Periodically trimming the curry leaf plant ensures a regular supply of young leaves for your kitchen, says Thilaka Baskaran
Recently, a garden magazine in Australia appealed to those growing curry leaves to destroy the berries before birds could disperse them. In some parts of that country, this plant has morphed into a weed.
Native to the Indian subcontinent, this plant has spread to other parts of the world.
The leaves are associated particularly with south Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. The use of these leaves as a flavouring agent is mentioned in Tamil literature from the 4th century AD.
Best as a bush
The curry leaf plant can be grown from stem cutting, root suckers or from ripe berries as seeds. If you use a stem cutting, use a green twig and not a hard and woody stick. Remove the lower leaves, cut the stem below the nodes and push it a few centimetres into a mixture of sand and compost.
Rooting takes three weeks. Keep trimming the plant periodically. This will not only ensure a regular supply of young leaves but also keep the plant bushy. The tree can grow up to six metres but it is better to maintain it as a low dense bush.
Water regularly and apply manure around the base, three to four times a year. If you do not have ground space, grow the plant in a large container in a balcony or terrace.
Watch out for jumping plant lice and mealy bugs, which are the common pests affecting curry leaf plant. Leaf curling, defoliation and death of leaf shoots are the symptoms. Just 0.5 per cent neem oil in soap solution could be sprayed.
Sometimes you might find a few green worms eating your plant away in a day. These are the caterpillars of the pretty butterfly, the Common Mormon, which is partial to curry leaves. You will have to decide if you want to let them have the plant for a while and buy curry leaves in the meantime, or remove them from the plant.
Curry leaves contain iron, calcium, and folic acid, a high amount of beta carotene, plant sterols and antioxidants.
The leaves, fruits, bark and roots of the plant have also been part of home remedies and indigenous medical traditions in our country. In ayurveda, vomiting, digestive disorders, skin conditions and premature greying are all treated with curry leaves in some form.
Ayurvedic texts also mention the use of curry leaves in the management of diabetes and in reducing blood sugar. Recent findings from Kings College, London, show that curry leaves contain a special compound that slows down the rate of breakdown of starch to glucose.
It remains to be seen if this would lead to a new drug for diabetes.