About three months ago, a very thoughtful neighbor gifted me with a curry leaf plant (also known as murraya koenigii or bergera koenigii). Before this, I have never seen or used the curry leaves so I got a little curious about this flavorful and aromatic plant. The first thing I learned about the curry leaves is that it is just one of the many spices used to make the curry seasoning. The curry seasoning itself is a blend of different spices that include ginger, garlic, turmeric, pepper, cinnamon and a lot of other aromatic spice herbs. Next, I also learned that I could actually substitute it for bay leaves, giving my Filipino ‘adobo’ a curry leaf-flavored twist.
How to grow the curry leaf tree
The curry leaf grows as a bush or a small tree of about 10 to 12 feet in height. Fortunately for me, it can also thrive well in containers. When planted in pots, the curry leaf may grow up to around 3 feet tall, or even taller for larger pots. This makes it ideal for me for it does not require too much space and it allows me to move the pot anywhere there is sunlight.
Yes, curry leaf plants do need sunlight, a minimum of 6 hours will do. Since it is a native of the tropics, particularly in southern Asia, it can withstand even our warmest temperature in the Philippines. For cold climate zones, it is best to plant them in containers so they can be easily moved indoors if there is danger of frost during the winter months.
How to Propagate from Seeds or Cuttings
Propagating the curry leaf can be done through seeds or cuttings. Upon further research, I learned that the plant produces fragrant white flowers that become small berries which are edible. However, the seed is poisonous so it must be carefully removed. To propagate from seeds, use fresh seeds from the tree and sow them in a moist potting soil tray. Growing from seeds however is quite a challenge because germination is often fickle. (see “Curry Leaf Care – Growing Curry Leaf Tree in Your Garden” by Bonnie Grant) .
I have had more success in propagating curry leaves through cuttings. As in herb cuttings, cut a healthy stem, and leave up to 4 leaf nodes from the top leaves. Stick the stem 2 – 3 inches deep into a small pot that is filled with moist potting mix. To learn more about propagation through cuttings, check out my blog post on cuttings. When grown in containers, fertilize with compost once a month for healthier leaves and stems.
How to use the Curry Leaves
In cooking, curry leaves are best used fresh (than dried) because this is when they are most flavorful and aromatic. I use curry leaves in the same way as I would use bay leaves for soups, stews and roast meat. Cut a few stems from the plant and tie them up in a bundle. Add the entire bundle in the soup or stew, and fish it out prior to serving. The leaves can also be dried and stored in a tightly sealed jar or plastic for future use. However, they can easily lose their flavor when dried.
For more information about urban gardening, visit my blog www.urbangardeningmom.com. Happy gardening everyone!