Curcuma xanthorrhiza (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Curcuma xanthorrhiza Roxb.

Protologue: Fl. ind. 1: 25 (1820) ("zanthorrhiza").
Family: Zingiberaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 63 (triploid)

Vernacular names

  • Indonesia: koneng gede (Sundanese), temu lawak (Javanese), temo labak (Madurese)
  • Malaysia: temu lawas, temu raya (Peninsular)
  • Thailand: wan chakmotluk (central)
  • Vietnam: nghệ vàng, nghệ rễ vàng.

Origin and geographic distribution

C. xanthorrhiza originates from Indonesia (Ambon, Bali, Java) where it still grows wild e.g. in teak forests. It is commonly cultivated in Java and Peninsular Malaysia, occasionally elsewhere (e.g. in India and Thailand).


The deep yellow rhizome has a pungent smell and a bitter taste. Starch can be extracted by grating the rhizomes and kneading the gratings in water above a sieve. This process is repeated for several days and the water above the slurry is repeatedly renewed until it remains colourless when the deposit is pressed. Then the slurry is washed out until the bitterness has gone and most of the pungent smell has disappeared. The resulting starch is used for making various delicacies like pudding and porridge. The starch is said to be of good quality and is easily digestible for infants as well.

In Java, a soft drink called "bir temu lawak" is prepared by cooking dried pieces of rhizome in water and adding sugar. Young growing parts of the stem and rhizome are used as a vegetable raw or cooked, and inflorescences are eaten cooked.

The rhizome is also used to make a yellow dye.

Rhizomes are used to treat various abdominal complaints and liver disorders (jaundice, gallstones, promoting the flow of bile). A decoction of the rhizome is also used as a remedy for fever and constipation, and taken by women as a galactagogue and to lessen uterine inflammation after giving birth. Other applications are against bloody diarrhoea, dysentery, inflammation of the rectum, haemorrhoids, stomach disorders caused by cold, infected wounds, skin eruptions, acne vulgaris, eczema, smallpox and anorexia. In Indonesia, rhizomes enter as an important ingredient into many "jamus".

Production and international trade

C. xanthorrhiza is mainly produced, consumed and traded locally. No recent statistics are available. Between 1934-1938 about 10 t of sliced and dried rhizomes were exported annually from Indonesia to the Netherlands and Germany.


Dry sliced rhizomes contain: water 12%, starch 37-61%, essential oil 7-30%, and curcumin (the yellow colouring principle) 1-4%. The chemical content varies considerably during the development of the rhizomes: initially curcumin and essential oil contents are higher than the starch content; the starch content is highest in well developed rhizomes. The essential oil contains phellandrene, camphor, p-toluyl-methyl-carbinol and isoprenemyrcene. Curcumin and isoprenemyrcene are most probably the most characteristic substances of C. xanthorrhiza.


  • Robust, perennial, erect, strongly tillering herb, up to 2 m tall.
  • Rhizome a fleshy complex with an erect ovoid structure (primary tuber) at the base of each aerial stem, ringed with the bases of old scale leaves and when mature bearing numerous lateral rhizomes which are again branched; primary tuber 5-12 cm long, 3-10 cm in diameter, lateral rhizomes much smaller, often without particular shape, clavate or cylindrical, 1.5-10 cm long, 1-2 cm thick, outside yellowish or orange-red-brown turning greyish when older, inside intense orange or orange-red, younger parts paler.
  • Roots numerous, fleshy and terete, up to 30 cm long, at the apex usually abruptly swollen into a globose or ellipsoid tuber up to 5 cm » 2.5 cm.
  • Leaf shoots bearing up to 8 leaves surrounded by bladeless sheaths, the leaf sheaths forming a pseudostem; sheath up to 75 cm long, green; petiole 0-30 cm long, its apex passing gradually into the blade; blade elliptical-oblong or oblong-lanceolate, 25-100 cm » 8-20 cm, dark green above with a more or less intensely reddish-brown central streak 1-2.5 cm wide, light green or sea-green below, glabrous, densely white-dotted.
  • Inflorescence lateral, sprouting from the rhizome next to the leaf shoot, spike-like; peduncle 10-25 cm long, covered by rather large bladeless sheaths; flower spike cylindrical, 15-25 cm long, 10-20 cm in diameter, provided with 15-35 bracts arranged spirally, each containing a flower except the 5-6 upper ones; bracts in their lower half adnate to each other, the basal parts thus forming closed pockets, the free upper parts more or less spreading; the 10-20 upper bracts purplish and longer and narrower than the 10-20 light green lowest bracts; bracteoles small, membranous, surrounding the flowers; flowers in cincinni of 2-7, each cincinnus in the axil of a bract and the flowers about as long as the bracts.
  • Calyx small, 1-1.5 cm long; corolla 4-6 cm long, lower half tubular, upper half much widened, light red, 3-lobed with 2 equal anterior lobes and a larger ventricose posterior one; labellum suborbicular, weakly 2-lobed, about 2 cm in diameter, yellowish with a darker yellow longitudinally furrowed central streak; staminodes 2, large and wide, connate with the base of the stamen, yellow-white; filament short and wide, anther thick, at the base with claw-like spurs, white; ovary white, pubescent, 4-5 mm long; style filiform, white, 4 cm long with 4-lobed stigma.

