How to maximise the health benefits of immune-boosting turmeric
In this extract from her latest book, edible gardening guru Jane Griffiths shares tips for growing, harvesting and making the most of this golden spice
Edible gardening guru Jane Griffths’ latest book, 'Jane's Delicious Superfoods for Super Health' (Jonathan Ball Publishers), showcases over 150 nutrient-rich foods that boost the immune system, improve health and reduce the risk of disease.
“While there’s no scientific definition of a 'superfood', my personal journey towards better health is inextricably linked to eating these super-nutritious foods,” she says.
The book covers everything from fruits and vegetables to seaweeds and spices.
Each write-up sets out why these foods are good for us, how to maximise their benefits and easily incorporate them into our daily diet. And for those keen on trying to grow some of their own superfoods, there’s also growing advice.
In this extract from 'Jane's Delicious Superfoods for Super Health', Griffths shares the secrets to growing, harvesting and maximising the health benefits of turmeric:
Glorious, golden turmeric (curcuma longa) originated in India, where its use dates back 4,500 years. This is a plant with a multitude of uses, including cooking, healing, dyeing cloth and, according to tradition, warding off evil spirits.
Its most active compound is curcumin, a powerful and effective anti-inflammatory and potent antioxidant that neutralises free radicals and boosts the body’s own antioxidant defences. This keeps our immune system in tiptop shape.
There are more than 20 varieties of turmeric, including black turmeric (C. caesia), which contains the highest levels of curcumin of any plant species. This makes it too bitter for cooking, but it's excellent as a medicinal plant.
CAUTION: Don’t use turmeric medicinally if you’re taking blood thinners or aspirin.
HOW TO GROW AND HARVEST TURMERIC
Turmeric grows to about 1m high, with green, glossy leaves and exquisite flowers. It does well in areas with warm, wet summers and cool, dry winters. Grow in fertile, well-drained soil with morning or filtered sun.
Bury the fresh rhizomes with a few sprouting buds in late spring. Keep them moist until the first green shoots appear — anything from 20 to 45 days. Keep well mulched.
In autumn the plant dies back, popping up again in late spring. Leave it for the first year to establish itself, and harvest the roots in the second autumn after the leaves have died back.
To harvest, push a fork deep into the ground under a section of the plant, lift the rhizomes and wash off the dirt with a hose on high pressure.
Boil the rhizomes for 40 minutes to accelerate the breakdown of the starches, then cut them into slices to dry before grinding into a powder.
The rhizomes can also be frozen, either whole or sliced, or grated and eaten fresh.
HOW TO USE TURMERIC
Turmeric isn’t water soluble, and to gain the maximum health benefits it needs to be heated and mixed with fat or oil to be absorbed, otherwise it will simply pass straight through the body.
Adding freshly ground black pepper increases the efficacy of turmeric, as pepper’s active ingredient, piperine, assists the body in digesting and absorbing curcumin. (See golden paste recipe below.)
Add turmeric powder (or freshly grated root) to warm milk with other spices for a healthy drink or use in curry pastes and blends. Fresh turmeric has a more vibrant, less bitter taste than dried.
The leaves and flowers are also edible. The flowers add an exotic flourish to salads or desserts, and the fresh leaves impart a subtle turmeric flavour if torn and tossed into curries or soups at the end of cooking. They go particularly well with coconut dishes, and are delicious used as wraps for sticky-rice buns or as parcels for steaming fish.
Be warned, though — turmeric is a strong dye and will stain plastic, wood, cloth and fingers. Use stainless-steel or glass implements and yellow dishcloths.
This combination of turmeric, black pepper, water and oil is one of the easiest ways of incorporating turmeric into your daily diet and gaining the maximum benefits from its compounds.
Other spices, such as cinnamon, ginger and cardamom, can be included, depending on your taste.
How to make it:
- Mix ½ cup of powdered (or 1 cup of blended fresh) turmeric with 1 cup of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 7-10 minutes until it thickens into a paste. (Turmeric powder sold in spice shops usually has been cooked prior to drying; if using raw turmeric, extend the cooking time to 30 minutes).
- Remove from heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
- Whisk in ⅓ cup of oil (coconut, flax or olive) and 2-3 tsp of freshly ground black pepper (plus any other spices).
- Decant into a bottle. Turmeric paste will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks (or it can be frozen).
How to use it:
Take ¼-1 tsp twice a day, either straight or mixed into juice, warm milk, yoghurt or a smoothie.
It can be added to any savoury dish towards the end of the cooking time.
HALDI DOODH (GOLDEN MILK)
Haldi doodh has been a staple in Indian kitchens for millennia, soothing sick children and helping them to sleep.
It’s become increasingly popular as a health drink, made into lattes and smoothies with additions of cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom.
How to make it:
- Heat 1 cup of milk to a simmer (for a dairy-free version, substitute nut milk).
- Add ¾ tsp of powdered or 1½ tsp of blended fresh turmeric, and ¼ tsp of black pepper (or 1 tsp of golden paste), plus any other spices to taste.
- Whisk together and simmer for 1 minute (if using whole spices, strain).
- Sip while hot.
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• Griffiths is the author of several popular vegetable gardening books including ‘Jane’s Delicious A-Z Of Herbs’. Visit janesdeliciousshop.co.za