. This step prepares the fabric to accept and hold the dye. The second step is the dying process itself. The directions are general because the quantity of “fixing” and dying solutions must be enough for the size fabric you have chosen to color.
Step 1 is the “fixing” step. This step prepares the cloth to accept and hold the dye. There are two recipes to use. One method is to prepare 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water. The other recipe is to use ¼ c salt for every 4 cups of water.
Once you have chosen your “fixing” recipe you will need to prepare enough to soak your fabric easily. Bring your mixture to a boil and add the fabric. You will now need to cook the fabric for an hour. At the end of an hour just pull the material out and as soon as it can be handled safely ring out any excess moisture. Do not rinse in plain water.
Step 2 is the dying step. The recipe for the dye is 1 Tablespoon dry Turmeric powder to every 1 cup of water. Make enough to soak the material in comfortably. Bring this liquid to a boil and add your damp fabric. Cook at least 15 minutes for a slight yellow color and up to an hour for a deep bright yellow color.
Once you have achieved a color you like you will need to rinse it out until the water is clear. It works best to do this in a large bowl and swirl the fabric around. Let the cloth and rinse water rest a minute or two. Drain. And then rinse again until no yellow can be seen bleeding into the rinse water. Once the rinse water is clear you can dry the cloth.
Coloring Eggs is a bit easier. Use a heaping tablespoon of Turmeric for each ¼ c vinegar and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil. Soak your hard boiled eggs in the dye until the desired color is achieved. The boiling process is to prepare the dye and need not be kept at a hot temperature to dye the Eggs.
Other Recipe Ideas
Of course everyone has their favorite curry recipe that includes Turmeric. Did you know that there are other recipes for Turmeric?
There are smoothie recipes on the web that all sound delicious. Most call for adding a couple of teaspoons of fresh Turmeric to the other ingredients. These can be tropical fruit smoothies for example. Use a coconut milk or pineapple juice or almond milk as the liquid part of the smoothie and then blend in your favorite tropical fruit to thicken to your preferred consistency. Bananas are a good suggestion as is pineapple or mango or papaya. When fresh isn’t available use powdered Turmeric. Start with about ½ teaspoon powdered herb and then adjust to taste in subsequent blends. Turmeric is often paired with other spices such as cinnamon.
Some people like a yellow color to their mashed potatoes. After all, Turmeric isn’t called the poor man’s Saffron for nothing. Let me suggest you use Yukon Jack potatoes for their creamy soft texture with the Turmeric. Use a small piece about the size of a clove of Garlic and using a Garlic press squeeze the Turmeric in with the cooked Potatoes. Add a bit of butter, a small splash of milk, salt and pepper. Briefly mash all this ingredients together. Don’t over mash. Yukon Gold Potatoes have a creamy texture anyway.
One can easily grow a family’s yearly supply of Turmeric in a large container on the patio. They take little care. You will have to bring the container inside unless you live in a frost free area. That’s it. Then you can filch a little all winter long for Smoothies or some other savory dish when the foliage dies back.
Of course, if you like fresh Turmeric and dread not being able to harvest when it is growing you can par boil your fall crop, drain, place in a single layer on your cookie sheet and bake in a low heat oven to dry out. These dried roots can be processed until a powder is made. Or, you could even dig out the mortar and pestle you received from your cousin Steve and his wife for your wedding that’s hiding in the back of the kitchen cabinet to powder the dry roots.
That’s what makes it so fun to be a Grocery Store Gardener. There is always something fun to grow you may not even find in a garden catalog. Every time you turn around there will be a new challenge. Half the time it is just as much fun to grow something and show it off to visitors. Everyone needs something to brag about. Growing unusual plants is one of these hobbies that will impress everyone.