One of today’s most popular herbs for health and wellness, turmeric can be found everywhere! It’s in kombucha or capsules, teas or tinctures, and for good reason. It’s been shown to be an amazing healing herb, with countless different health benefits. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to grow turmeric for your own use, read on.
Turmeric: A Brief History
Once considered merely another exotic spice occasionally found in American cupboards (mostly used in curries and sauces), turmeric’s healing properties are only beginning to be understood. Studies have shown that curcumin—the primary, active component in turmeric root—is a powerful antioxidant with spectacular anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric has been shown to improve circulation, relieve arthritis symptoms, improve memory, and boost immunity.
The news comes as no surprise to Ayuverdic and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. For over 2000 years, they’ve respected turmeric’s healing power and used it for many different health concerns. These schools of medicine often use turmeric to purify the blood and skin, as well as in general health-boosting tonics.
Today, turmeric is grown and sold around the world. By growing it yourself, you can have access to the freshest, highest-quality turmeric available, while beautifying your home or garden with its lush foliage and tropical flowers.
Inside or Outdoors?
Turmeric thrives best in hot, humid weather. As a native of southeast Asia, it loves an abundance of sun, rain, and high temperatures. If you live in America in growing zones 9-11, turmeric is going to settle into your outdoor garden with ease.
In zones 7-8, you can still grow turmeric outdoors, but it’ll need some support to thrive. You may want to start the plants inside and transplant them into your garden when soil temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees.
Those of us in zones 1-6 should start picking out a sunny spot indoors, because this plant is going to need a lot of protection from our bitter winter weather as it grows.
Fortunately, turmeric does well in pots, and even the coldest climate won’t harm yours if you can settle it somewhere indoors that’s consistently warm, sunny, and moisture-rich.
In either climate, you can secure turmeric roots for planting from your local natural food store. Look for it next to ginger root in the produce section, or order your roots online.
Turmeric propagates through rhizomes rather than seeds, so all you need is a fresh root and good soil to get started!
Growing Turmeric Outdoors
If you do live in one of those lovely, sunny areas of the country—zones 9 through 11—plant turmeric outside to grow amid your mangos and dragon fruit. It’ll look lovely in your tropical paradise, and it adores the dappled sunlight its taller companions can provide.
Try to avoid planting turmeric alone under the hot sun. Fruit and nut trees are ideal neighbors, as is turmeric’s cousin, ginger. It can also grow well alongside comfrey and lemon verbena, making a lush, fragrant bed of healing plants for you to harvest from.
The first step is to time your planting in order to give turmeric enough time to grow before winter. If your winter temperatures get below 60°, try to plant at least 8-10 months prior. This way, you can harvest before the chilly weather damages the root.
Make sure your soil is well drained and rich in nutrients. Cut your turmeric rhizomes (roots) into small pieces, making sure each piece has a bud. Plant them with the buds facing upwards, about two inches under the soil, and water well.
Set the roots about 12-16 inches apart in your soil. Turmeric spreads underground by root, like mint or horseradish. The more space you give your rhizomes, the more likely you are to have a lovely bed of healthy plants and strong roots. You should keep the soil moist, but not soaked. After about a month, sprouts will begin poking up out of the soil from the root buds.
If your roots are slow to sprout, check the soil temperature: it should be at least 60 degrees. Also, give it time. Turmeric is a slow starter and it may take as long as two months to sprout, even in ideal conditions. This plant requires patience and diligent care, so allow it the time it needs to flourish properly.
In zones 7 and 8, it’s best to start turmeric indoors about 2-3 months before your outdoor weather will support it.
Plant the rhizomes in small- to medium-sized breathable clay pots. Keep the soil moist, but not over-saturated, and set them in a warm, sunny place indoors. When the roots have sprouted and your weather is consistently above 70F, you can transplant your tiny turmerics outdoors. Mulch them well with manure at transplant.
While it loves the sun, turmeric is most comfortable growing beside fruit trees or other tall plants that can provide a bit of dappled shade from time to time. A full, hot summer sun can overwhelm it, especially in drier climates.
Once sprouted, turmeric can handle a bit of neglect. In fact, it prefers to avoid fertilizers. An occasional mulching with manure is appreciated, but nothing more or your plant will grow plenty of foliage while its root and flowers suffer.
Give it casual care, misting the leaves in dry weather and watering as needed. In 8-10 months the roots will be ready to harvest. Save one or two for replanting and bring the rest into your home apothecary.
How to Grow Turmeric Indoors
Most American gardeners won’t be able to grow turmeric in the ground. But, if you’re in northern zones 1-6, you can still grow turmeric at home as long as you have a warm house, a sunny window (or grow lights), and plenty of fresh water.
Start your rhizomes in small pots with good drainage and moist, nutrient-dense soil. Keep the soil warm and damp. A warming tray can be a great asset at this growing stage, as it can guarantee cozy soil temperatures for sprouting.
About two months after sprouting, transfer the young plants to larger pots with fresh soil to allow them plenty of space to grow. In especially cold climates, you may want to keep the larger pots on the warming tray after transplanting.
Try to make sure your indoor turmeric has plenty of sunlight, and that the soil isn’t depleted of nutrients. Mix in some fresh manure every month or so or try a light fish emulsion. The plants should be misted at least every other day to give the leaves the impression of humidity, and the soil should be kept moist.
Many indoor turmeric growers will plant successively. Successive plantings allow you to harvest regularly and have a consistent supply of fresh root, without depriving your home of the turmeric plant’s beauty.
When growing turmeric indoors, it’s important to remember that the plant will grow to between 2 and 3 feet tall, with large leaves and a taller spike of white or pink flowers. This isn’t a dainty table-top houseplant: this is a conversation starter! Give it space to grow and enjoy its eye-catching beauty.
After 8-10 months of growing, your turmeric plant will start to turn brown and dry. Now is time to harvest the root. Uproot the entire plant and slice the rhizome from the upper stem. Scrub the roots in fresh water and let them dry.
If you choose to use the root fresh, it’ll keep in the refrigerator for up to six months if wrapped tightly in plastic or sealed in an airtight jar. You can also make your own turmeric powder by boiling the root until you can pierce it with a fork. Then peel the cooled root and set it in an oven or food dehydrator at about 140°.
When the roots are brittle, snap them up into smaller pieces and grind them up in a coffee grinder to make powder. You will want to wear gloves while processing turmeric to avoid staining your hands bright yellow.
Using Your Homegrown Turmeric
There are so many ways to use fresh and powdered turmeric, but my favorite is Golden Milk!
- 1 tsp turmeric powder or 3 slices of fresh root about 1/4” thick.
- 2 saffron threads
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 quart whole milk (use coconut, almond, or soy milk for a vegan alternative)
Simmer all ingredients together gently on the stove without allowing the milk to boil. When the milk is hot, whisk briskly for 5 minutes. Pour into cups and serve on cold winter evenings with gingerbread.
Fresh turmeric root can also be made into a tea to improve circulation, aid in heavy metal detoxing, and revive the body after stress. It’s especially effective after childbirth, sickness, or emotional trauma.
Cooking with quality homegrown turmeric regularly, or consuming it in teas, infused milks, or smoothies, can help all the body’s systems function at their very best.
Bright, warming turmeric is a beautiful addition to your garden, home, and spice rack. Get to know this intense plant and you’ll soon wonder how you lived without it!