Thursday, August 6, 2009

Curry Leaf Plant (Murraya koenigii)

Curry leaf trees are ubiquitous in South Indian gardens as they are one of the most commonly and avidly used flavoring ingredients in practically all savory recipes. It is a small tree with highly aromatic leaves with a faint citrus and anise flavor. They are prized for their unique flavor as well as medicinal properties and are used in Ayurveda, the ancient art of medicine in India. Amma used to say that curry trees were always planted close to the house to catch the breezes and that it is very healthy to breathe the air wafting through the curry tree branches and leaves!

If you have ever eaten South Indian food, you probably know how important curry leaves are to this cuisine. There is hardly a dish (exceptions being desserts of course) that could not benefit from a flavor boost from the curry leaves. In fact I would even go so far as to say that the curry leaf is one of the quintessential aromatic ingredients in South Indian cooking. Curry leaves are one of the major flavoring ingredients in Aviyal, Molagushyam, and Olan; Rasams and Sambar plus a whole lot of other curries, chutneys and pickles also are always flavored with them.

So, when Mae graciously offered to get me a new curry plant last spring, although I was ecstatic at having a curry plant again, I was worried too. Every curry leaf plant I had acquired before and tried to grow have perished for one reason or the other. Two died when we were on a long vacation. A few years later the beautiful curry plant which Amma had nursed into a mini tree got dehydrated completely in the scorching summer heat while I was away for just 2 weeks. Hoping to be more diligent this time, I set it up in the kitchen near a bright window. Soon I noticed little white cottony things on the branches and under the leaves. Upon inspection, they turned out to be little insects - the dreaded mealybugs - that were beginning to hatch and suck the sap out of the hapless curry plants. After a few weeks of meticulous care (washing with a mild dish washing soap solution), they sprang back to health and all was well. Or so I thought.

This spring the mealybugs came back with a vengeance with another bug in tow. To compound the situation, sooty mold fungus set in as a result of the honeydew the mealy bugs were secreting. In spite of all the care the plant started looking dreadful and started yellowing and dropping leaves as you can see :(.

Is it dying?
Apparently houseplants are easy targets for insects as they are protected from their natural predators. I had two choices at this point:

1. get some predatory insects. OR
2. get an insecticide spray.

As I did not think my family would be too thrilled to live with more bugs in the house, I settled on getting a mild organic insecticide with the hope that it would surely take care of the problem(s). In spite of diligent spraying, the plants kept getting worse; pretty soon all the leaves were gone and the situation looked grim. I placed the little plants outside in a protected area and kept constant watch over them - I sprayed every time the tenacious bugs reappeared and kept praying that they don't come back. And thankfully, I have not seen any sign of the bugs in at least a week.

Finally, just a couple of days ago I saw tiny leaf buds beginning to unfurl! And on the worst hit plant, I saw buds! There is indeed hope while there is life :). I have planted them in large clay pots with abundant soil so that they will not dry out too quickly or be affected by varying temperature conditions. They are situated in a protected but well ventilated area where they get plenty of morning and late evening sunshine. It looks like curry plants need air movement to thrive; the plants seem much healthier outside.

         It lives!
Curry leaves are used in a similar fashion as bay leaves but their flavors are not similar. And though most people do not eat them, curry leaves are edible unlike the bay leaves. When it comes to curry leaves, as with most aromatic herbs, fresh is always best.

Also, curry powder is not ground up curry leaves; it is a mixture of various spices such as coriander, cumin, fenugreek, chilies, and more.

Propagation, Growing, & Care

The easiest and most dependable way to procure a curry leaf plant would be to purchase one. Many nurseries carry them these days with the interest in its culinary use as well as medicinal properties. Even if they don't, they would special order them or may have information about mail order nurseries. Some Indian markets carry them as well.

Curry leaf plants may be grown from fresh seeds, stem cuttings and suckers from roots. It would take a few years before the seed-grown plant to be ready for harvest as they are very slow growers at first. Seeds have to be absolutely fresh, and not dried out; so I would not purchase seeds unless they can be guaranteed to be arriving as fresh ripe berries. When you receive the berries, check to discard any moldy or diseased berries and squeeze out the seeds gently and place in a damp pot of light soil or planting medium and cover lightly with the soil or medium and keep in a shady spot. Keep the soil very lightly moist by gentle misting so the seeds do not rot. When they sprout and grow into a small plant, gradually shift them to a more sunny spot.

Stem cuttings and suckers require a friend or a source for them. If you know someone who is willing to give you a couple of cuttings, that is awesome. The cuttings should be dark green, not too tender, and about 4-6 inches long. Remove the lower leaves with a clipper so the skin doesn't tear; leave the topmost few leaves in place. Make a clean fresh cut just below a node - where the leaves begin on the stem - and place in a pot of moistened planting medium as in the seeds, place a loose plastic bag over the whole to keep moisture in and keep in a shady spot. Mist the planting medium if it dries out but not too much. Once the top shows signs of new growth, gently transplant in a pot of regular soil.

