Curry leaves popularly called curry patta are a rich source of vitamin A, calcium and folic acid and among other things can prevent early development of cataract.
Several old Indian texts date the existence of curry leaves to ancient times. Tamil literature specifically mentions the significance and various uses of curry leaves, which are native to south India and Sri Lanka. Their use in Indian cuisine is also given special mention in old Kannada texts. Popularly known as curry patta, it is also referred to as meethi neem — owing to its resemblance to the neem leaves. However, the curry tree is not in any way related to the neem tree. These leaves are highly valued for their distinctive flavor, making them very popular in the cuisines of south and west India and Sri Lanka. They are also used as an herbal tonic in ayurvedic medicine.
Curry leaf is a good source of vitamin A, calcium and folic acid. Its richness in vitamin A and antioxidants may help explain its use in preventing early development of cataract. Being a fairly good source of folic acid, the leaves can also help in absorption of iron. Other proposed benefits include boost in circulation and anti-inflammation. It is also anti-diabetic, antioxidant, anti-microbial, hepatoprotective, hypo-cholestrolemic, and delays premature graying. With its anti-inflammatory benefits, it is used in treating bruises and skin eruptions. It can also be used as a sedative and a hair tonic. Its mildly laxative properties aid digestion too. While some of these benefits have been documented in preliminary scientific trials, more studies are required to establish them in human trials.
In a study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition in 2009, several Indian leafy vegetables were compared for their antioxidant activity. Interestingly, total antioxidant activity and free radical scavenging activity were highest in curry leaves. This shows that curry leaves and their extract hold great promise to mediate the immune system and metabolic processes. A study published this year has found potent anti-bacterial properties in curry leaves, which encourages further studies on the use of curry leaves as a viable therapeutic agent. Other studies have also found anti-fungal activity in curry leaves, which explains why it is used to fight bad breath and gum disease.
It is perhaps a good idea to include curry leaves in your diet. They can be used both raw and cooked. Typically, in Indian cooking, a whole bunch is tempered with ghee or oil. It combines well with vegetables, lentils, fish, meats, curds, butter and coconut milk. They can also be ground and used as paste in curries. Leaves dried in open air lose their pungency, while vacuum-dried ones can retain their odor with flavor for up to two weeks. However, the leaves are best consumed fresh. A curry leaf tree is easy to grow in soil or earthen pots in a house garden.
Some practitioners of herbal medicine advise consuming a few leaves in the morning, while others recommend therapeutic doses as juice. However, it should not exceed more than 15 grams. As several metabolic diseases and age-related degenerative disorders are closely associated with oxidative processes in the body, the use of curry leaves as a source of antioxidants warrants further attention.
Like other herbs and spices, curry leaves have a history and a strong presence in our cultural heritage, including food and health. While several health benefits are known, research must focus on identifying the curry leaves’ bio-active substances, validating its traditionally known health effects. With increasing interest in alternative therapies, this information can prove to be hugely beneficial.