How three friends are giving a new lease of life to ‘kasturi manjal’ or wild turmeric

A ‘kasturi manjal’ plantation

A ‘kasturi manjal’ plantation   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The spice is becoming extinct and is also facing threats from a counterfeit variety

Kasturi manjal with milk cream or rose water has been grandma’s potion for glowing skin. Turmeric, an essential ingredient in all Indian kitchens, has gained fame and acceptance for its cosmetic and healing properties and has been a core ingredient of many beauty products and medicines.

However, kasturi manjal (wild turmeric) or Curcuma aromatica is on the verge of extinction and what is being sold in the market isn’t authentic. Creating awareness about the crop and its properties is BK Jayachandran, M Abdul Wahab and KR Balachandran, who are on a “mission to promote and popularise real kasturi manjal”.

Kasturi manjal powder (left) and manja koova powder. The latter is often sold as kasturi manjal powder

Kasturi manjal powder (left) and manja koova powder. The latter is often sold as kasturi manjal powder   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Hortico Greens, their venture, offers seeds or rhizomes of the turmeric and organic turmeric powder. “We are growing it on 25 cents at Vandithadam near Thiruvallam. It is now ready for harvest,” says Abdul Wahab.

The initiative is a continuation of Jayachandran’s one-and-a-half-decade-long research on wild turmeric at the Department of Plantation Crops & Spices at Kerala Agricultural University (KAU). “I took up the species for study after it was found that it caused a burning sensation on the skin. A student of mine travelled across Kerala and collected 12 varieties of the species. We did a DNA fingerprint test and it was found that only three of them were authentic. Our ‘re-search’ led to the conclusion that what is being sold in the market is a fake genotype, which is the manja koova or Curcuma zedoaria. The same crop is powdered and used in confectioneries as well,” he says. He adds that the actual kasturi manjal powder does not usually cause any burning sensation and its colour is cream and not bright yellow.

Plan of action

Support came from the National Horticulture Board and the Kerala government through which farms were set up in select areas in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts. A scheme was implemented in Kunnathukal panchayat in the district and later it was included under the people’s plan projects. Now a few farmers in Kunnathukal and Kallikkad grama panchayats are cultivating kasturi manjal.

Fact file
  • BK Jayachandran, M Abdul Wahab and KR Balachandran were classmates for their graduation and postgraduation courses. Jayachandran retired as head, Department of Plantation Crops & Spices at Kerala Agricultural University (KAU), while Prof Abdul Wahab was former head, Department of Vegetable Crops at KAU. Balachandran retired from Canara Bank.
  • Hortico Greens promotes homestead cultivation and offers assistance in setting up kitchen gardens and orchards. Their nursery at Manacaud has saplings of fruit-bearing plants.

In the 1970s, of the total turmeric plantation in India, five percent was kasturi manjal. But by late 80s, it reduced to 3.6% and now, but for isolated plantations, especially in forest areas and gardens dedicated to plants with medicinal values, the crop is hardly grown on a large scale.

(From left) BK Jayachandran, M Abdul Wahab and KR Balachandran

(From left) BK Jayachandran, M Abdul Wahab and KR Balachandran   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Although Jayachandran’s research led to the development of a “comprehensive package of practices” to popularise kasturi manjal cultivation, the project lost steam after he retired from service. “Nevertheless, I preserved the rhizomes, cultivated it at home, sold the seeds and made the powder for personal use. I was disappointed I couldn’t achieve what I had envisaged,” he says. However, a discussion with his friends Abdul Wahab and Balachandran brought it back on track.

The turmeric can be cultivated in open fields, in flower pots or grow bags. “The farming methods are easy and it can be harvested in seven to eight months. You get a decent yield and once it is dried, the powder can be prepared at home itself,” Jayachandran explains.

They now plan to supply the seeds and powder across India. “Our objective is to propagate the crop and create awareness about it. Profit is the last thing on our mind. This is a small effort from our part to protect a crop that has been proved to be immensely beneficial,” Balachandran avers.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 1:20:01 AM |

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