Five years back when I came to know about black turmeric (Curcuma Caseia) I tried acquiring them, considering it as exotic. Ultimately I was able to contact a trader in Bhubaneswar (Odisha) who traded in seeds and plant materials supplying them to institutions here and abroad. He sent me rhizomes of black turmeric but charged me a bomb: Rs 1200 for a kilo. The price was really steep as rhizomes of the regular turmeric variety were available for Rs 50 a kg. I knew I was paying for its exotic value like the way collectors pay for rare editions of Amar Chitra Katha comic. Rather than bear the cost individually, I shared some with my fellow farm owners who are equally crazy. Presently Black Turmeric is on the verge of extinction because of deforestation, unfavourable climatic changes, over exploitation and bio-piracy.
Over the years the volume of black turmeric with their bluish-black rhizomes in my orchard has increased several times. Sadly, I have not been able to get a buyer though initially I had been was told that Ayurvedic pharmacies could be my potential buyers. Come rains the rhizomes get a new life as leaves sprouts after being in hibernation for several months. One can identify black turmeric by the leaves as its middle is striped in black.
Having been a host to three varieties of turmeric, namely Curcuma Longa, Curcuma Aamada, and Curcuma Caesia I have recently added Curcuma Zedoaria or white haldi in my orchard, thanks to a friend from Midnapore who sent me a handful of them. It’s native to India and Indonesia. In West Bengal, it’s known as Pala or Soty (also its Sanskrit name) and its powder which looks like maida is available for Rs 600 a kg. Those growing in villages of West Bengal in the 60s and 70s may have consumed it, given by their mothers or grandmothers, to soothe their troubled tummy or to bring down their fever. Once harvested the rhizome is grated, soaked in water overnight, dried in the sun and pounded to make powder. In Maharashtra, it’s known as Pandhra Halad and its paste used to relieve fevers.
Curcuma Zedoaria is often confused with Curcuma Aamada or Mango Ginger used in making pickles in south India and chutneys in north India. A rare herb, white turmeric is considered to be healthy, much like yellow turmeric. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties that keep you from any digestive or respiratory issues.
Though I have not planted them I have a couple of Curcuma Aromatica or Wild Turmeric plants growing in my orchard which sprout flowers in mid-July—pinkish-white with an orange lip. Leaves appear after the flower. I bring the flowers home and use the same as cut-flower for they have a good vase life, at times 10 days or more.
I have travelled with yellow turmeric powder grown in my orchard during assignments abroad and introducing it to the locals. I was in for a surprise when during my stay in a bed and breakfast facility owned by a pastor and his wife in Basel I was shown a bottle of turmeric powder with Kurkuma written on its label, that’s haldi in German. He unscrewed the glass bottle which merely contained 150g of it as if he was revealing something precious. No, he didn’t use it in his food as we Indians do. For him it was a precious medicinal herb, of which he took a tiny spoonful adding it to warm milk with pinch of black pepper every night before going to bed.