Curry leaves plant (scientific name Murraya Koenigii) is known for its extremely aromatic leaves which are used across the world to add a uniquely pungent flavor to dishes. It is widely used in India, South East Asian countries and various other regions across the world. It is a must-have ingredient in almost every other South Indian cuisine.
Curry leaves plant is known by various names across the world. It is also called Kadi Patta, Meetha Neem (meaning sweet neem),Curry Patta, Curry Plant (patta meaning leaves in Hindi), Karuveppilai, Kadhi Limbdo, Curry Vepillai, Kari Bevu, Karivepaku, Noroxingho Pat (in Assamese), etc.
Curry leaves plant is also considered as a medicinal herb given the numerous health benefits it offers. It is used in Ayurvedic form of medicine.
Curry leaf tree is a tropical/subtropical plant and is native to India. It requires warm climates to grow. It grows abundantly in the Indian subcontinent, Thailand, etc. It is also commercially cultivated in India, Australia, etc. Curry leaves can also be grown in pots.
Curry leaf plant can grow up to 13 to 20 feet ( 4-6m) tall. Its leaves are pinnate (meaning feather-like arrangement of leaves) and grow into a bunch of 10-20 leaflets.
Flowers & Seeds in Curry Leaf Plant
Curry Leaf Plant produces tiny white flowers. The aromatic flowers self-pollinate themselves and produce shiny black drupes (berry-like edible fruits) each containing a single seed (seeds are poisonous). They mostly flower in the spring when temperatures start becoming warmer.
Curry Leaf plan requires a well-drained soil to grow. Lack of proper drainage induces root rot which eventually leads to death of the plant.
For best potting soil, you can mix 50% normal garden soil with 25% perlite and 25% compost. You can also buy the soil mix on online shopping websites.
Propagation of Curry Leaves Plant
Plantation of curry leaves is easy. Curry Leaves propagation can be done either by using the stem cuttings or by directly planting the fresh ripe seeds. Seeds that are completely dry will have very little probability of germination.
Propagation by Seeds:
Take a container with a drainage hole at the bottom. Cover the hole with a wire mesh or broken pottery piece or stone. Fill the pot with well-drained soil. Dig a hole about 3 inches in the topsoil. Remove the outer pulpy cover of the seed (you can plant the seed with the pulpy cover as well but the germination will be slower) and place the seed inside the hole. Cover the seed with soil to even out the top surface. Water the container so as the soil becomes moist (do not keep the soil wet as this will lead to rotting of seed).
Keep the container at a shady spot with no direct sun. Direct sun exposure will make the soil very dry and hence will hinder the germination process. If you live in climates that are extremely dry, you should cover the container with plastic to maintain humidity levels inside the container. Keep the soil moist the whole time until germination.
The best time to plant the seeds is during the springtime (February/March in India) and during the fall (October/November in India) when the temperatures are warm. Seeds need at least 18°C (65°F) to germinate.
Propagation by stem cuttings
Choose a branch that is semi-hard semi-green with 2-3 leaflets attached to it. Make a clean cut at the bottom of the branch. Remove the leaves at the bottom of the branch that will go inside the soil. You can use a rooting hormone if you have one or you can dip the bottom tip of the branch into cinnamon powder/turmeric powder to induce root development.
Dig the topsoil by about 2-3 inches. Place the cutting into the hole. Cover the hole with soil so that the branch is held firm. Water the soil and keep the container in a shady spot. Make sure the soil is moist all the time. You can cover the top with plastic to maintain warmth and humidity. The plant will develop roots in 3-6 weeks.
Note: The soil should not have fertilizers when planting the cuttings.
Watch the video to see how to plant cuttings:
Uses and Benefits of Curry Leaves
Fresh kadi patta or curry leaves are widely used for seasoning various Indian & South Asian dishes. It is one of the main ingredients for preparing Sambhar, a must-have South India dish required with most South Indian cuisines.
It is also used as an ingredient in soup preparation in Cambodia. It is also used to flavor a few dishes in Java.
The curry leaves can be dried and stored in airtight containers for preservation and future use. However, it loses most of its aroma when preserved. Hence, it is preferred to use these leaves fresh rather than in preserved form.