Suckers from a mother plant are the easiest form of propagation. They should be carefully cut and removed with some roots attached, transplanted and one would have a curry leaf plant instantly! Let them settle and start growing before harvesting any leaves.

Whichever way a curry leaf plant is obtained, do not overwater them; let them dry out a bit between waterings depending on the local climate. During warm growing season, feed them once every two weeks with a very dilute fertilizer - I add about a tablespoon of it to 3-4 gallons of water. I use an organic one recommended by the local master gardner and I also add a tiny bit of compost tea (one cup of compost steeping in 3 gallons of water for a couple of days) each time I water. Every 3-4 months, a little azomite is added while watering. I also add some homemade compost with wormcastings at the beginning of the growing season. I must caution against overdoing fertilizing as well as watering as both can cause harm to the treasured plants.

Harvesting leaves: when the plant is healthy and growing vigorously, you can start harvesting leaves; remove a whole stem of leaves with a clipper so as not to tear the skin or bark. Clipping back encourages new growth; the more you clip, the more bushy the tree grows.

Preserving Curry Leaves

Some people recommend freezing the leaves and using them directly from the freezer as needed. Freeze clean leaves and use as needed.
Others recommend frying the leaves in oil for use in cooking. Fry the clean leaves slowly in oil until crisp and keep in a tightly covered sterile jar in the fridge; use as needed in your recipes.

How To Dry Curry Leaves

Although fresh is always best, since they are not always readily available and there is no satisfactory substitute, I often used to purchase more than I can use fresh and dry them. Home dried leaves are quite fragrant and are a good substitute for the fresh.

Wash the leaves well, drain thoroughly, and dry them on thick toweling in a single layer on the counter top or on a table. When completely dry, store in airtight jars in a cool cupboard. They retain most of their aroma as well as color and are wonderful to add to various curries, kozhambus, soups, and rasams when fresh curry leaves are unavailable.


Betsy said...

I have several curry plants and they take well to fertilizers meant for acid loving plants. They really don't like to be shifted around either. Quite a tempermant but very giving if you are patient.

Also one method of preserving leaves is to fry them in oil and then store in a clean and dry bottle. This retains the bright green color and aroma. This method is far better than drying, or freezing and the proof in the wonderful flavoring it adds to dishes when fresh leaves are unavailable. Try it; I promise you will not regret it.

Geetha said...

Thank you Betsy, for your comments and tips. Fried curry leaves will work for most curries such as Sambar, Rasam, etc. I will try your idea of frying the curry leaves; my concern is that the oil might go rancid over time.

SLuckyme said...


Could you please tell me where to buy the curry leaves plant..?!

I have been looking to buy one.But not able to find where i can get.



Geetha said...

Hi Lakshmi, Curry leaf plants are available in nurseries that sell exotic herbs sometimes and also from online sources. I wish you all the best in finding one soon. - Geetha

Anonymous said...

Curry plants are available from for USD16 and shipping USD10.

Anonymous said...

My husband was given a Curry Leaf Plant by a friend of ours and it really does live up to its reputation. Not only is it wonderful for preparing foods, but it is even better for medicinal purposes.

My husband uses the leaves to prepare salads, chicken dishes, soups, oils, and so much more; and I have used this plant's leaves to help me get healthier. I have kidney stones, high cholesterol and depression, among other things, and it has helped me greatly. I take the leaves and make teas, I consume the leaves raw in salads, and make infusions also to help with UTIs. This plant is a God sent to our life. I pray that this article would help other readers who have health issues. The Curry Leaf Plant is a must in every home! Thank God for your postings, I found the website address that one of your readers posted, for the purchase of this plant,

Thank you "Anonymous" for the information you left me....I will order 3 today! My husband's plant needs a helper to manufacture many more leaves, for so much need.

Bless you Geetha and all you who post comments, for all you do, and don't even realize how much your comments help others.

Geetha said...

Dear Anon, I am glad that curry leaves have so many wonderful and healthful qualities besides being so fragrant in food. Wow! And glad to have been of help too. To your health and All the best!

Anonymous said...

To get rid of bugs like white fly, sprinkle worm castings around base of plants. Works fabulously on hybiscus and citrus plants as well.

Geetha said...

Thank you Anon for your tip to prevent white flies; I sprinkle compost which seems to do the same - must be because compost also has worm castings!

Bindi said...

Somy- Thanks Geetha for your advise on caring curry leaves. One of my curry leaves plant died few yrs back due to mealybug and I just noticed recently my another curry leaves plant has mealybug. this plant is almost 4' tall and I would hate to see it die. I will try your advise and hopefully can save my plant. Thanks.

