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Curry Plant: A Useful Herb

Easy to grow, curry plant leaves add flavor to food and may help control diabetes.

Specialist garden centers and herb farms sell curry trees-small trees, natives of India, that have hard wood and shiny, dark green, aromatic leaves. If you are looking for one, ask for Murraya koenigi. (They should not be confused with the grey curry plant, whose leaves do not usually find a place in food preparation.) The curry tree leaves have a strong smell. They were once the main herb seasoning Indian curry dishes and chutneys. The leaves give a spicy, slightly bitter taste to a dish, somewhat like anise, but with citrus overtones. The leaves are often fried in oil to release their taste and scent. You can buy fresh leaves from Indian shops and good vegetable shops and store them in the fridge or freezer for a few weeks, or buy them dried, when they will keep indefinitely in an airtight jar. Dried leaves give a dish a weaker flavor than do fresh leaves.

Health Benefits

Although curry leaves are added to give flavour to Indian dishes they are known to have some medicinal value as well, with Ayurvedic medicine suggesting that curry leaves may play a part in controlling non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. Working from that base, researchers at King’s College, London found extracts from curry leaves seemed to restrict the action of an enzyme, pancreatic alpha-amylase, which assists the breakdown of starch to glucose in the small intestine. Slowing the rate of starch breakdown allows an even supply of glucose into the bloodstream of people with diabetes, who do not produce sufficient insulin to handle rapid rises in blood glucose levels. Further research is needed to isolate the effective compound in the leaves.
The leaves are widely known to assist the functioning of the stomach and small intestine, having a mildly laxative effect. They are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Growing Curry Trees

Curry trees are best grown in warm temperatures-no lower than 15 degrees Celsius at night. The trees quickly lose their leaves in cool conditions. They are suitable for growing in pots. They need full sun, plenty of water and a reasonably rich soil that drains well. Your curry tree will enjoy occasional feeding with any balanced fertilizer containing nitrogen. It will look most attractive in summer, when clusters of small, delicately scented white flowers form, followed by shiny black, edible berries.

Curry Leaf Recipe

This recipe combines flavours from East and West.

Curry Leaf Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 750g red potatoes (Desiree work well)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • 25 curry leaves, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped

Method

  1. Cut potatoes into 2cm chunks and toss with the salt.
  2. Microwave potatoes covered, until just tender.
  3. Heat the oil, add the mustard seeds, cover while seeds pop.
  4. Then remove the cover and add the curry leaves.
  5. Cook for about ten seconds before adding garlic and cooked potatoes.
  6. Allow potatoes to brown and become crispy before serving.
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