Organic Gardening & Farming, Plants

Ginger & Turmeric : Grow Your Own, Even in Indiana

I grow mostly native plants, but I’m not a purist. I always maintain some garden space for the non-native plants that I especially love and rely on in my life. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and turmeric (Curcuma longa) are two of these irreplaceable plants for me. Their warming, anti-inflammatory, health-boosting properties are a perfect match for my body, and I love their deliciously spicy flavors. Ginger is well known as an anti-nausea digestive aid, but it is much more than that. I find it very helpful in reducing systemic inflammation, relieving allergy symptoms, and increasing circulation. Turmeric is ginger’s brightly colored cousin. It turns curries yellow and can help reduce inflammation. Both plants are in the same plant family (Zingiberaceae). They have similar growing requirements and complement each other very well in the kitchen, in the apothecary, and in the garden.

It’s worth mentioning that there is a U.S. native plant called Wild Ginger, but it’s not related to the culinary ginger that we are all familiar with. Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) contains a toxic compound called aristolochic acid. It is not a substitute for ginger (Zingiber officinale). Wild ginger is a beautiful and valuable native plant that can be a wonderful addition to the ornamental shade garden, but please do not slice it up and eat it with your sushi.

I started growing my own turmeric a few years ago, thanks to a friend who gifted me some starts from her own plants. They’ve been growing happily in two big whiskey barrel planters by my front door ever since. Turmeric is a tropical plant that cannot tolerate frost, so when the autumn weather turns cool I bring them into my basement and let them go dormant for the winter. About once per month during their winter dormancy, I water them. After the last frost has passed, I bring them back outside to reclaim their place in the warm sun and they begin to grow again.

freshly harvested turmeric roots
Freshly Harvested Turmeric Roots

I recently harvested all the turmeric rhizomes from one of the planters to make room for ginger. I’ve grown ginger in the summer garden before, and harvested it before the first frost of autumn. It did produce a nice rhizome, and it was delightfully tender and juicy when freshly harvested. However, the new root was not any bigger than the one that I planted. This time I will grow my ginger in a planter using the same method that works so well for turmeric. Over multiple seasons, it should produce a great harvest just as turmeric has done.

To get started, I purchased some fresh-looking organic ginger rhizomes from my local grocery store’s produce section. However, if you have some old ginger or turmeric rhizomes languishing in the fridge that are starting to get a little moldy, it’s worth planting them. I have seen old, inedible ginger rhizomes sprout in my compost bin before, so this could be a way to upcycle your food waste! I spaced my roots evenly in the planter, and then buried each root 2-3 inches deep and watered them thoroughly. Ginger plants enjoy heat and humidity, and they do not tolerate frost.

I have not noticed any pests or diseases affecting my ginger or turmeric plants here in Indiana. I give them love and water and good organic fertilizer, and that is enough. When it’s time to bring the planters inside, I let the soil dry out to reduce the weight. Then I call a helper, and we carefully team-lift these large sized planters using our safest lifting posture. I find that moving straps are especially helpful for moving large planters. Some moving straps are designed especially for moving potted plants! I use one that’s called “Potlifter”. If you are not able to bring the planters indoors, you could try digging up the roots and storing them in a refrigerator or root cellar until it’s time to re-plant.

Note: This article discusses edible and medicinal wild plants. Always do your own thorough research before touching, foraging or ingesting any plant that’s new to you. Identification mistakes can happen and so can allergies, interactions, and idiosyncratic reactions. Information presented in this article and elsewhere on this web site is for educational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any health conditions. View our full legal disclaimer here.