Curcuma zedoaria, also known as Zedoary, is an herb that grows up to 1.2 m in height. This plant has both vertical aerial stems (pseudostems) and horizontal underground stems known as rhizomes, which allow the plant to spread so this species often grows in large clumps. The swollen underground stems or rhizomes are yellow or orange colored inside and are aromatic when crushed. The leaves of Zedoary are oblong and can be up to 81 cm long and 18 cm wide. This species can be recognized by the presence of a purplish hue along the midvein of the leaf blades. The clusters of flowers are produced in a dense aggregation on an above ground stalk that grows from a leafless underground stem. Green or red tinted bracts at the base of the inflorescence enclose the flowers. The pink, white, or red, upper bracts in the inflorescence contain no flowers but may serve to attract pollinators. The white flower petals are 4.8 cm long and enclose the stamens (pollen producing structures) and ovary (ovule producing structures). Six stamens are present in these flowers although five of these are sterile. The five sterile stamens are fused to form a lip-like structure that is colored and resembles a petal. The ovary of Zedoary is a three-parted capsule and breaks open at maturity to release the seeds. Many seeds are produced in each fruit, each of which is surrounded by a fleshy covering. (Staples, G. W. and D. R. Herbst. 2005. A Tropical Garden Flora: Plants cultivated in the Hawaiian Islands and other tropical places. Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, Hawai’i.)
The rhizome of Zedoary has been used extensively as a medicine largely for it bitter properties. This species was included in the American National Formulary IV under the name Zedoaria. This publication provided instructions for the preparation of bitter tinctures, antiperiodic pills, and antiperiodic tincture. The rhizome is considered to aid digestion, to purify the blood, to provide relief for colic, and for the treatment of colds and infections. The essential oil is an active ingredient in antibacterial preparations. In India the rhizome is chewed to alter a sticky taste in the mouth, and in both Java and India a decoction of the root is used to treat weakness resulting from childbirth. (Burkill, H.M. 1966. A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. 2 volumes. Art Printing Works, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.) (Remington, J.P., H.D. Wood, and others. 1918. The Dispensatory of the United States of America. Accessed on 10 August, 2007 at http://www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/ usdisp/curcuma-zedo.html.) (Wilson, B., G. Abraham, V.X. Manju, M. Mathew, B. Vimala, S. Sundaresan, B. Nambisan. 2005. Antimicrobial activity of Curcuma zedoaria and Curcuma malabarica tubers. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 99: 147-151.)
Zedoary is native to Southeast Asia, although the exact distribution of this species prior to human influence is not known as it has been dispersed along with human migrations throughout its history. It has become naturalized (existing outside of cultivation) in India and throughout Southeast Asia. (Staples, G. W. and D. R. Herbst. 2005. A Tropical Garden Flora: Plants cultivated in the Hawaiian Islands and other tropical places. Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, Hawai’i.)
The swollen rhizome of Zedoary is light yellow on the outside and bluish-white, white or pale yellow on the inside aging to a darker brown color. The rhizome is quite bitter, therefore it is less frequently used as a spice than Turmeric, but it is extensively used for the starch that it contains. Starches from Zedoary are used for those recovering from illness and for children as they are thought to be cooling and soothing. Different cultivated races of C. zedoaria have been developed that are used as flavorings such as those that are grated to provide flavor to Indian pickles. (Staples, G. W. and D. R. Herbst. 2005. A Tropical Garden Flora: Plants cultivated in the Hawaiian Islands and other tropical places. Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, Hawai’i.)
Zedoary roots were extensively exported to Europe where the oil was extracted by steam distillation and used to provide fragrance to perfumes, soaps, oils etc. The oil obtained is greenish-black with a scent that is described as similar to mango, camphor, or ginger-oil. (Burkill, H.M. 1966. A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. 2 volumes. Art Printing Works, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.)
We currently have 1 herbarium specimens for Curcuma zedoaria in our collection. Click on any specimen below to view the herbarium sheet data.