All about herbs: Curry Tree, Bergera koenigii (syn Murraya koenigii)

All about herbs: Curry Tree, Bergera koenigii (syn Murraya koenigii)

There is nothing quite like a Curry Tree. Walking into the tunnel and smelling the faint aromatic spicy and heady scent of the curry leaves transports you away from the British climate to the tropics. The leaves have nothing to do with curry powder, they are a staple ingredient of Southern Indian food and also used in most vegetarian dishes. Sadly, fresh curry leaves are really hard to come by in the UK as they do not travel or dry well and nothing really compares to their distinctive aromatic with a hint of curry.

Our home grown Curry Tree plants will be available in the late spring of 2022, by then they will be 18 months old.   We are operating a wish list and will be working down the list when they are ready. Please email sales@jekkas.com to be added to this list.


The background of the Curry Tree

The Curry Tree (Bergera koenigii) is a tropical to sub-tropical tree in the family Rutaceae (the rue family, which includes rue, citrus, and satinwood), and is native to Asia.

It is a small bush or tree that only grows 4 m to just under 6 m (13 to just under 20 feet) in height and has a bi-pinnate leaf pattern. The Curry Leaf produces small, fragrant, white flowers in summer, which then produce small, berry like fruit with a single hard stone in the centre, the seed. As the berries mature, they become dark purple in colour and taste sweet when ripe, but not really nice enough to be eaten as a fruit. Please be aware that the seed is poisonous and must be removed prior to use.

The Curry Tree is also called curry leaf or curry bush as well as numerous local names, depending on country. For example, as it's flowers and fruits are somewhat similar in looks to the famous, medicinal Neem Trees of India (Azadirachta indica) and as the leaves are not bitter, it is sometimes called Meetha Neem (Sweet Neem). Do not confuse the Curry Tree with the Curry plant (Heichrysum italicum).


How to Grow the Curry Tree

Soil

In India, they grow in most types of soil. However, in the UK, it grows best in well-drained potting compost and grown as a container plant so that it can be protected from the vagaries of the winter weather.

Temperature

Curry Trees are frost tender and growth is more robust when temperatures are at least 18°C (65°F). At Jekka’s Herb Farm, ours are grown in the greenhouse which maintains the temperature above 9°C. The tree often loses all its leaves during winter. Do not worry, it is not dead, just resting. As a result, in the winter they can look a bit sorry for themselves particularly if it is overcast for a few weeks. However, with proper care, they will come back strong in the spring.

Light

They are particularly sensitive to daylight length and can struggle a bit in our short dark winter days. To combat this make sure they are in as bright a spot as possible.

Watering

We cut right back on the watering in the winter. We water infrequently from December to the end of February and even then we are cautious about over watering until they have put on some good new season growth by early summer.

Jekka advises to water when the top of the soil is dry, but in summer, you can be more generous allowing the water to run right through the pot. However, do not allow your plant to stand in water.

Jekka’s top tip is to feed with organic liquid seaweed every few waterings to encourage growth. At Jekka’s we ‘Feed on Fridays’ during the growing months.

Pests

From our experience, insects and pests seem to find Curry Trees as tasty as we do. Common pests include aphids, scale and mealy bug, particularly on the young growth. We recommend using SB Invigorator as a sustainable method for removing or controlling these pests.


Growing the Curry Tree in the UK

It is well known that these trees are difficult to grow from seed as the seed remains viable only for a short period. This, as well as the fact that seeds are rare in this country, is the main reason we do not sell the seed.

Jekka is very proud to have, after 35 years, managed to propagate the Curry Tree for sale in the UK climate.  As a result, we have a very limited number available for sale.

The seed must be ripe and fresh to plant and must be sown shortly after ripening. Dried or shrivelled fruits are not viable. The greatest success has been achieved by using very fresh seed. One can plant the whole fruit, but we have found that is best to remove the pulp before planting.

Jekka sows into her potting mix that is well draining with a little grit added. It is best to keep the soil moist but not wet but equally do not let the compost dry out.  


Culinary uses of the Curry Tree

Leaves are most flavoursome when used fresh, straight off the tree. The fresh leaves are an indispensable part of Indian cuisine and Indian traditional medicines. They are most widely used in southern and west coast Indian cooking, usually fried along with vegetable oil, mustard seeds and chopped onions in the first stage of the preparation. Alternatively, use them fresh as you would bay leaves to produce an authentic curry flavour. We enjoy using them in soups, sauces, and stews.

Storing Fresh Curry Leaves

If you can find Curry Leaves only rarely, you can store them in a variety of ways. To store them:

  • Either leave them on their stalks or strip them off the stalks.
  • Wash well and spread out on a towel or newspaper for 12 hours, in shade or in a warm room or a conservatory, until all water has dried off. Any water on the leaves will 'burn' them.
  • Then you can:
    1. Place in a plastic bag, press to remove as much air as you can and seal. Keep them in fridge.
    2. Wrap them in a paper towel, then keep in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the fridge.
    3. Store them in airtight jars and keep them out of direct sun-light.
    4. Freeze them, if you can buy them only occasionally. You can take out as many as you want and use them directly from the freezer, without defrosting.

If storing leaves, we recommend crushing them before use.


Medicinal uses.

Curry leaves contain many medicinal properties and many vitamins, when used with food they assist with the digestion.

Want to know more?

For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter. Together they form the basis of Jekka’s guide on how to grow herbs.

Please also see Jekka's herbs of the month blogs: Bay (January), Rosemary (February), Salad Burnet (March), French Tarragon (April), Angelica (May), Alliums (June), Lavender (July), Basil (August), Mint (September), Szechuan Pepper (October) and Thyme (November).

Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar). Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us (sales@jekkas.com). We no longer offer a general mail order service for our plants but we do offer a limited selection of Jekka's Culinary Herb Boxes.