The Curry Tree – Murraya koenigii
This graceful and attractive evergreen shrub or small tree, the precious Curry Tree, so huge a part of Indian and Asian cuisine, has been used to flavour curry dishes, chicken and meat as well as vegetable and lentil curries for centuries in its native Sri Lanka. Also known as Kahdi patta there, every household has a tree for it is the fresh leaves that are the best in cooking and for medicinal uses.
Quick growing but frost tender, the Curry Tree can be grown in a large pot but prefers to be out in the garden where its fragrant, small, white star-flowers scent the evening air. The flowers are followed by clusters of black berries, which are edible and much loved by the birds.
The compound leaflets, usually about 16 on a stem, have a strange pungent smell which, if 2 or 3 stems of leaflets are laid on top of the curry while it is cooking, will impart a fabulous flavour, but remove the leaves before serving. The fresh leaves can also be used to treat minor burns and skin eruptions, like boils, abscesses and bruises. Crushed and warmed in hot water, the pulp is then packed over the bruise, burn or boil and held in place with a bandage. A tea made of 4-6 fresh leaflets to 1 cup of boiling water (stand 5 minutes, then strain and sip slowly) is taken for stomach upsets, diarrhoea and even dysentery in Sri Lanka. A tea made of 2 full leaves (about 16 leaflets) in 2 cups of boiling water, cooled and strained, is used as a soothing wash for haemorrhoids and sore, rough feet, and if 4 cups of fresh leaves are boiled in about 4 litres of water along with 10 cloves and the skin of 1 lemon, for 15 minutes, then cooled and strained, this soothing brew can be added to the bath, or used as a wash for oily, pimply skin, or used to soothe aching feet and rough skin and burning soles.
The Curry Tree’s pretty fern-like look makes such an impact in landscaping, and you’ll be finding so many recipes in which to use the leaves that you’ll wonder how you cooked without it.
Plant your Curry Tree in full sun, in a deep, well-dug hole filled with compost and water it deeply twice a week, more in summer if it is very hot. Make a mini hothouse over it for winter to protect it from frost. The little tree forms itself into graceful shapes and for a small garden it is perfect as it can be pruned quite heavily to maintain its shape. In its native environment it can grow quite large but my 15 year old trees have only reached 3 metres in height.
I have also grown one Curry Tree against a hot concrete fence and it has covered a large area of it, beautifully spreading its fragile branches across it in exquisite abundance, espalier style, so it can be trained to cover as well.
With this unusual plant to start your spring planning, can you feel what a good season it’s going to be?
The Fruit Salad Plant and Curry Tree are available in the Margaret Roberts Malanseuns Herb Collection, which is available at most nurseries.
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