I love to use turmeric in the kitchen and, as it’s quite expensive to buy, I’d been trying to grow it for years, when a gardening friend shared her parents’ discovery. Turmeric and her close cousin Ginger are understorey plants and are seen flourishing in the shade in sub-tropical and tropical gardens, so that’s where I’d been trying my luck with these exotic plants. However, in southern Australian gardens they don’t get the heat they need to swell their delicious rhizome roots if grown in the shade. Instead, as my friend’s parents found, if you grow them in heat-absorbing black plastic pots in full sun, success is assured!
Late spring is the perfect time to start warm climate plants in Victorian gardens. Passionfruit, citrus, turmeric, ginger, sweet potato and avocado are all best planted now around here and in other cool climate gardens in Victoria.
To start your turmeric (Curcuma longa) or ginger (Zingiber officinale), look out for healthy fresh pieces from your greengrocer, preferably organic, as non-organic turmeric and ginger may have been treated with growth inhibitors to prevent them sprouting. You may be lucky and find some pieces with tiny buds or shoots already, perfect for planting. Otherwise, sit your pieces on a warm bright windowsill to help them shoot and once you see tiny shoots appear, plant the whole piece into good quality potting mix, using pots at least 30-40 cm in diameter.
Remember there is no such thing as cheap, good quality potting mix! Make sure to keep water up to them as they are rainforest plants. Your plants will appear somewhat bleached out in the leaves, due to being grown in the sun, but don’t worry, all will turn out well in autumn.
If you’re lucky you may also get some of the unusual flowers forming at the base of a plant, the petals of which are edible and can be plucked off and sampled as a garden snack or added to a salad. Try using the leaves to wrap fish in for cooking on a BBQ or in the oven, to impart some flavour as well as keeping in the moisture, using string or toothpicks to hold it on.
Plants will be ready for harvest in late autumn and should be all dug up and stored over winter to avoid rot. Freshly harvested rhizomes, washed and dried, will last for a few weeks in the fridge, or can be frozen in containers for later use. For fresh use over winter and for planting in spring, store rhizomes in damp coir peat in a pot in a cool place, which can be outdoors.
Turmeric should be peeled before use like ginger, and then can be used grated (micro-planning works well) or chopped in a variety of foods, pairing well with coconut and ginger as well as other warm spices such as garlic and cinnamon.
Use slices to make a tea. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory when eaten regularly, helping to reduce all sorts of ailments. I eat it to help keep the aches and pains of many years of gardening at bay and it also can help relieve headaches.
Fish marinade recipe with my cousin Rogi’s homegrown and dried turmeric