C. xanthorrhiza is closely related to C. zedoaria (Christmann) Roscoe, and some authors even consider it to be conspecific with it. The main differences are its pink petals (white in C. zedoaria), the deep-orange flesh of the rhizome and root tubers (light yellow in C. zedoaria), its larger inflorescence and the reddish-brown central streak only on the upper side of the leaves (both sides in C. zedoaria).


C. xanthorrhiza occurs wild in thickets and teak forests of East Java, up to 750 m altitude. If prefers slightly shady conditions and demands a moist, fertile soil rich in humus.


C. xanthorrhiza is propagated from pieces of rhizome, which are preferably planted at the end of the rainy season, in holes 60 cm apart. Planting under light shade is recommended (e.g. under Paraserianthes falcataria (L.) Nielsen). Rhizomes start sprouting about 1 week after planting. Clean weeding is recommended. When primary tubers have been planted (requiring much planting material) harvesting is possible after 8-12 months; when lateral rhizome parts have been used it takes about 2 years until harvesting.

Harvesting is carried out in the dry season, when the aboveground parts have died, by digging up the rhizome clump. Yield of fresh rhizomes is about 20 t/ha. The roots and remains of leaves are removed, and the rhizomes are washed, peeled, sliced and dried. Slices 7-8 mm thick are made, dried in one layer at about 50°C, resulting in slices 5-6 mm thick, which should be packed airtight.

Genetic resources and breeding

In Indonesia, a germplasm collection of C. xanthorrhiza is kept in the Bogor Botanical Gardens. No breeding programmes are known.


C. xanthorrhiza is an important home garden plant in Indonesia and Malaysia. More research is needed to investigate the feasibility of large-scale production and marketing. Many aspects of cultivation and breeding need closer investigation and substantial germplasm collection is needed urgently.


  • de Jong, A.W.K., 1948. Temoe lawak (Curcuma xanthorrhiza Roxb.). In: van Hall, C.J.J. & van de Koppel, C. (Editors): De landbouw in de Indische Archipel [Agriculture in the Indonesian Archipelago]. Vol. 2a. W. van Hoeve, 's-Gravenhage, the Netherlands. pp. 896-901.
  • Holttum, R.E., 1950. The Zingiberaceae of the Malay Peninsula. Curcuma. The Gardens' Bulletin Singapore 13: 65-72.
  • Ochse, J.J. & Bakhuizen van den Brink, R.C., 1980. Vegetables of the Dutch East Indies. 3rd English edition (translation of "Indische groenten", 1931). Asher, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. pp. 742-745.
  • Valeton, T., 1918. New notes on the Zingiberaceae of Java and the Malayan Archipelago. Bulletin du Jardin Botanique de Buitenzorg, 2nd Series, 27: 61-65, Plate 8, Fig. 1 and Plate 28.

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  • Trimurti H. Wardini & Budi Prakoso
  • P.C.M. Jansen