By Candace Mullen

Special to the Daily Herald

A relative of ginger, turmeric is a perennial plant that grows 5 to 6 feet high in the tropical regions of Southern Asia, with trumpet-shaped, dull yellow flowers.

After making pickles this summer, I wanted to know more about this herb.

Its roots are bulbs that also produce rhizomes, which then produce stems and roots for new plants. It is usually available ground, as a bright yellow, fine powder. The whole turmeric is a tuberous rhizome, with a rough, segmented skin. It is yellowish-brown with a dull orange interior that looks bright yellow when powdered. Turmeric is fragrant and has a bitter, somewhat sharp taste.

Although it grows in many tropical locations, the majority of turmeric is grown in India. The name derives from the Latin terra merita "meritorious earth" referring to the color of ground turmeric resembling a mineral pigment. In many languages, turmeric is simply named as "yellow root."

Although Central Texas isn't its home, many of us use it extensively, if unknowingly. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been used for 4,000 years to treat a variety of ailments. Curcumin, the active ingredient, has antioxidant properties, which some claim may be as strong as vitamins C and E.

Turmeric is an ancient spice, a native of South East Asia, used from antiquity as dye and a condiment. It is cultivated primarily in Bengal, China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Java, Peru, Australia and the West Indies. It is still used in rituals of the Hindu religion, and as a dye for holy robes.

In recipes outside South Asia, turmeric is sometimes used as an agent to impart a rich, custard-like yellow color. It is used in canned beverages and baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cakes, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn color, sweets, cake icings, cereals, sauces, gelatins, etc. It is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders.

Turmeric also has many medicinal properties. In South Asia, it's readily available as an antiseptic for cuts, burns and bruises. It also is used as an antibacterial agent. It can be taken as a dietary supplement, which allegedly helps with stomach problems and other ailments. It also is popular as a tea in Okinawa, Japan.

Don't Forget the 2011 Master Gardener fall plant sale and free seminars from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 1.

Have any questions about gardening in Central Texas? Email

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