Food for the Soul: Maintain Winter Health with Local Ginger and Turmeric

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By Samantha Marsh | Photographs by Dominic Perri and Samantha Marsh

The cold weather has arrived. Although it can be a bit hard to cope with at times, I try to remind myself that winter is a time for relaxation—a time to stop doing quite as much and savor the hours spent swaddled up in sweaters and blankets.

I also try to embrace the change in the foods that we eat during this colder season. Winter foods tend to be richer and heavier than the lighter, brighter foods that are so abundant in the summer.

While very nourishing, these heavy foods, perhaps coupled with a few too many festive cocktails and sweets during the holiday season, can make anyone feel bogged down. Cooking with ginger and turmeric, both of which are grown locally at Old Friends Farm in Amherst, MA, is a wonderful way to lessen the impact of too many eggnogs or third helpings of Thanksgiving turkey.

We are lucky here in the Pioneer Valley to have access to fresh, local ginger and turmeric, crops that are typically grown in much warmer climates. Old Friends Farm pioneered ginger production in this part of the country about 10 years ago. Co-owner Casey Steinberg says the farm began growing ginger when they realized that one of their greenhouses got too hot during the peak of summer to grow much of anything. When thinking about what could grow in that type of climate, they asked themselves, “What do we love to eat? What is there good demand for?” And so, Old Friends Farm began growing ginger.

Old Friends Farm ginger is harvested when it is still young (the growing season lasts from about early September through mid-November) so it is less fibrous and tough than much of the ginger sold in supermarkets. The farm has grown quite a reputation around their ginger production, and Casey and co-owner Missy Bahret are continually seen as the authorities on the subject.

“We’ve made a very conscious decision not to grow everything and sort of specialize in a handful of things. It feels good to be able to choose to do a few crops well instead of spread ourselves really thin,” Casey explains.

“There’s something that’s kind of magical about [growing ginger],” Casey says. “It’s not something that we’re used to seeing every day.”

Casey describes that he loves watching people that are in their 80s or 90s see his young ginger for the first time at the farmers’ markets. “It’s not often that someone who has seen so much in this world sees something they’ve never seen before.”

The farm started growing turmeric about five years ago, and it is a popular item at the farmers’ markets during its growing season (September through November). Both ginger and turmeric freeze very well and can be enjoyed throughout the year. Casey’s favorite way to use ginger is to make homemade ginger beer, and he enjoys eating turmeric as an ingredient in curries or grated raw in salads.

Brittany Nickerson, herbalist and owner of Thyme Herbal in Amherst, uses ginger and turmeric in many of her winter health recipes and remedies. Brittany describes ginger as a “warming digestive aid that can increase metabolism and the absorption of nutrients.” She explains that ginger stimulates digestion, allowing us to consume heavy foods with more ease. Ginger can also help with digestive upsets such as stomach aches and nausea.

“I like to start the day with ginger tea or chai,” Brittany explains. Consuming ginger first thing in the morning is a great way to boost metabolism and rev up the digestive system. Brittany explains that turmeric is a great food to include in winter diets because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. She describes the bright orange root as being excellent for the liver as it eases some of the “damage caused by stress and exposure to toxins,” and explains that it helps break down fats and oils.

I am grateful to have ginger and turmeric, both wonderful winter health aids, grown just down the road. I buy in bulk and store it in the freezer to enjoy all winter long!

Old Friends Farm ginger and turmeric can be found at the Amherst Farmers’ Market, River Valley Market, Greenfield Market, the Brattleboro Co-op, and Whole Foods Market during the growing season (September–November).

Old Friends Farm
413-253-9182 ◆ OldFriendsFarm.com

Samantha is a writer and food lover based in the Pioneer Valley. She holds a BA in journalism and anthropology from UMass Amherst and works as a literary associate at The Lisa Ekus Group in Hatfield, where she spends her days obsessing over cookbooks and working with authors to bring their book ideas to life. When she is not writing about food, Samantha can be found teaching dance, practicing yoga, or testing out new baking recipes at her home in North Amherst.

Recipe for Homemade Turmeric Fire Cider 

Recipe for Ginger Chai