Geetha said...

Somy, Bindi, I fervently hope your plant survives the infestation. It would indeed be a shame to lose your plant. Your neighborhood nursery should be able to help with the selection of a mild insecticide - a friend gave me some organic insecticide that worked very well. Thankfully I have not had the problem with any bugs again:)

Anonymous said...

How can we get the curry plant not to loose leaves during the winter months? If the one I have dies how can we get one from the US through the customs?

Geetha said...

Anon, when the weather cools, a tropical/subtropical tree like the curry tree will lose its leaves but will get new leaves as soon as the weather warms in the spring. You can try growing inside where there is plenty of light or in a green house. Even if the tree looks lifeless, keep caring for it by watering and protecting from severe weather conditions and it will start growing again as soon as the conditions are right for growth. It would be more practical to purchase a curry tree; many nurseries carry curry trees in the US or will special order them for you. I hope that your tree lives and grows. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Hi, i have a curry patta leaves in a pot in my garden. Recently i observed tiny abt 3mm crawling type brown color insect on the leaves which were eating the leaves. which insecticides can i put on the leaves to get rid of the insect, i cannot put any hazardous insecticide as we eat the leaves, thanks.

Geetha said...

Hi Anon, you might want to take the insect in a little sealed bag to your nursery and have someone look at it to identify what it is so that they can then recommend the right insecticide to combat the problem. Of course, you would not want to use anything hazardous on your curry plant; there are good alternatives available.

Geetha said...

Hi Anon, I try to solve the problem myself first when I see bug infestations by: 1) handpicking the offending bugs and discarding them; 2) washing/spraying the plant with a dilute solution of dish washing soap and water (1 tsp of dish washing soap to a gallon of water) as necessary - be sure to keep the base of the plant i.e.the soil so that the buggy water does not contaminate it. 3) If the above do not work or if the infestation is severe, then I seek professional help from a nursery by taking the bug(s) (in a sealed plastic bag) and request the mildest possible insecticide that is safe for edible plants as well as environmentally safe for other beneficial creatures. I hope that helps.

Alex said...

In my house, I have two Murraya Koeniggi plants. But it is affected by lot of small white flies of less than 1/8 of a mm. How can prevent my plants from these flies. Any home remedies?

Geetha said...

Hello Alex, Spraying the affected plant with a mild soap solution(following manufacturer's directions)and washing may help. Also, keeping the base and the area around the plants clean by removing any and all deceased leaves is helpful. I have heard that compost spread around the base of the plant helps to keep the white flies in check. Another thing to do is to plant companion plants nearby - mints, sages, zinnias, etc are helpful by attracting good bugs that eat the white flies and also deterring the 'bad' ones that eat the plants. Also check with master gardeners in the nurseries in your area to see what kind of natural predators can be obtained and/or encouraged. I hope that helps - good luck with your plants.

mahvj J said...

hello my Kari patta plant was well n healthy but i have recently started to notice that the leaves at the bottom of the plant have syarted to turn yellow n fall off....the plant is growing fresh new ones up on top and has flowered.
the bottom leaves worry me, they have small black dots on them as if the leaves has burned...i have it placed out in the patio where it only gets the morning sun for a few hours. i have recently switched it to where it wll get the afternoon sun for 4-5 hours.
I have a drip system that gives it water twice a day
Is it a bug infestation or the conditions are not right? it has been planted in a big pot
please help

Geetha said...

Mahvj, It looks like your Curry tree is healthy for the most part as it is growing and has new leaves plus blossoms. Old leaves do fall off - they are probably the previous year's growth; so that by itself is not a matter of concern. Do keep a close watch to check for signs of infestations - if you do, then the best bet is to take a leaf (along with any suspected material) to your local nursery for them to identify the problem and recommend a remedy. I keep my plants watered and fed regularly, free of debris which could foster insects or diseases, do first aid when necessary by removing the offending materials and washing with a mild soap solution. I hope this helps.

safa said...

My curry leaf plant had been growing very healthy until recently, when i started noticing black spots on the leaves which could be scraped has spread on the whole plant and now the branches are drooping slightly......i have a feeling its dying......what can i do to save it?

Geetha said...

Hi Safa, It looks like a mold or fungus has infested your curry leaf tree; take an infected leaf to your local nursery for consultation and get an organic food safe spray to take care of the problem. Your tree will survive if it is cared for diligently; mine did and is doing fantastic now. Let me know how your tree does; I will be keeping good thoughts for it.

Pratibha said...

Betsy is so right about the temperament this plant has. I got one tiny one from my friend few months back.. after a no cooperation.. no new leaves for 3 months, I saw a tiny growth on top. The light in my house was not bright so I shifted the plant to my office where I get bright sunlight... and the new growth began to drop, the leaves getting brown... ! Whew.. Am taking it back home today and keeping her there!

karipatta said...

hi, i have a few robust, beautiful, fragrant curry leaf plants wwith large leaves for sale. prices range from $15 to $50 depending on size. pictures available on request. contact me at karipatta@ if interested.

