Native to the Indian subcontinent, the curry leaf plant (Murraya koenigii) is a low maintenance tropical evergreen. Depending on conditions and the space available, it can grow as a small bush or as trees reaching heights of up to twenty feet.
Sensitive to severe drought, extreme temperatures and infertile soil, the plant is ‘frost tender’ such that the slightest frost can damage or even kill the plant. When exposed to cold, the plant sheds its leaves and lays dormant until spring.
Provide the plant with proper light and care and it’ll give you thick foliage, and many little white flowers that’ll grow into tiny black edible berries. Curry berries contain a large amount of vitamin C and anthocyanins as well as the minerals calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron, and are also being studied for their potential use as a natural treatment for diabetes. Don’t eat the seeds though, they’re said to be poisonous! However, the seeds produce an antibacterial and antifungal essential oil.
The curry plant can be grown from seed or cutting
Cuttings are the easiest to grow. A single leaf attached to the stem can be used as a cutting. As long as the stem is at least 3 inches long, you’re good to go. Plant it in a soil-less medium, kept warm moist; and the roots will grow out of the cutting within 3 weeks or so. While the seeds germinate much faster when the outer shell is peeled, if you like, you could even plant the entire fruit. Sow the seed in good quality soil, kept damp and warm. If the weather doesn’t permit it, you may place the plant in a greenhouse or simply layer the soil with polyethylene.
The plant will thrive in the sunniest part of your farm/garden! It likes dry soil, so use well-draining fertile soil. Nitrogen-rich fertilisers are ideal. If it rains or is over-watered, ensure that the soil is allowed to dry out. Regularly water the plant for the first 2 months. After that, watering should be moderate. Do use insecticidal soap to prevent and/or mitigate infestation of mites and psyllids.
Within the first 2 years, pruning the flowers promotes richer growth of the plant. Dead branches and leaves should be pruned regularly. The leaves can and ought to be harvested periodically, not only to use these aromatic leaves in the kitchen but also to foster plant growth.
Using the Produce
The plant offers a distinct aroma, as well as a somewhat citric, spicy flavour. Commonly used fresh, the leaves may also be dried and powdered for usage over a longer shelf-life.
In Java, Cambodia and India, soups and stews are often seasoned with its leaves (fresh or roasted). It can be also added to vegetables, seafood and chutneys, similar to how one uses Bay leaves.
Antimicrobial and antiseptic properties allow for its use in treating infections and inflammations. Concentrations of vitamins C and E, antioxidants, iron and folic acid enable usage for lowering cholesterol, protecting the heart and liver and is even tied to the treatment of anemia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Limbolee oil, made from the leaves is added for scent in soap. The tree wood is used as combustion fuel in Southeast Asia.