Murraya koenigii, or curry leaf, is an aromatic leaf commonly used in Southern Indian cuisine. Not all curries come from a single source, such as a leaf. Many common curries, such as yellow, green or red, are actually a combination of many spices, and often do not contain the curry leaf at all.
The curry leaf is part of an evergreen shrub, or small sub-tropical tree, native to India. They are also sometimes referred to as “sweet neem leaves” because they are similar in appearance to the leaves of the neem tree. The tree grows to be about six feet tall. It produces small white flowers that have a fragrance reminiscent of jasmine. These flowers later become small black, shiny berries that are edible; however, the seeds of the fruit are poisonous.
The leaves are popular seasoning in southern and west-coast Indian cooking, in addition to the cuisine of Sri Lanka. The leaves loose much of their flavor and aromatic qualities when dried, so they are best used fresh. They are used in much the same way as bay leaves, usually fried along with onions in the early stages of meal preparation. They are frequently used in Southern Indian vegetarian dishes, mulligatawny, and Madras and Tamil Nadu curries.
In Ayurvedic Medicine, the bark, leaves and roots of the tree are used as a tonic. The leaves and root are taken for their circulation boosting, sedative and anti-inflammatory actions. The leaf is high in iron, and the bark has been used to treat menstrual troubles. The curry leaves are also known to be good for the hair, keeping it healthy and strong.
Curry leaves are not easy to find in our area, but you may have some luck at groceries that specialize in ingredients for world cuisine and imported specialty foods. Curry leaves can also be ordered online.
1. Bremness, Lesley, Dorling Kindersley handbooks: Herbs, Dorling Kindersley books, New York, 1994