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Curry Leaf Tree

Updated on June 16, 2011

The Curry Leaf Tree

The Curry Leaf Tree

The curry leaf tree is a beautiful tree native to India. It is tropical, to sub tropical. The leaves of the curry tree are used in South Asian cooking as well as Southeast Asian cuisine. As you can imagine, the leaves of this tree is very popular in India. The leaves, or leaflets, come from the citrus-rue family. You will also find these trees growing in Sri Lanka. The leaves are a kind of two tone green with a lighter green on the underside , with a darker green on top.

While it is often referred to as the curry-leaf tree, its more formal name is Murraya koenigii. In the wild, it is a smaller tree, only about ten to fifteen feet tall. It can grow to be up to about 20 feet tall though. It is known for its long slender, two toned leaves. You will also find aromatic white flowers, as well as some blackberries that are poisonous.

Another name it can go by, is nim leaf, and the official "family" that it belongs to, is Rutaceae.  Many people when they first hear about the curry leaf tree, think this must be where curry comes from, but that isn't exactly true.  The leaves are often used in curries however, which is the connection there.  Not all that different from how many of us would use say bay leaves. 

Curry Leaf Tree video

Aroma and Flavor of Curry Leaves

The leaves from the curry leaf tree have a warm, strong, curry aroma when bruised or even just rubbed. They add an aromatic curry flavor to dishes, which have no comparison. There really isn't any other ingredient that can replace or substitute for curry.

Culinary Use of Curry Leaves

Curry leaves are normally used by toasting the leaves in oil, before adding them to a typical dish in India. Curry is what gives many recipes in India their distinctive taste. They are used both fresh, and dry.

Another way of using the curry leaves is in conjunction with mustard seeds in hot ghee, which is a clarified butter that is often used in Indian cuisine. Then you add a little asafoetida which is a brownish, bitter and foul smelling resinous material from roots of several plants in the parsley family. This was formerly used in medicine. It is also known as tempering.  So, they have the mustard seeds, butter, resin type materials from the parsley family, and several curry leaves and fry them all together for a few seconds before adding them to items like Indian soups.

Another method is to finely chop or mince the leaves to be used in curries, and then added to omelettes or marinades among other things.

You will also find them used in Madras style curry powders, and pastes and often in shellfish recipes. Some also use the leaves whole, but like bay leaves, you want to take them out before serving your dish.

Taking care of your curry leaf tree, pruning, etc.

Storing Curry Leaves

You can buy curry leaves fresh from many Asian shops.  You can store them in the vegetable compartment in your refrigerator for up to two weeks.  You can also freeze them. 

They are sold vacuum dried, which is a neat process where the leaves retain their color as well as flavor.  Something interesting to note, is that if the leaves are allowed to dry in the open air, they will lose their pungency.  So storing them airtight and in the refrigerator or freezer are great options. 

Curry Poll

Do you like dishes that include curry?

See results


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    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Carolina, thank you! I thought it was interesting...

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Phoenix, that is a cool idea, I don't blame you. I would love one of those trees. Hope it would grow in my zone.

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina


    • PhoenixV profile image

      PhoenixV 7 years ago from USA

      I am going to check around the local nurseries and see if I can get one of these trees if they're not too expensive. That would be so cool to have one and maybe use some of the leaves.