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Curcuma longa


Curcuma longa L.

Family Name: Zingiberaceae
Synonyms: Curcuma domestica
Common Name: Turmeric, Kunyit, 黄姜

Turmeric is an important spice in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine that adds a bittersweet flavour and bright yellow colour to curry. It is extracted from the rhizome, an underground horizontal stem that resembles a tuberous root. Turmeric is an important medicinal herb for its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial activity.


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Genus Epithet
Species Epithet
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Common Names
Species Summary

Classifications and Characteristics

Plant Division Angiosperms (Flowering Seed Plants) (Monocotyledon)
Plant Growth Form Herbaceous Plant
Lifespan (in Singapore) Perennial
Mode of Nutrition Autotrophic
Plant Shape Shrubby
Maximum Height 1 m


Native Distribution South and Southeast Asia
Preferred Climate Zone Tropical, Sub-Tropical / Monsoonal

Description and Ethnobotany

Growth Form A robust, perennial herbaceous plant that grows up to 1m tall with several leafy stems rising in a cluster from thick rhizomes and can slowly spread to form large clumps. 
Foliage Leafy shoots bear up to ten alternate distichous (arranged in two rows, one on each side of the stem) leaves. Leaves dark green above with a green midrib, very light green below, densely studded with pellucid dots. Leaf blades are thin, elliptic to oblong-lanceolate, up to 70 cm in length. Leaf petiole up to 10 cm long, broadly furrowed with narrow erect wings along the margins.
Stems The rhizome is fleshy with an ellipsoidal primary tuber at the base of each aerial stem, ringed with the bases of old scale leaves. When mature, it bears numerous straight or slightly curved cylindrical lateral rhizomes, called fingers, which are in turn repeatedly branched at approximate right angles, thus forming dense clumps. Bright orange in colour, both inside and outside, young tips white, a spicy smell is given off when the rhizome is bruised. When cut, the yellow sap stains fingers and cloth indelibly.
Flowers Flowers tubular, white to yellow-white, opening one at a time and borne on erect spike-like inflorescences that are terminal on a central leafy shoot, appearing between leaf sheaths. Lower bracts pale green with white longitudinal streaks or white margins, upper ones white, sometimes pink-tipped. Bracteoles (small bract, especially on the pedicel of a flower) numerous, spirally-arranged and densely hairy, forming pockets, each with flowers inside.
Fruit Turmeric does not bear fruit or seed. It reproduces asexually with new leaves produced by the rhizome (an underground horizontal stem).
Others - Plant Morphology Described by Marco Polo as a vegetable with the properties of saffron, yet not saffron, Curcuma longa has been widely cultivated for use in food, medicine and as a dye since 600 BC. Native to South and Southeast Asia and a member of the ginger family, C. longa is today a very important spice in Asia.
Habitat C. longa is not known in the wild, although it has become naturalized in some places, such as in teak forests in East Java. It is presently cultivated widely in the tropics mainly for its rhizome and large-scale cultivation is found largely in India and Southeast Asia.
Cultivation C. longa thrives on well-drained fertile loamy soils, preferring lots of water but unable to withstand waterlogging. Full sun encourages the yield of the plant, while light shade is beneficial but heavy shade will reduce the yield. The plant also does not like draughty conditions. Vegetative propagation is carried out using rhizomes, with evidence showing that larger daughter rhizomes (fingers) germinate better and produce larger yields than mother rhizomes. Keep germinating rhizomes damp and warm, in a slightly shaded location. Fertilizing may be done weekly using a general purpose liquid fertilizer. Pests of C. longa include shoot borers, leaf-eating insects, suck insects and nematodes. Red spider mites have also been known to be an occasional problem in older plants. Leaf spot or leaf blotch and rhizome rot are important diseases of the plant, caused by fungi.
Etymology The genus name Curcuma is derived from the Arabic “kurkum” or “kunkuma” for turmeric or its saffron-like colour. The specific epithet longa has its origin in Greek, meaning long, possibly referring to the long leaves of the plant.
Ethnobotanical Uses Edible Plant Parts : Edible Leaves, Edible Stems
Food (Herb and Spice): The rhizome of C. longa contains a pigment, called curcumin, which gives the rhizome its yellow-orange colour. Widely used in Asian dishes, such as a spice and dye in curry powder and other food, the ground rhizome is also used as a colouring agent in processed food and sauces and is a cheaper substitute for saffron. Harvested rhizomes are boiled and sun-dried for about a week before use, but may also be used fresh. Leaves are used to wrap around fish for flavouring during cooking.

