Curcuma pseudomontana (hill turmeric)
Hill turmeric is an Indian herb used in local and tribal medicine and as a source of arrowroot starch.
Hill turmeric is only found in the Western and Eastern Ghats of India, where it is used for the production of arrowroot powder (a starch normally obtained from Maranta arundinacea or Curcuma angustifolia) and in local and tribal medicine.
A genus within the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), Curcuma contains nearly 100 species, including turmeric (Curcuma longa), the underground stems of which are the source of the bright yellow spice. The name Curcuma comes from the Arabic kurkum meaning turmeric.
Geography & Distribution
Curcuma pseudomontana grows in the Western and Eastern Ghats of India. It is found in moist, shady places on the fringes of wet forests or grasslands and in riparian areas. It occurs in both moist deciduous and semi-evergreen forest.
Curcuma pseudomontana in flower (Image: Dr Sachin A. Punekar, Biospheres)
Overview: An erect herb up to 75 cm tall.
Round tubers the size of small potatoes develop below the rhizome (underground stem). The tubers have a white-flesh and are boiled and eaten when food is scarce.
Leaves: Up to 30 cm long and 9 cm wide.
Flowers: Bright yellow, 3 cm long and 4 cm wide, borne in groups of 2 or 3 in each fertile bract.
Non-flowering bracts (coma) are purple below and pinkish-purple above.
Two similar species
Curcuma pseudomontana, originally described from the Western Ghats, closely resembles C. montana. Curcuma pseudomontana and C. montana share many common floral and vegetative characters and occur in similar habitats. The inflorescence of C. pseudomontana is lateral in the early part of the rainy season and terminal later in the season, and its non-flowering bracts (coma) are variable in colour.
Threats & Conservation
Hill turmeric is listed as Near Threatened (NT) according to IUCN Red List criteria. The main threats come from habitat loss and over-collection. Forests in the region have been largely removed or altered as a result of felling, clearing, extensive cultivation (for tea and coffee plantations), mining and hydro-electric development, with a resulting decline in biodiversity. The remaining forests (about 7% of the original cover) are highly fragmented and likely to become increasingly degraded.
Additional threats to these natural habitats include climate change, invasion of exotic species, fires and unrestricted use of agrochemicals near forests.
Curcuma pseudomontana is used for the production of arrowroot powder and in local and tribal medicine and is commercially traded as a medicinal plant.
Conservation assessments carried out at Kew
Curcuma pseudomontana is being monitored as part of the IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants project, which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world’s plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.
Hill turmeric is used for the production of arrowroot powder, and the tubers are boiled and eaten as a source of starch in times of famine. The leaves are used as meal plates.
Curcuma pseudomontana is also used in local and tribal medicine. The roots are boiled and eaten and said to be beneficial against leprosy, dysentery, cardiac diseases and general debility. The Savara tribes in the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh use tuber extracts to treat jaundice. The Jatapu and Kaya tribes apply warm tuber paste to treat swollen body parts. Women of the Jatapu and Savara tribes eat boiled tubers to increase lactation. The Khand tribes apply tuber paste to their heads for a cooling effect. The Kukus-Mukus eat fresh tubers to purify the blood.
This species at Kew
Pressed and dried specimens of other species of Curcuma are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of some of these can be seen online in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.
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