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).
Calcium: Look at the calcium numbers!! Off-the-charts, isn’t it? However, the leaves also contains oxalic acid, which may reduce the availability of calcium. They contain total oxalate (1.352%) and soluble oxalate (1.155%).
Antioxidants: 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)
Iron: A huge problem with eating greens is that the iron content in them (non-heme iron) seems to be mostly bound and not available to the body. However, there are patents of people extracting curry leaves as a dietary supplement to treat iron deficiency symptoms. Curry leaves seems to be an excellent way to maintain your iron stores in the body, especially for vegans and vegetarians.
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.
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.
Carbazole Alkaloids: Inflammation Protection
The curry leaves plant is said to be the richest natural source of Carbazole Alkaloids. Carbazole and its derivatives can be used topically for the treatment of psoriasis and other inflammatory disorders. Most of the known functions of alkaloids are related to protection. 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
Rapunzel, rapunzel – did you eat 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. She is advising me (albeit via Youtube) just like say, my own mom or aunt, grandma, etc. IMO, she has no profit motivation.
I also have heard from my aunt circles that eating curry leaves is great for hair. What could be the science behind it?
If you’re losing hair, you may have an iron deficiency.
A review of 40 years of research shows that iron deficiency has a much closer link to hair loss than most doctors realize. It may be the key to restoring hair growth, Cleveland Clinic dermatologists find.
“We believe that treatment for hair loss is enhanced when iron deficiency, with or without anemia, is treated,” Leonid Benjamin Trost, MD; Wilma Fowler Bergfeld, MD; and Ellen Calogeras, RD, MPH, write in the May issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Curry leaves are an excellent source of non-heme iron, when dehydrated they can provide up to 12 mg/100 g of dietary iron. That is a whopping 150% of daily requirement for most people.
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
- A proven antibacterial and has high antioxidant capabilities
- A very good source of iron
- 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.
Thanks, Swetha – Good to know these things about curry leaves.
I have a 12 year old curry tree, which I grew from a runner a lady in California sent me. It only took 8 months before I could start using it, and it’s been growing ever since! It grows well in well drained soil, but it likes water. I keep it in a 7 gal fiber pot now, and it needs re-potted every 3 years – the one time I went longer, it got rootbound, and the stress made it susceptible to scale insects – little things that collect on the undersides of the leaves, and some spider mites – the only time I saw these on mine. Re-potting it made it recover immediately. Every season, when it goes outside, it gets new growth immediately, and in less than 8 weeks, I have to trim it back! This year is when I have to do this re-potting again, after which, it will grow even faster.
I’ve propagated it by air layering – rooted in 5 months, but needed more roots, so next time I’ll try 7 months. And now I have 4 plants started from seeds, with one about 5 inches, the others 3 inches – very slow, as they were started in early October!
Nothing like having fresh herbs!
Wow..you certainly have the green thumb!! Thanks for the great gardening tips!!
You ever want to impress any Indian (especially South Indians), gift them some curry leaves. You will win over their hearts and undying gratitude!! 😁
Funny you should mention that about the gift of the curry leaves – I take my excess curry trimmings to a local Indian grocery, because I knew from the take out foods they sold that they were southern Indian. You would think I gave him a bag of gold, the first time I gave some to the owner, and he opened the bag and saw all those just cut branches from the curry tree! I told him I couldn’t just throw them out, and I knew that they could use them. I told him that he could have that larger plant I have growing, once it takes off and starts growing. They give me deals on things all the time, in return. I do the same thing with some red epazote, with the local Mexican grocer, who also could not believe that I had it, at first!
Hahaha…you, my friend, have figured out treasured trades from various cultures!! Bravo!! 👏