History and origins of the plant
The turmeric plant belongs to the vast Zingiberacaee family; about eighty species are known but the most widespread and used are the longa variety and the alismatifolia. From the first we get the most used spice among the exotic aromatic plants, both for cooking and for therapeutic uses. The second, on the other hand, is increasingly widespread as an ornamental plant, in the garden and in the apartment. Turmeric is native to India, but is also cultivated in China, Japan, Taiwan, Cambodia, Burma and some African regions; thanks to its properties and the beauty of its flowers, today it is very widespread in many other countries, including Italy. The spice of turmeric is obtained from the rhizome of the plant: dried and reduced to powder, it has been used for millennia in Indian cuisine.
Curcuma longa or Indian saffron
When we speak generically of the turmeric species, we refer to the curcuma longa plant, from whose rhizome the homonymous spice is obtained, which is the basis of many recipes of oriental cuisine. Its many qualities and its multiple uses, both in cooking and in medicine, have made it very precious and for this reason the plant is also called "Indian saffron". It can be grown in pots or in the ground (but only in places with mild temperatures, because it suffers from the cold). It is a seasonal plant: from spring to summer it must be watered regularly and in autumn the rhizomes must be planted in a dark and cool (but not cold) place and watering must be interrupted until the following spring, when the buds will come back and time to put them back in pots or plant them in the ground.
Curcuma alismatifolia or Siam tulip
Turmeric alismatifolia is often sold as an indoor plant, because it does not belong to the rustic herbs and therefore is not suitable for the garden, unless you live in warm countries or with mild temperatures. It is therefore often cultivated in pots: it prefers a rich soil mixed with sand. It should be exposed to light but not to direct sun; next to a window or on the veranda it finds its ideal place, but beware of drafts. Like other varieties of turmeric, alismatifolia is seasonal, so the rhizomes should be planted from February to May, watered abundantly and regularly during the summer and planted in the dark throughout the winter. Since it was widespread in Asia and particularly in Thailand, the alismatifolia variety is also called the "tulip of Siam".
Turmeric: Use and properties
In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is regarded as a panacea. It is in fact a gastroprotector, it also facilitates digestion and eliminates intestinal parasites. It is also often prescribed for arthritis, for its anti-inflammatory properties and for cardiovascular diseases, as an anticoagulant. Applied to the skin, it accelerates the healing of ulcers, wounds and skin lesions caused by eczema. The plant also has antioxidant properties which protect cells from free radicals and therefore its extract is considered useful in the prevention of cancer. As a spice it is used for various Asian dishes and is indispensable for the preparation of curry. Even before preservatives of synthetic origin were known, turmeric had a primordial role as a food additive and today it is used as a food coloring with the code E100.