Word has it that a curry-leaf tree in the back garden is many a cook’s secret to the perfect curry.
Curry leaves are the fragrant, glossy green leaves that are produced by a hardwood tree indigenous to southern India and Sri Lanka. Curry leaves are used in curries and rice dishes all over Asia, but especially in India. The leaves are sold fresh or dried in Indian food stores. The tree (Murraya koenigii) can be planted countrywide, but fares best in the tropics as it’s frost-sensitive. Curry-leaf trees can be cultivated from cuttings, but as they root slowly it’s easier to buy an established sapling. They’re in plentiful supply for about R40 each from KwaZulu-Natal nurseries, but it’s worthwhile scouting around your local nursery – if they don’t have any they might be able to order one for you. According to Worms R Us nursery in Durban, it’s not difficult to cultivate this small tree, and it can also be grown as a good informal hedge.
• Plant the tree in full sun, although it will also cope with semi-shaded conditions.
• Prepare the soil well – as for any tree dig a large hole (about 1 x 1 x 1m), add compost and a handful of a general fertiliser such as 2:3:2, or a natural fertiliser.
• Place the bag in the hole and cut it away, taking care not to disturb the roots.
• Fill the hole with compost-rich soil and water well.
• The curry-leaf tree also does well in a container.
• Water well once a week.
• Regular feeding isn’t necessary, although your tree will benefit from an all-purpose fertiliser such as earthworm tea every six weeks.
• The tree will grow about 2m tall, but be patient – it’s a slow grower.
The leaves can be harvested year-round. Pick twigs and strip the leaves as required.
Pests and diseases
The plant may be attacked by citrus psylla – a small insect that appears in the shape of bumps on the leaves. Remove the affected leaves and treat the tree with a natural insecticide of soapy water and garlic.
Curry leaves have the beneficial properties of a herbal tonic and aid digestive functions.