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Curry leaves

Category: Food



Introduction and description

The curry tree (Murraya koenigii) is a tropical to sub-tropical tree in the family Rutaceae (the rue family, which includes rue, citrus, and satinwood), which is native to India and Sri Lanka.   It is known for its aromatic leaves often used in Indian cuisine

Often used in curries, the leaves are generally called by the name 'curry leaves', although they are also literally 'sweet neem leaves' in most Indian languages (as opposed to ordinary neem leaves which are very bitter and in the family Meliaceae, not Rutaceae).

The species name commemorates the botanist Johann König. The genus Murray commemorates Swedish physician and botanist Johan Andreas Murray who died in 1791.


The aromatic leaves are pinnate, with 11–21 leaflets, each leaflet 2–4 cm (0.79–1.57 in) long and 1–2 cm (0.39–0.79 in) broad. The plant produces small white flowers which can self-pollinate to produce small shiny-black drupes containing a single, large viable seed. Though the berry pulp is edible—with a sweet but medicinal flavour—in general, neither the pulp nor seed is used for culinary purposes.

The English term curry is of Indian origin: In Tamil, the most important South Indian language, the word kari [கறி] means soup or sauce; this is also the basis of the Tamil name for curry-leaves, kari­veppilai [கறிவேப்பிலை] which contains ilai [இலை] leaf.

In North Indian (Ar­yan) languages, curry leaves are usually denoted by their Tamil name, or an adap­tation thereof, for example Hindi kari­patta [करीपत्ता] and or Bengali karhi-pat [কাঢ়িপাত] Curry-leaf, or Sinhala karapincha [කරපිංචා]. The same first element is also found in Marathi kadhi-limb [कढीलिंब] (from limbu [लिंबू] lemon) and Kannada kari-bevu [ಕರಿಬೇವು], where second ele­ment bevu [ಬೇವು] desig­nates the nim tree (often spelled neem, Azadirachta indica), which has similar foliage. Cf. also the Sanskrit name girinimba [गिरिनिंब] mountain-neem. There is also the Hindi name mitha nim [मीथ णीम] sweet nim, where the adjective sweet refers to edibility in general.


Seeds must be ripe and fresh to plant; dried or shriveled fruits are not viable. One can plant the whole fruit, but it is best to remove the pulp before planting in potting mix that is kept moist but not wet.   Stem cuttings can be also used for propagation.

Medicinal uses

Curry leaves have long been used in traditional Ayuverdic Indian medicine and recent research by people such as Professor Peter Houghton of King''s College London have started to confirm that indeed the leaf may be able to help, for example, diabetics.  He said extracts from the curry-leaf tree appeared to restrict action of a digestive enzyme called pancreatic alpha-amylase .. The enzyme is involved in the breakdown of dietary starch to glucose.

But in the wider context, as you will see from the followng analysis, the leaves have an anti-bacterial and anti-viral action which may in the end prove more useful.  See also the observations.

Chem Biodivers. 2013 Apr;10(4):628-41. doi: 10.1002/cbdv.201200054.  Phytochemical diversity of Murraya koenigii (L.) Spreng. from Western Himalaya.  Verma RS1, Chauhan A, Padalia RC, Jat SK, Thul S, Sundaresan V. ;CSIR-Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Research Center-Pantnagar, P. O. Dairy Farm Nagla, Udham Singh Nagar, Uttarakhand-263149, India.

Murraya koenigii (L.) Spreng. (Rutaceae), commonly known as 'curry leaf tree', is a popular spice and condiment of India.

To explore the diversity of the essential-oil yield and aroma profile of curry leaf, growing wild in foot and mid hills of north India, 58 populations were collected during spring season. M. koenigii populations were found to grow up to an altitude of 1487 m in north India.

Comparative results showed considerable variations in the essential-oil yield and composition. The essential-oil yield varied from 0.14 to 0.80% in shade-dried leaves of different populations of M. koenigii. Analysis of the essential oils by GC and GC/MS, and the subsequent classification by statistical analysis resulted in four clusters with significant variations in their terpenoid composition. Major components of the essential oils of investigated populations were

·         α-pinene (2; 4.5-71.5%),

·         sabinene (3; <0.05-66.1%),

·         (E)-caryophyllene (11; 1.6-18.0%),

·          β-pinene (4; <0.05-13.6%),

·         terpinen-4-ol (9; 0.0-8.4%),

·         γ-terpinene (8; 0.2-7.4%),

·         limonene (7; 1.1-5.5%),

·         α-terpinene (6; 0.0-4.5%),

·         (E)-nerolidol (14; 0.0-4.1%),

·         α-humulene (12; 0.6-3.5%),

·         α-thujene (1; 0.0-2.5%),

·         β-elemene (10; 0.2-2.4%),

·         β-selinene (13; 0.2-2.3%), and

·         myrcene (5; 0.5-2.1%).

Comparison of the present results with those in earlier reports revealed new chemotypes of M. koenigii in investigated populations from Western Himalaya. The present study documents M. koenigii populations having higher amounts of sabinene (3; up to 66.1%) for the first time.

PMID: 23576349


The leaves are valued as seasoning in southern and west-coast Indian cooking, and Sri Lankan cooking, usually fried along with chopped onion in the first stage of the preparation. They are also used to make thoran, vada, rasam and kadhi.

They are also available dried, though the aroma is “largely inferior”.  We have not provided recipes for this very reason “Since curry leaves lose their delicate fragrance soon after drying, you should try to obtain them fresh; don’t waste your time with the dried stuff!

Related observations