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Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

The Tale of the Turmeric Tree

At the beginning of Lockdown 1, I planted this:

Turmeric's health benefits are not proven but many respected sources agree that curcumin can be a positive boost to the immune system.

Eight months later it looked like this:

I tuned into turmeric five years ago when I had bowel cancer and had chemotherapy. I’d read somewhere that curcumin – one of turmeric’s constituents (the one that gives it its trademark orange colour and stains your fingers) – has antioxidant properties and a whole raft of immuno-positive benefits. I decided to drink a daily mug of ginger, turmeric and lemon – which became known as ‘hot water on my bits’.

Jackie’s ‘hot water on my bits’

Obviously, I have no idea if my hot water and turmeric infusions have boosted my immune system or helped ward off a recurrence of bowel cancer. But I do like to think that turmeric has played its part alongside the gruelling but effective doses of chemo and a healthy, balanced diet.

Turmeric, the curry essential isn’t proven to have health-giving benefits but this little study from the BBC programme Trust Me, I’m a Doctor makes interesting reading. I’m particularly taken with the idea that heating in food with fat may make turmeric’s active ingredients more absorbable. In some chats I’ve seen, people suggest that a grind of black pepper may also help with absorption.

Overall, the suggestion is that turmeric may have a positive impact on depression, asthma, eczema and some cancers (others also suggest it’s useful with arthritis). In our household we’ve become partial to a turmeric latte (fresh turmeric and a piece of cinnamon warmed in milk, with an optional splash of maple syrup and sprinkling of cinnamon to serve).

Turmeric latte. Vibrant colour, delicious flavour.

Research around turmeric and its possible benefits are limited. However, potential health benefits aside, turmeric’s such a brilliant, vibrant, versatile and delicious aromatic – why not add a teaspoonful to your daily diet? And, as it turns out, it’s also a rather a dramatic plant.

My Sri Lankan friend Dewa who I collaborated with on Sri Lankan meal in a book We don’t write recipes down encouraged me to plant my piece of turmeric. Dewa remembers her family using it in cooking and as a face wash – although not the bright orange root, a paler part of the plant – when she was growing up in Sri Lanka. The root I planted (indoors) a year ago was shooting within days of potting up. I transplanted it a few times to ever bigger pots.

After about eight months or so, it grew into the giant on the right. Who knew that turmeric could be such a fine houseplant?

We kept wondering when we should dig it up and see how much (if any) turmeric was lurking beneath. Everything I read online suggested that once the leaves began to wilt, the roots should be ready to harvest.

So, almost exactly a year later, the eldest daughter and I took the plunge.

And what a thrilling harvest it turned out to be! We are now grating and chopping turmeric liberally into our food and drinks. When I don’t have a liberal supply of homegrown turmeric, I get my supply of delicious fresh root from our organic Green Shop here in Berwick.

We’ve already planted another shooting root to do its thing during the course of the forthcoming year – although, hopefully, we won’t have to endure three lockdowns before harvest.

Turmeric bounty: from little shoots many roots will grow

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9 thoughts on “The Tale of the Turmeric Tree

  1. Sabine Herbert on said:

    Fantastic blog Jackie. I’m so excited and inspired. Fabulous houseplant leading to super healthy tasty harvest. I’m definitely going to give it a try.

  2. Maggie Jary on said:

    An interesting read Jackie. I started taking turmeric tablets two or three years ago but it never entered my head to grow it (I haven’t got a single green finger!) You’ve inspired me to have a go. I love the sound of a turmeric latte too.

  3. Sue Churchill on said:

    What a wonderful and inspiring account of your adventures with turmeric. While we usually have a bit of it lying in the bottom of the fridge, I have never gone out of my way to cook with it. That is now going to change. The husband always adds turmeric to his Indian dishes and cheese scones (along with black pepper), but we will be experimenting more and I definitely want to grow it. That plant was amazing!
    Thanks for another great blog Jax.

  4. That was fascinating, Jackie! Have you also tried drying some to use as a powder?

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