Growing and Cooking with Curry Leaf (Murraya koenigii)
By Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin
Curry Leaf makes a wonderful potted plant for your culinary collection of aromatic herbs. The fragrant leaf has a nutty, pungent flavor and is a prized addition to South Indian foods. Logee’s Curry Leaf plant is highly valued by both the chef and gardener.
Curry Leaf is native to India and is used in delicious Indian, Asian and Thai dishes throughout the world. Believe it or not, murraya is from the citrus family (Rutacaea). It has been used for centuries in Ayruvedic medicine for its antidiabetic, antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Logee’s Curry Leaf plant has an upright and open growth habit, Plantwhich means that the branches have a somewhat “loose” appearance. As an indoor plant in temperate areas, Curry Leaf grows and flowers from spring through fall. In the north, it can experience a resting period during the winter months when the days are short. Sometimes, leaves will drop. Don’t worry. This is normal.
Sun and Temperature
For best results, grow in full sun and keep temperatures above 40°F. If grown in warm conditions with high light intensity, Curry Leaf will experience less of a winter resting period.
During the winter resting period, do not keep the plant too wet, especially if the leaves have dropped. Too much water will tend to promote root disease (root rot). During the warmer months, keep the plant on the dry side. Let the soil come to visual dryness before watering. We recommend growing in clay pots so the roots stay healthy. Use a well-drained potting mix. This allows necessary moisture to reach the plant while at the same time maintaining good aeration in the soil. We have also found that a slightly acidic soil keeps the plant healthy. Regular applications of fertilizer are helpful to stimulate plant growth. You can top dress with organic fertilizer every 6 weeks or apply a liquid fertilizer at half the recommended dosage once a week during the active growing season.
Curry Leaf can experience interveinal yellowing (chlorosis) on its leaves during the wintertime. Cool temperatures seem to be the major factor for this leaf problem. It often indicates that the plant may be getting ready to go into dormancy. If you increase the temperatures, you can slow or prevent dormancy or loss of leaves. If your Curry Leaf plant loses its leaves and only has a bare stem, cut back on watering and wait for winter to end. Your plant is fine. It’s simply resting. The leaves will re-grow in spring.
Pests and Disease
Curry Leaf typically doesn’t get many pests. It can get foliar or citrus mealy bug. To organically treat mealy bug, we recommend using neem oil, which smothers the bugs. Also, concurrently you must use high-pressure water to dislodge the cottony mass, which is where the adults, crawlers and eggs of the mealy bugs hide. Repeated applications of neem oil are needed.
Propagation & Pruning
The easiest way to propagate Curry Leaf is by seed. It takes a year or two to get the seedlings established. We ship seedlings but take great care in pinching them (pruning the growing tips) when they are young so they will make a multi-branched specimen giving you more leaves to harvest. Plants that are older and have an open shape can be pruned early in the season just as growth starts and they will still flower later in the year. We recommend pruning annually to keep your plant tight, compact and producing the greatest amount of tasty foliage. As mentioned above, when plants are young, pinch the growing tips to start forming a bushy plant.
Cooking with Curry Leaf
Curry leaves are an essential ingredient in most savory South Indian soup recipes. They are highly valued in curries or with coconut milk. In Cambodia, the leaves are toasted on an open flame and then crushed and sprinkled into soups. As with most aromatic herbs harvesting them fresh is always best. They have a short shelf life in the refrigerator and lose much of their flavor if dried. Curry leaf is not the same as curry powder (that is a mixture of spices such as coriander, cumin, fenugreek and chilies).