Oil extraction is also possible from curry leaves. The extracted oil is used to prepare scented soaps.
Optimum Temperature for Growing Curry Leaf Plant
Curry Leaf plant thrives well in tropical and sub-tropical climates. It needs full sun to partial shade to grow. It thrives well in a warm and humid environment. Since the Indian climate fulfills all the requisites for this plant to grow, it grows wildly in the Indian subcontinent.
If you live in US Hardiness Zone 9-11, you can easily grow it outside. In colder areas, one should grow it in containers indoors. The plant does not tolerate frost. Hence in winters (during snowfall), you should keep it indoors in well-lit areas. In summers, you can keep the container outside in a sunny spot.
As the plant grows, you should re-pot and transfer the plant to a bigger container so that the plant does not become root-bound.
Note: While repotting, do not scrape off the soil from the root system as this plant does not like its roots to be disturbed.
Curry leaf plant requires moderate watering to sustain. Do not keep the soil too wet. Water only when you see the top 1-2 inches in the soil completely dry. This plant likes dry spells between 2 consecutive waterings.
One should be very careful of the watering routine especially in winters, as overwatering in winter months will kill the plant.
Curry leaf plant should be pruned from time to time to produce more leaves. The best time to prune is late winters before the start of new leaves.
When the plant grows about 3-4 feet tall, one can prune the main stem of the plant from the top to induce lateral growth of leaves. This way your tree will become bushier and easy to maintain especially when planting in pots. If allowed to grow wildly, it will grow in length and will become more prone to breakage and damage by strong winds as it has weak stems and branches.
During the spring season, when you see the plant budding and producing seeds, pinch off the bunch of seeds to induce the plant to make more leaves. If seeds are allowed to develop, plant focuses its entire energy in producing seeds and the growth of leaves slows down.
Many people harvest only the leaves and leave the leaflet branch attached to the plant. This is a wrong way of harvesting as the plant will continue to divert the energy into the leaflet branch without producing any leaves. When harvesting, cut the entire leaflet along with its branch for use.
Harvesting in the right manner encourages more foliage growth.
Storing curry leaves
Curry leaves can be stored in refrigerators. If curry leaves are not easily available in your area, you can store stem in the freezer (do not wash them before freezing).
You can also dry them (do not sundry) and store them in glass containers. However dried leaves lose much of its characteristic flavor and are not recommended for use. They give the best flavor when used fresh.
Since this plant is grown for its green foliage, nitrogen-rich fertilizers are best for its growth as nitrogen encourages leaf growth.
You can use diluted seaweed fertilizer weekly once as fertilizer.
In winters, leaves of curry plant will turn yellow and will eventually fall. Do not throw away your plant at this stage. You plant is going into dormancy for resting. The plant will shed all its leaves in winter. It will grow back in spring again. During winters, since all the leaves fall-off, the plant will require less water. You should not apply fertilizers during this period.
Varieties of Curry Leaf Plant
Curry leaf plant has 3 varieties. First is the regular one which is the tallest of all. Second is a dwarf variety that is best suited for container gardening but is less aromatic. The third variety is called “Gamthi” which the most aromatic and pungent of all the 3 types.
Pests, Diseases & Prevention
Curry leaves are prone to attack by spider mites and scales especially when the conditions are dry. Spider mites form large cottony webs on the leaves of the plant and suck its sap. The leaves eventually become pale yellow, dry and detach from the plant.
Spider mites can be seen as tiny black spots on the leaves which generally can be seen on the bottom side of the leaves. They gradually develop white cobwebs and cover a large part of the plant.
Spider mites do not like wet & cold conditions. So if your plant is under attack by these mites, spray ice-cold water on the leaves (especially at the bottom) twice or thrice a day until you see them gone. Alternatively, you can use neem oil spray as an organic pesticide/insecticide. You should spray neem oil ( 3-5ml of concentrated oil mixed with 1 liter of water and 2 drops of liquid soap) once every 2 days until the mites disappear.
You can also use chemical pesticides/insecticides commercially available in the market to get rid of spider mites. However, I would highly recommend going the organic way of gardening!
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