Scientific Evidence of Medicinal Properties

Based on clinical trials where the effect of Turmeric was studied on people, it provided relief from asthma (Jain et al., 1979), showed anti-cancer (Kuttan et al., 1987) and antibacterial (Alam et al., 2008) activities, as well as reduced abdominal pain (Niederau & Gopfert 1999, Bundy et al., 2004) and peptic ulcers (Prucksunand et al., 2001). 

Traditional Medicinal Uses

In Ayurveda, a popular system of traditional medicine in India, Turmeric is used to treat worms, gallstones, flatulence, arthritis and menstrual problems, as well as improve digestion and energy (Prasad and Aggarwal, 2011). 

It is important to note that some therapeutic effects from traditional medicinal uses of plants are not currently supported or verified by scientific research.

Cultural / Religious: In Indian culture, turmeric paste is made into small idols of Lord Ganesha for devotional prayers during festivals and other auspicious moments. In certain parts of India, a piece of turmeric rhizome is worn as amulet to protect against evil spirits. 
Others: Rhizomes are used in Asia as a cosmetic to beautify the face and body and also as a cloth dye. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the plant may be used in gardens to deter ants, the exact reason unknown.

Landscaping Features

Desirable Plant Features Ornamental Flowers, Ornamental Foliage
Landscape Uses Flowerbed / Border
Usage Hazard - Cons Remarks Yellow sap from rhizome caused stains on skin and cloths that are impossible or almost impossible to remove.

Fauna, Pollination and Dispersal

Fauna Pollination Dispersal Associated Fauna Caterpillar Food Plant

Plant Care and Propagation

Light Preference Semi-Shade, Full Sun
Water Preference Lots of Water
Plant Growth Rate Fast to Moderate
Rootzone Tolerance Fertile Loamy Soils, Well-Drained Soils
Propagation Method Storage Organ


Foliage Retention Evergreen
Mature Foliage Colour(s) Green
Mature Foliage Texture(s) Smooth
Foliar Arrangement Along Stem Alternate
Foliar Shape(s) Non-Palm Foliage (Lanceolate, Elliptical, Oblong)
Foliar Apex - Tip Acute, Caudate
Foliar Base Rounded / Obtuse, Cuneate
Leaf Area Index (LAI) for Green Plot Ratio 3.5 (Shrub & Groundcover - Monocot)

Non - Foliar and Storage

Stem Type & Modification Herbaceous
Specialised Storage Organ(s) Underground (Rhizome)

Floral (Angiosperm)

Flower Colour(s) White, Yellow / Golden
Flower Grouping Cluster / Inflorescence
Flower Location Axillary
Inflorescence Type Spike

Fruit, Seed and Spore

Reproductive Mode (non-Angiosperm) Asexual



Alam, M.A., Ali, N.A., Sultana, N., Mullany, L.C., Teela, K.C., Khan, N.U.Z., Baqui, A.H., Arifeen, S.E., Mannan, I., Darmstadt, G.L. & Winch, P.J. (2008). Newborn umbilical cord and skin care in Sylhet District, Bangladesh: Implications for the promotion of umbilical cord cleansing with topical chlorhexidine. Journal of Perinatology 28: S61-S68.

Bundy R., Walker A.F., Middleton R.W. & Booth, J. (2004). Turmeric extract may improve irritable bowel syndrome symptomology in otherwise healthy adults: A pilot study. Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine 10: 1015-1018.

Jain, J.P., Bhatnagar, L.S. & Parsai, M.R. (1979). Clinical trials of haridra (Curcuma longa) in cases of tamak swasa and kasa. Journal of Research on Indian Medicinal Yoga & Homeopathy 14: 110-120.

Kuttan, R., Sudheeran, P.C. & Joseph, C.D. (1987). Turmeric and curcumin as topical agents in cancer therapy. Tumori Journal 73: 29-31

Niederau, C. & Göpfert, E. (1999). The effect of chelidonium and turmeric root extract on upper abdominal pain due to functional disorders of the biliary system: Results from a placebo-controlled double-blind study. Medizinische Klinik 94: 425-430.

Prasad, S. & Aggarwal, B.B. (2011). Turmeric, the Golden Spice. In: Benzie, I.F.F. & Wachtel-Galor, S. (eds) Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, 2nd edition, Chapter 13. Boca Raton: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis.

Prucksunand, C., Indrasukhsri, B., Leethochawalit, M. & Hungspreugs, K. (2001). Phase II clinical trial on effect of the long turmeric (Curcuma longa Linn.) on healing of peptic ulcer. Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine Public Health 32: 208-215.

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Master ID 609
Species ID 1904
Flora Disclaimer The information in this website has been compiled from reliable sources, such as reference works on medicinal plants. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment and NParks does not purport to provide any medical advice. Readers should always consult his/her physician before using or consuming a plant for medicinal purposes.
Species record last updated on: 27 May 2022.