Curry leaf (Murraya koenigii) is a small semi-tropical tree that is a member of the citrus family. It is related to rue. The trees are native to India and are a basic part of the local cuisine. The leaves are used fresh because, unlike bay leaves, they lose their flavor when dried. They are added to dishes at the start of cooking, fried in butter which brings out their flavor. The cooked leaves are not eaten. Like bay leaves, they are removed before the dishes are served.
Although called curry leaf, the leaves do not taste of curry. Curry as we understand it is called masala in India and it is a mixture of many different spices. Each region of India has its own unique curry mixture which may or may not include curry leaf.
Curry leaf is so aromatic that it is commonly used in perfumes, soaps, body lotions, bath oils, massage oils, air fresheners, potpourri, and incense. It is also used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat infections, control inflammations and control heart disease.
The trees are hardy in zones 9 through 11. They prefer semi-shade or a location with morning sun and afternoon shade. They should be grown in a sheltered area that is out of direct winds. They are also suitable for growing in containers that are brought indoors during the winter. At maturity, these tiny trees are only 15 feet tall. They bloom variously throughout the year. The flowers are small and white but very fragrant. They are self-pollinating. Each flower produces a berry with a single seed. The berries are edible but have a strong medicinal flavor so they are not usually eaten.
You can propagate curry leaf via cuttings or seeds. If you are using cuttings, cut a 4 to 6 inch length from the end of a stem. Strip the leaves from the bottom half before inserting it about 2 inches deep into your growing medium. Then cover the cutting and containers with a plastic bag that has slits in it for ventilation. Place the tented container in a warm (70⁰F), sunny spot. Keep the soil evenly moist. Roots should begin to grow in about 3 weeks.
If you are growing from seed, use the freshest seed that you can find. The berry covering should not be dry or shriveled. Remove the pulp from the seed before planting. Keep the soil warm and evenly moist.
It takes about 2 years before trees are mature enough to harvest leaves.