Black turmeric

Has anyone heard of black turmeric? I had not. I accidentally came across this very recently and was so taken with it that it begged a separate post. Black turmeric or Curcuma Caesia is a variety with blue, almost purplish flesh in the rhizomes and is characterised by a dark crimson line in the middle of the leaves. When the rhizome dries the flesh turns dark, almost black, thus its name. Yellow turmeric is known as “Haridra” in Sanskrit and black turmeric is “Krishna Haridra” as Krishna is known for his dark complexion. 
Black turmeric looks closer to ginger than turmeric. The main stem, or rhizome, may have smaller rhizomes branching out, reaching from one to two inches in length. The outer part of the rhizome is a light brown, with rough areas. The flesh is a lovely bluish-purple colour. Black turmeric has a pungent, camphor-like smell and is somewhat bitter, with an earthy taste.
This root has been used for centuries for medicinal and religious purposes. Black turmeric offers benefits similar to the orange variety, but this darker variety contains the highest concentrations of curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) than any other variety. In Tamil it is called “karuppu manjal ” and in Hindi,  “kali haldi”. 

Having such high concentrations of curcumin, this turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. The root has been used medicinally for centuries to treat toothache, arthritis, asthma, leucoderma, epilepsy, rheumatism and other ailments. It can also be crushed and applied directly on wounds and even on the head for migraines. 
People now blend Black turmeric along with vegetables like kale, ginger, lemon and cucumber for smoothies, though generally this turmeric is not consumed in India. Roots will keep for up to a month in a cool, dark environment. Dried Black turmeric is available online and will keep in an airtight container for up to six months. 
This is a very rare and expensive plant. While yellow turmeric sells for around 100 – 150₹ a kg, the black turmeric sells for anywhere upwards of 2500₹ per kg. 
For centuries,  in India, Black turmeric has been used in the puja for the Goddess Kali. The black colour defines Goddess Kali and keeping this turmeric at home is like keeping the Goddess in your home. Many people keep this plant in their Pooja room and take it out occasionally so it can get sunlight. 
In India it is used for therapeutic, spiritual and for the tantric/occult practices. It originated in the banks of the Godavari river in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and is also found in MP, Orissa and Nepal. Some of the beliefs associated with this turmeric are:
1.  It is a part of Kubera’s treasury and is kept at home to increase one’s wealth. A house which has black turmeric will never lack wealth or prosperity.
2. It is an abode of Goddess Kali and represents her.
3. Keeping black turmeric at home will ward off the evil eye and spirits.

After I heard about this herb I was trying to find out where I could get a plant. Good old “Google” came to the rescue and I came upon this nursery Lingam Herbals in Amudurmedu, Chennai  which sells herbal/medicinal  plants.  The owner Mr. Balamurugan was extremely helpful in explaining details about this species and how it should be kept along with tulsi in every household (I have now kept my newly acquired black turmeric plant next to my tulsi plant. See right). He even came personally to deliver it to my home and gave me directions about its care.

As of 2016, black turmeric has been listed as an endangered species by the Indian Agricultural Department. Efforts are being made to protect and conserve black turmeric in Orissa and  on the central eastern coast, along the Bay of Bengal. Tamil Nadu also grows this turmeric. 
Biopiracy is one of main challenges faced by countries like India. This is the unethical and unlawful appropriation of biological materials (such as medicinal plant extracts) for commercial exploitation. These plants that are native to a particular country or territory are appropriated without providing fair financial compensation to the people or government of that country. Environmental heritage and traditional knowledge from various regions of the earth thus become the victims of economic exploitation. 
India has about 81,000 species of fauna and 47,000 of flora, including 15,000 plant varieties unique to the country. But it is the industrial countries that hold 97 per cent of all patents worldwide and are driving the rush to patent plant genetic resources.
 Many of us may recall  a recent incident regarding a particular variety of potatoes for which PepsiCo filed a lawsuit against some farmers in Gujarat because the company said it violated Plant Variety Protection (PVP) rights. The case was withdrawn after the Government intervened. 
Government initiatives aside, it behooves us all to help ensure that such beautiful plants do not disappear from the earth. 
What is it that we can do?  At least as far as the black turmeric is concerned, each one of us to have at least one of these plants at home. These are easy to propagate and give as gifts during Navaratri or other such occasions. Let us all work together to make black turmeric a common household plant.

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