Botany of Turmeric

Botany of Turmeric

Turmeric is a plant that can be used from root to shoot. Yet, contrary to the belief that one varietal in the kitchen was meant to cure all ailments, different species and different parts of the plant are utilized for toiletries, folk medicine, and culinary preparations due to their differing properties.

Around the world, 133 species of Curcuma, or Turmeric, have been identified.[1] Turmeric belongs to the Zingiberaceae genus and is widely found in South East Asia, and the Asia-Pacific region.[2] While C. longa is one of the most popular and viable species that makes its way to our kitchens, there are plenty of other species found across India, Myanmar, China, Australia and Korea. In fact, it’s suggested that in Ancient India, the species prominent was C. zedoaria, which is stronger and bitter with a pale sulfur yellow color, and C. longa was brought to the country by Buddhist Monks traveling from South East Asia.[3]

Contrary to the belief that one varietal in the kitchen was meant to cure all ailments, different species are utilized for toiletries, folk medicine, and culinary preparations due to their differing properties.[4] Turmeric holds a place in intergenerational Asian cultures spanning India, China and Burma. Its popularity rests in the fact that one can extract over 100 components from a single Turmeric plant. The main component is a volatile oil named Turmerone, and a coloring agent known as Curcuminoid.[5] These varying components enable its usages to range from medicines and dyes, to cosmetics.

The plant itself can be used from root to shoot, and often grows up to the height of three to four feet, and spreads itself wide till about two feet. Turmeric is extracted from the sleeping rhizome of the plant, which is tuberous with parallel ringed and rough skin. Only when one does break the rhizome, can the lively sun-colored flesh inside be seen. Above the ground, is often thick foliage of carefully arranged bright green leaves. It doesn’t bear fruit, but its blooms are found arranged in symphonic clusters, and are in exquisite shades of white, pink and yellow.[6] The delicate blooms are known to have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and are useful in apothecaries.[7]

Turmeric is a plant that can thrive in conditions that range from subtropical wet to subtropical dry zones, surviving in temperatures ranging from 18.2°C to 27.4°C, enabling its quick propagation to the humid ecosystems of South East Asia.[8] It’s dependency on rainfall is based on whether the rain in the region is bimodal or unimodal, and it accordingly requires supplemental irrigation.[9] The plant is ready to harvest after six to nine months, and better soil fertility correlates with better yield in most cases.[10]

As people increasingly become aware of its properties, there’s also a threat to biodiversity and its place in the Indian spice market. In 1995, two expatriate Indians at the University of Mississippi in the United States were granted a patent for C. longa, on account of them having discovered the plant’s “medicinal properties”.[11] In 1996, after much uproar, India won the case against the University for what was then called biopiracy. While agreements such as the Nagoya Protocol now exist to shelter developing countries, as trade and cultures bloom, it’s essential to preserve the native species with vigor.[12] Next time, we’ll explore some of these indigenous varieties in greater depth.

 

[1] "Turmeric, the Golden Spice - Herbal Medicine - NCBI Bookshelf." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.
[2] "Ethnobotany of turmeric (Curcuma longa L.)." http://nopr.niscair.res.in/bitstream/123456789/14954/1/IJTK%2011(4)%20607-614.pdf. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.
[3] "Turmeric: The Genus Curcuma | NHBS Academic ...." https://www.nhbs.com/turmeric-the-genus-curcuma-book. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.
[4] Ibid
[5] "Turmeric, the Golden Spice - Herbal Medicine - NCBI Bookshelf." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.
[6] "Turmeric Flowers Information and Facts - Specialty Produce." https://specialtyproduce.com/produce/Turmeric_Flowers_15984.php. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.
[7] Ibid
[8] "The Agronomy and Economy of Turmeric and Ginger." https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285952525_The_Agronomy_and_Economy_of_Turmeric_and_Ginger. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.
[9] Ibid
[10] "Turmeric: The Genus Curcuma | NHBS Academic ...." https://www.nhbs.com/en/turmeric-the-genus-curcuma-book. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.
[11] "Traditional knowledge and Intellectual property: Case of ...." 24 Oct. 2013, http://lifeintelect.com/blog/2013/10/24/traditional-knowledge-and-intellectual-property-case-of-turmeric/. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.
[12] "Treading a fine line between trade and conservation to fight ...." 19 Jan. 2015, https://www.dw.com/en/treading-a-fine-line-between-trade-and-conservation-to-fight-biopiracy/a-18200195. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020.

 


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