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Plant Description: An upright, perennial herb to about 1 m tall. The rhizome (underground stem) is thick and ringed with the bases of old leaves. Turmeric only reproduces via its rhizomes. The leaves are large, oblong, up to 1 m long, dark green on upper surface, pale green beneath. Each leafy shoot (pseudostem) bearing 8-12 leaves. The flowers are yellow-white, borne on a spike-like stalk 10-15 cm long. Flowers are sterile and do not produce viable seed.
Scientific Name: Curcuma longa
Common Names: tumeric, haldi, manjal,curcumin
Relatives: ginger, Javanese ginger, and galangal
Distribution: The use of turmeric dates back nearly 4000 years to the Vedic culture in India, where it was used as a culinary spice and had some religious significance. It probably reached China by 700 ad, East Africa by 800 ad, West Africa by 1200 ad, and Jamaica in the eighteenth century. In 1280, Marco Polo described this spice, marveling at a vegetable that exhibited qualities so similar to that of saffron.
Importance:Turmeric rhizomes are used as a bright yellow-orange culinary spice. Turmeric has been known as poor man's saffron because it offers a less expensive alternative yellow colouring, but the flavour it gives to food is different from true saffron, which comes from a species of Crocus (Iridaceae). The rhizomes can be cured for use as a spice by boiling and steaming. They can also be boiled in water, dried, peeled and then ground. Turmeric is an important yellow food dye and is added to many Indian dishes including curries.
The rhizome is the part that is most widely used. It can be prepared in various ways and is reputed to alleviate asthma and coughs. Many of its traditional uses are supported by scientific evidence. In Unani medicine, turmeric has been used for conditions such as liver obstruction and jaundice and has been applied externally for ulcers and inflammation. Roasted turmeric has been used as an ingredient of a preparation used to treat dysentery. Turmeric has also been used in tooth powder or paste. Externally, the dried rhizome has been applied to fresh wounds and insect stings and to help the healing process in chickenpox and smallpox. Turmeric was reputed to improve complexion of the skin and has been applied externally to remove hair, act as a tonic and alleviate itching. Inhalation of turmeric smoke is reputed to relieve hiccups.