Geetha said...

Hi Pratibha, Most plants do like being moved as they get accustomed to the microcliamate of one spot. Karileaf plants typically like sunshine and plenty of air movement; they grow outdoors all over India. I have seen them in the foothills of the Himalayas as well as by the seaside in Kanyakumari. Mostly their growth period is when the weather is warm; they are dormant during the winter. Sorry to hear about your Karileaf plant's mishaps; I hope it survived the trauma of moving back and forth from home to office and back.

juzaweebit said...

Another tip is to put crushed egg shells in the soil. Not only it deters snails and slugs, it also gives calcium to the plant. Ever since I did that my plant has been thriving and it's the biggest I've grown to date. However, it does loses its leaves in winter but when the weather warms up, they all grow back even better than before!

I have 2 curry leaf plants (about 30cm high) growing in pots and I would like to transfer them into the garden bed. Besides sage, mint and zinnias what are other companion plants?

I live in Perth, Western Australia and my plants are outdoors.


Geetha said...

Hi Juz,Thank you for your comment. Egg shells are great for plants for all of the reasons you mentioned. Basil and coriander are also good companion plants.
I am not sure of the weather conditions in Perth - but since you are currently growing the curry leaf outdoors in the pots and they are doing well, it should do fine to grow in the soil too. I am thinking that transplanting them in early spring might be the best - you might like to confirm that with someone from a nursery in your area. All the best!

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all for the suggestions. On thing i don't see here that has worked tremendously for my plant...chelated iron. 1 time every 2 months. 2 tbls per gallon of water. I also use small grow light. I live in Seattle and the plant us still growing through the winter

Nab said...

I am in Seattle and in search of curry leaf plant. To the poster before me, where did you get your plant from in Seattle?

Ushma said...

Hi there,

Just like Nab, I too am in search of a curry leaf plant. I recently moved to Seattle, and could not find one. Please help.


Geetha said...

Nab and Ushma, I would highly recommend calling the nurseries and garden centers in your area to see who might stock curry leaf trees or special order them for you. Indian markets also sometimes stock them. Good luck and happy cooking!

beachbirdie said...


I purchased my plants from Horizon Herbs in Oregon.

They do not currently have any, I wrote to them this evening to find when they will have them again. I was disappointed in their seeds, but the trees have been healthy, and very fragrant.

I bought seeds from a person in New York, his were very good, viable. I got 100% germination from his seeds, and his trees are more fragrant than the ones I got from Horizon. Good luck finding them.

beachbirdie said...

I forgot...I will add the email address for the New York person who sells seeds as soon as I find it again!

beachbirdie said...

Horizon Herbs (they are in Oregon, USA) begins shipping their trees on April 1 of each year.

Padma said...

I have a two year old curry leaf plant which was doing fine until this spring. I'm at an altitude of 6800 ft in Nevada where the growing season is between April and Sept. Although my plant has been putting out new growth and even new plants since April, the leaves are very light in color. Almost yellowish with the veins showing. So I started adding chelated iron but after three months, the leaves look the same. Also most of the leaves are turning brown (like sunburn). Then they dry up and fall off. The plant gets a little morning sun and a few hours of evening sun.
Can anyone help me?
Thank you.

Geetha said...

Hello Padma, I am sorry that your curry leaf tree is ailing. Some deficiencies (iron, magnesium, zinc, etc) as well as lack of or too much water can affect a plant this way. Also, changes in locations can adversely affect it; did it get moved to a new location recently where it is getting more sun? Check the stems and leaves for any insect infestation.
In general, curry trees like to dry out between watering; I water every 3-4 days when weather is warm and less often when it stays cool or gets rain. I also add some compost to the pot as a top dressing every year or and/add compost tea when I water.
In any case, do take a sample to your nursery; good nurseries have knowledgeable people who can identify the problem and suggest a remedy.
I hope this helps. Wish you all the best with your precious curry tree!

Sabir said...

Spray mixture of 19:19:19 5ml/L and any bio pest once in a week.

ajasminegarden said...

Hi there, MY curry leave plant growing wild with huge dark green leaves but guess what they do not have as scent as before. What is making them loose scent? I am in California. need help. Appreciate it very much.

Geetha said...

Hello, growing wild may be a clue? I have not heard of curry leaves losing flavor while still fresh. Perhaps your tree is getting too much fertilizer and growing wild; hence not as flavorful. Try not feeding too much and cutting down on watering so the soil dries out a bit bewtween waterings. You may also check with a master gardener in your area. Good luck with your precious plant. Let me know how you resolve the issue. Happy growing!