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Curcuma longa

Family: Zingiberales | Place of Origin: Southeast Asia

Origins and history:   

Turmeric has been cultivated since ancient civilizations in India and later in China. Over time, it spread through trade routes to the Middle East, Africa (especially becoming a staple in Ethiopian cuisine), and Europe. Today, turmeric is grown in India, China, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Bangladesh. Many countries around the world (including the US) are major importers of turmeric. This plant holds economic value as a culinary spice, dye, medicine, and coloring agent. It is culturally significant in India and China where it is a staple in their traditional cuisine and medicine, and has been established in Ethiopia as well.

Identification characteristics  

Uses and preparation

The rhizomes of this plant are boiled and dried to form a light, airy, bright yellow powder that can be used as a spice in cooking. Rhizomes can also be eaten raw or grated in small quantities. Turmeric in this form is also a major ingredient in curry powder. Turmeric is also used as a coloring agent in manufactured products and has historically and culturally been used as a dye for clothing in Indian culture. This plant has historically been used for diverse medicinal uses although little rigorous scientific testing has been done on turmeric’s medicinal properties in modern times. Major components of this plant, most especially curcumin (a component of the rhizome that gives it its yellow color and many medicinal properties). Turmeric and curcumin has been used as a cure for inflammation, arthritis, depression, liver disease, digestive stimulant, allergies, skin conditions, and anti-cancer tumors. This plant also has natural antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Although little rigorous scientific studies have been done on the safety of turmeric as a medicine, it has been consumed and used in these ways for millennia by many different cultures.