About curry leaf or Murraya koenigii, a herb or spice used in southern Indian cooking and valued for its medicinal properties in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. This herb is also nutritious and, itÂ’s thought, contains compounds which have uses in modern medicine.
Curry leaves are an indispensable ingredient in the cuisine’s of southern India and Sri Lanka, where they are the culinary equivalent of bay leaves in Europe or kaffir lime leaves in Southeast Asia. Curry leaves also have numerous medicinal uses in traditional folk medicine and both the leaves and fruits are nutritious.
The curry leaf tree is an attractive evergreen that, under perfect conditions, can reach a height of 25 feet tall. This tree has pungent, slightly clove scented leaves and bears small black fruits that follow clusters of white flowers in the summer. Although the fruits are edible they contain seeds which are thought to be toxic. The tree itself looks very similar, although not related to, sumac.
The curry leaf tree, botanical name Murraya koenigii, is thought to have originated on the Indian subcontinent, where it grows wild, is cultivated on tree farms, and grown in kitchen gardens. This herb has became naturalized in many tropical and subtropical regions of the world, including Southeast Asia, Africa, Australia, the Pacific islands, and the USA (Florida and southern California).
The genus name for the curry leaf tree, Murraya, was named after Johann Andreas Murray, who was a professor of botany and medicine at Gottingen, Sweden. Murray was a former student of the renowned 18th century botanist Carl Linnaeus. Murraya koenigii is one of four species of Murraya related to citrus, which includes orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata); orange jasmine or jasmine orange is a house plant which bears edible red berries. In India its leaves are used in a similar way to curry leaves, but are better known outside India as a scent or flavoring for tea.
Culinary Uses: Also known as hojas de curry in Spanish or kari patta; curry leaves are known to have been used as an herb or spice in India for at least 1,500 years. The Curry leaf is shiny, soft textured and has a tangy, aromatic slightly spicy flavor with a hint of lemon citrus. Curry leaf is not the same thing as curry ( as in curry powder), which is a spice blend designed to make preparing curries easier, although curry leaves are often ground and added to curry spice mixes.
A popular dish from Sri Lanka called Karapincha sambol (curry leaf paste) incorporates fried curry leaves with onions, chilies and various other ingredients such as shredded coconut and lime juice. Curry leaves are either added fresh or sometimes fried in ghee or oil before being added to curries, which makes them more palatable. Otherwise, just like bay leaves, the fresh or dried leaves can be removed from the dish before serving. This herb is also added to chutneys and marinades as an aromatic. The fruits of the curry leaf tree are also dried and used as a seasoning or condiment.
Medicinal Uses: Both the leaves, flowers, fruits, roots and bark of the curry leaf tree have medicinal properties and uses in ancient Ayurvedic medicine. The leaves, roots and bark ,used internally, are said to soothe the digestion and treat dysentery, diarrhea and colic. The leaves are also used externally to treat bruises.
Nutritional Value: Curry leaves are extremely low in calories and are a good source of nutrition. They contain B complex vitamins, plus vitamin A or beta carotene, iron and fiber. This herb is also a source of antioxidants, plant sterols and amino acids.
- Curry leaf has been used to treat diabetes in its native India and Sri Lanka for centuries. In recent years there have been numerous studies into the possible beneficial effects of curry leaves for diabetics. Certainly, results suggest that curry leaf extract has hypoglycemic properties, and also positively effects the immune systems of diabetic mice.
- A 2008 study at the University of Putra, Malaysia found that certain alkaloids demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-tumor and anti-mutagenic properties. The cytotoxic activity, or the quality of being toxic to cells, of curry leaf extract was tested against many types of human cancer cells including human breast and cervical cancer cells with positive results.
- Including curry leaves in the diet is also thought beneficial for people suffering with some gastrointestinal disorders. Certain bioactive alkaloids found in the herb are thought to inhibited diarrhea and soothe the gastrointestinal tract due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
Primary image; curry leaves and butterfly, flickr.com.
Image credit; flickr.com.