Mysterious curry leaves

The mysterious aromatic fragrance of fresh curry leaves makes me so happy. I must have been South Indian in a former life! The leaves give a herbaceous, anise, and citrus note to Indian dals and stews, meats and vegetable masalas, pickles, and pakoras. They are coarsely chopped or left whole, then sauteed with onions as the foundation for a dish. My local Indian grocery keeps me stocked with fresh curry leaves, but I decided needed a curry leaf plant of my very own.

Growing my own

Unfortunately, I was not able to find curry leaf plants in my city so I ordered one from Seeds of India in New Jersey in February of 2019. They take orders during the fall and winter and then fulfill them when the plants are established enough to be shipped in late spring. After two days in its little shipping box, it arrived in good condition, ready for a larger and more permanent home. Scroll down to a photo of the plant as it was when I first got it. If you want to buy a curry plant, make sure you are purchasing a curry leaf tree (murraya koenigli), not the very similar-looking curry plant (helichrysum italicum).

Kitchen gardening

There is precious little gardening going on around here unless you count some orchids on the window sill. But since our recent move to New Mexico, I am expecting all the warmth and sun we get to suit this deciduous, sub-tropical tree perfectly. If you would like more details about how to feed, water, and care for a curry leaf plant, go the Garden Lovers Club entry on curry leaves. Also, Bhavna of Bhavna’s Kitchen YouTube channel has a nice introduction to growing curry tree plants. She also has links to her blog on growing curry plants from seeds or cuttings. 

Finding, storing & caring

If you are lucky enough to find curry leaves in a local store, I find you typically get far more than you can use up before they are no longer fresh. Remove the leaves from the stem, discard any blemished leaves, and store them in an airtight plastic bag in the freezer. They do darken a little, but the flavor and aroma are still there. You can also buy fresh curry leaves from Amazon or ishopindian if you can’t find them locally. Dried curry leaves are relatively flavorless and not worth the bother in my experience.

I found a good organic fertilizer called EcoScraps. Their citrus and avocado formula has done wonders to boost the growth of my curry plant. After sprinkling a teaspoon or two over the top of the ground in the pot once a month it has boosted the overall growth of the curry plant and it has much fuller foliage. Curry leaf plants need iron sulfate which this fertilizer adds to the soil.

Substitution idea: to replace a sprig or 10 to 12 curry leaves, use the zest of one lime. It won’t taste the same, but you will add a nice flavor to your dish.

A baby curry tree keeping an orchid company on the kitchen window sill: