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Healing Herbs and Spices of India Part II – Curry Leaf

Shoba Rajamani
Shoba is located in Bangalore and describes herself as creative, adventurous, a movie lover, a novel reader, and a badminton player. She dreams of one day writing her own children's book.
Published: September 19, 2022
Curry leaves are common in landscapes and kitchens throughout India. (Image: Tanuj-handa via Pixabay)

Ayurveda is an Indian healing system that relies on herbs to treat illness. Like coriander, curry leaf is frequently used in Ayurvedic healing. The plant, grown in practically every Indian family’s backyard, produces warmly aromatic leaves with medicinal properties suitable for many ayurvedic treatments. 

Curry leaves add the finishing touch to any spicy dish — enticing the senses, rounding out the flavors, and calming the stomach. Anyone passing by the tree will be overwhelmed with the pleasant spicy aroma that it emanates.

A botanical treasure

A member of the Rutaceae family, the curry tree (Murraya Koenigii)  produces the glossy, almond-shaped, compound leaves that are popular for their aroma and flavor.  Reaching four to six meters in height, the tree also bears white, self-pollinating flowers which produce one seed each. 

The curry flowers are often used in potpourris, dry flower arrangements, and wreaths. Ayurvedic medicine makes use of all parts of the tree, including its root, bark, and leaves. 

The curry tree produces aromatic white flowers, but the resulting seeds are poisonous. (Image: Shubhammrs via Pixabay)

Origin and spread of curry leaf

Although the origin of the curry leaves is deeply rooted in India, the herb gained global popularity after the invasion of Portugal and Britain. 

When the Portuguese explored India for valuable possessions in 1498, they were captivated by a spice (curry leaves) that penetrated their nostrils with its distinct scent. They named it “carel,” and cultivated the curry leaves in countries like Japan, Singapore, Jamaica, Fiji, and Guyana. 

With the British joint-stock company East India Company’s invasion of India in the 1600s, the UK began to cultivate and distribute curry leaf to nearby countries. By the 19th century, curry leaves could be found in kitchens of Thailand, South Africa, Nigeria, China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and more. 

Other Names for Curry Leaf:

With so many languages spoken in India, the herb has many different names — including  “basango,” “curry patta,” “karibevu,” “karivepaku,” “krishna nimba,” “mitha neem,” “karuveppilai,” and “kadhi limdo” — while the French call it “feuilles de cari” and the Dutch say “kerrie bladeren.” 

Nutritional and medicinal value

While the strong flavor of curry leaves makes them useful in Tadka (seasoning), they also have much to offer in terms of nutrition. The leaves are rich in  amino acids and vitamins A, B, C, and E, as well as minerals like calcium, copper, phosphorus, iron, and magnesium.

Helps lower blood sugar levels: Some medical research suggests the consumption of curry leaf for diabetics. Curry leaves have anti-hyperglycemic properties that help lower blood glucose levels and the herb also supports the body’s insulin-producing cells by protecting them.

Combats Cancer: Curry leaves contain carbazole alkaloids that fight the cancerous growth of the cells in the treatment of colorectal cancer, prostate cancer and leukemia. 

Curry Leaves for Eyes: Curry leaves contain abundant Vitamin A, which protects the eyes from deteriorating vision. The carotenoids present in the leaves help prevent night blindness and cornea damage.

A flavorful chutney, or “tadka,” relies heavily on curry leaves for their rich aroma. (Image: rovingI via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Curry leaf chutney recipe — A delicious way to consume more curry:

  • Heat a pan on the stovetop.
  • Saute whole mustard seeds in ghee or oil.
  • After the seeds split, add two green chilies and a pinch of Asafoetida powder for flavor. 
  • Stir once and add a cup of Urad dhal and Bengal gram dhal. 
  • Fry it till the ingredients turn golden brown.
  • Add one cup washed, fresh curry leaves and fry for one minute.
  • After cooling, grind and make a paste.

This chutney side goes well with any main dish, particularly hot idlis, chapatis, dosas, or rice. 

Curry leaf — the secret to luxurious dark hair? (Image: Nagarjun via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)

Curry Leaf for healthy hair

Used properly, curry leaves have the ability to nourish your hair strands, follicles and scalp — revitalizing hair growth, while the herb’s natural pigments help prevent graying. Anti-fungal properties can reduce dandruff and flaky scalp, and nutrients help build stronger, thicker strands. 

Try the treatments below to cleanse the scalp, revitalize hair growth, and reduce hair loss. 

Simple Remedy:

  • Grind a cup of fresh curry leaves and extract the juice 
  • Add the curry juice to the few drops of coconut oil.
  • Heat the mixture until it turns black.
  • Apply this on the hair on alternate days.  

Traditional method:

  • Blend a cup of yogurt with curry leaves and make a paste.
  • Apply the paste to the scalp and leave it for half an hour. 
  • Rinse the hair using a mild shampoo.

Sourcing and storing

Any Indian grocery will have fresh curry leaves for next-to nothing. They will remain fresh for up to 10 days if refrigerated. Dried leaves retain the rich aroma and can still be used to flavor recipes, but remove the tough morsels before consuming. 

Dried leaves can also be ground into a fine powder for use as a supplement, or combined with coconut oil for a shelf-stable hair treatment.

For an herb that is deliciously effective against acne, anemia, diarrhea, indigestion,  gastrointestinal disorders and more, there is little reason not to try it. A few curry leaves can make all the difference for a flavorful meal and a healthy body to boot!