Curry leaves – Ahh…the efforts that people living outside India go to grow their curry leaf plants!! They range from:
Fingers crossed (please don’t die on me for the 21st time) ← This is me!!
Major OCD levels – I spray exactly 18 drops at its roots, tilt the plant at 35 degree angle while singing to it and ensuring that it is facing the sun for exactly 2.35 hours daily.
I kid , of course!!
But, gone are the days when we go to our backyards in Chennai to pluck a few curry leaves off a huge tree just a few seconds before tadka. Or for just a few rupees, the vegetable vendor would plop a huge bunch of curry leaves, especially if he/she liked you. Nowadays, the state of affairs is such that – it is reduced to buying sad, blackened tiny packets of leaves at daylight robbery rates at the local Indian grocery store.
The botanical name for curry leaves is Murraya koenigii. Many research papers will use this name rather than the common curry leaves, or kadi patta (hindi) or karuveppilai (tamil) or karivepaku (telugu).
Curry leaves are yummy
It took me a while to appreciate the wonders of this leaf. When I was little, I would pick out all the curry leaves and shove them to the side of the plate. My mom would insist it will help me grow my hair (we will see down if that is true or not) , but that was not an incentive enough. But now that I am enamored by it, I also, shamelessly deploy the same warning to my kids. Surprisingly, they eat it without all the fuss I made as a child. My poor mom!!
Curry leaves smells wonderful. It fries in oil to give the best crunch you can possibly get for a dark, leafy green. The aroma of hing and curry leaves in oil – smells like, well …home, and mom!! Curry leaves is such an integral ingredient for hard core south indian dishes like lemon rice, sambar, rasam, coconut rice, curry, etc. Tasty and a culinary gift!!
Curry leaves and nutrition
The leaf extract of curry leaves has been reported to contain moisture (66.3%), protein (1%), fat (1%), carbohydrate (16%), fiber (6.4%), and mineral matter (4.2%).
The main minerals per 100 g of leaves are calcium (810 mg), phosphorus (600 mg), and iron (2.1 mg).
Look at the calcium numbers!! Off-the-charts, isn’t it? However, the leaves also contains oxalic acid, which also reduces the availability of calcium. They contain total oxalate (1.352%) and soluble oxalate (1.155%).
The vitamins in the leaves are carotene (12,600 IU), nicotinic acid (2.3 mg), and Vitamin C (4 mg).
Here’s the cool part – Curry leaves have been proven to have really high antioxidant and free radical scavenging properties. In fact, the antioxidant effects of curry leaf extract have been proven to be even higher than the commercial ingredient called BHT (used commonly in cereals)
Are curry leaves good for diabetics?
Though there is a lot of talk and research about the link of curry leaves and diabetics, but there was no strong numbers that blew me away.
Consider this article published in the guardian.com headlined: “Curry leaves may help control diabetes, scientists say”. Here’s a quote from the lead scientist: ‘He said although it was quite possible that people who ate curry leaf regularly as part of their diet could help control their diabetes, sufferers should first consult their doctors. “Quite possible”, “could help” – so many vague statements!!
There has been some studies on the glycemic effects of curry leaf extracts on diabetic animals. They do paint a positive picture in probably reducing severity with regular usage, but only as a supporting mechanism, not primary. That too, this is only still at the animal research stage, not human levels. So, while a positive ingredient, nothing that seems too powerful, at least to me.
The curry leaves plant is said to be the richest natural source of Carbazole Alkaloids. Let us look at these components separately:
Carbazole – Carbazole and its derivatives can be used topically for the treatment of psoriasis and other inflammatory disorders.
Alkaloids – Most of the known functions of alkaloids are related to protection. For example, aporphine alkaloid liriodenine produced by the tulip tree protects it from parasitic mushrooms. In addition, the presence of alkaloids in the plant prevents insects and chordate animals from eating it.
Given its bitterness, and its highest carbazole alkaloid content, I like to think of curry leaves as this ninja-fighting warrior leaf who can be pretty mean at first glance, but very powerful in protecting you, and eventually you get to around to loving it/him/her – who knows, maybe the movie bodyguard was all about curry leaves!! (sorry, terrible joke… I know!!)
Curry leaves and Hair – round and round we go!!
Rapunzel, rapunzel – did you eat golden curry leaves for your hair??
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that there is some link between curry leaves and hair. Take my favorite Youtube mami, from Agrahara recipes, who has fantastic hair, well into her 70’s and attributes a lot of that to curry leaves. Now, she is advising me (albeit via Youtube) just like say, my own mom or aunt, grandma, etc. IMO, she has no profit motivation. But how about products or the current state of research?
Some products will claim curry leaves are rich in amino acids and beta carotene or throw in some more concepts like curry leaves can help with hormone levels and Vitamin b6 for strong hair shafts. Wut?? What are your talking about? Where is the evidence that Vitamin B6 or beta carotene will lead to strong hair? Or are you just randomly claiming information that nobody will bother to refute, since after all curry leaves and hair is a well known old wives tale.
I am completely ok with people using natural products on their hair. But don’t use fancy words just to increase your marketing price point. Hair loss (alopecia) is a fairly well-researched field, but as far as I can tell at this point of time, scientists cannot tell you with great confidence which mineral or vitamin can cause significant improvement.
Some papers state that Murraya koenigii will retain the black color of the hair or in other words, it will prevent the premature greying of the hair. The link they give regurgitates the same facts without any data backing the evidence. How much leaves does one have to eat to achieve black hair? Even if you eat them, what property of the curry leaves is causing your hair to retain its blackness. This is not clearly evidenced with our current body of research.
However, this does not mean you cannot use a variety of common sense natural techniques to help your hair. Here’s what has been proven with certainty. The essential oil from M. koenigii leaves has been scientifically proven to have strong inhibition ability against many strains of bacteria and a strong antioxidant profile. My theory is that if you take the paste of this bitter, bacteria fighting leaf and apply it to your hair, chances are you are making the scalp a healthier place for hair follicles to grow.
Finally, why does the US Customs not allow curry leaves while traveling?
So, looks like curry leaves can be anti-inflammatory, anti bacterial and have all kinds of power, yet it proves to be powerless against the US Customs. The reason is that they suspect a pest that curry leaves can harbor can infect and destroy citrus groves in the US and can cause billions in damages. Now, a pest that can even withstand curry leaves must be a very evil/resistant one?? Maybe we should be eating that pest, eh?
Here’s the ironic part – Calstate is researching a method called trap cropping to avoid this pest infestation and one of the plants that they wish to plant in between the groves to lure away the pest is – you guessed it – curry leaves!!
Curry Leaves are:
- A great source of calcium, but also contains oxalates
- A proven antibacterial and has high antioxidant capabilities
- One of the highest natural sources of carbazole alkaloids
- Overall, a fantastic herb to eat!!
Post your comments below on your favorite aspect or usage of curry leaves.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor/nutritionist. Only an engineer obsessed with numbers. Please consult your doctor before any major diet/nutritional change.