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   Oct 29

Curry leaf: From Mother Nature’s Branch of Medicine

As with a few other spices on this website, the first step in talking about curry leaf is clearing up a bit of confusion.

Curry leaf isn’t curry powder. It doesn’t look like curry powder or taste like it. But curry leaf has a lot to do with curry dishes. The wonderfully fragrant, tangerine-like flavor of the curry leaf is as common in South Indian curries as bay leaf is in American stews.

Curry leaf is also a standard remedy in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India, where it’s used to control diabetes, heart disease, infections, and inflammation. In the 1950s, scientists began discovering the biochemical details underlying its therapeutic powers, and in the subsequent decades dozens of studies have demonstrated that it’s loaded with healing compounds.

Just like many green leafy vegetables, curry leaf is rich in the antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamin C. But when Indian researchers measured the antioxidant power of curry leaf—its ability to gobble up the malicious molecules called free radicals that injure cells and their precious genetic cargo—they found it outperformed three other leafy greens popular in Indian cuisine. The reason: an elite team of antioxidants called carbazole alkaloids that are abundant only in curry leaf.

Relief from a Leaf

It’s no surprise that curry leaf might help hinder a range of diseases linked to the oxidative damage from free radicals—type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes—the disease of chronically high blood sugar—afflicts more than 24 million Americans, damaging blood vessels and causing heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, blindness, hard-to-heal foot ulcers, and other circulatory disasters. More curry leaf in the diet might help.

In a study on mice bred to develop diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity, researchers at the Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research at the University of Chicago used curry leaf to reduce levels of high blood sugar (glucose) by 45 percent. And cholesterol dropped by 35 percent—another important finding, since high cholesterol is a major risk for the heart attacks and strokes that kill three out of four people with type 2 diabetes. Curry leaf may offer help in “improving the management” of type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, the researchers concluded.

Curry leaf—with a flavor half lemon and half tangerine—is from a tree that is a member of the citrus family.

Indian researchers, at the Alternative Therapeutics Center of the University of Allahabad, used curry leaf extracts to lower glucose 48 percent in experimental animals. The spice also lowered total cholesterol by 31 percent, triglycerides (another heart-damaging blood fat) by 23 percent, and raised “good” HDL cholesterol by 30 percent. Curry leaf has a “favorable effect in bringing down the severity of diabetes,” they concluded in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

Memory loss. When Indian researchers added curry leaf to the diets of laboratory animals, they found the spice improved their memories—and the more spice the animals ate, the better they could remember. The researchers also found the spice boosted cholinergic activity in the brains of the animals, the same activity that progressively decreases with the step-by-step onset of age-related memory loss, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease. Curry leaf might have “therapeutic potential . . . in the management of Alzheimer patients,” concluded the researchers in Phytotherapy Research.

Colon cancer. Indian researchers found that curry leaf extract significantly reduced the number of tumors in experimental animals with chemically induced colon cancer. Including curry leaf in the “daily diet plays a significant role in the protection of the colon” against cancer, concluded the researchers.

Getting to Know Curry Leaf

The curry tree—a member of the citrus family that grows in the backyards and the back country throughout India—produces a leaf with a flavor that’s half lemon and half tangerine.

That flavor adds zest not only to the cuisines of India and Sri Lanka, but also to the cuisines of Burma, Malaysia, and Singapore. And it’s an essential spice not only in curries, but also in dals (lentil stews),samosas (deep-fried appetizers, usually vegetarian), sambars (chowder-like broths), chutneys, and breads. It’s also an ingredient in South Indian curry powder.

How to Buy Curry Leaf

Curry leaf is incomparable fresh, but the only place you’re likely to find it fresh is in an Indian market. If you’re lucky enough to live near one, you’ll find curry leaves in the produce section, packaged on the stem, in clear wrap. The leaves look like small, thin bay leaves. Don’t pass up an opportunity to buy fresh curry leaves—they’re not expensive, and they won’t go to waste because you can freeze them. (If you don’t see them, ask for them. They’re almost always available.)

Curry leaf pairs well with these spices:







Fennel seed





Mustard seed






and complements recipes featuring:












Other recipes containing curry leaf:

Black Pepper Rice with Almonds

Brussels Sprouts Kulambu

Hot Curry Powder

Sol Kadhi

To keep curry leaves fresh and fragrant, keep them on the stem until you’re ready to use them. Then pull them off one by one, as needed. They keep in the refrigerator for about a week. As mentioned, they freeze well, too—just pop the bag in your freezer and pull off the leaves as needed. They will keep in the freezer for about two months. Once frozen, they form dark spots and can turn almost black, but this change in appearance doesn’t decrease flavor. It’s best to chop up darkened, thawed curry leaves.

Curry leaf is also available dried or as a powder. You can purchase both in Indian markets or online, through Web sites that sell Indian spices. (See the list of retailers in the “Buyer’s Guide”.) Both dried and powdered curry leaf keeps for about a year, in an airtight container away from heat and light.

In the Kitchen with Curry Leaf

Use curry leaves as they’re used in Indian cooking—sautéed in sizzling oil, at the beginning of cooking. They’ll splatter, so cover the pan. Sautéed leaves add crunchiness and aroma to your dishes. In South Indian cooking, fresh curry leaves are most often paired with mustard seed.

Fresh curry leaf adds a deeply fragrant and distinctive flavor to food—which is mostly lost when the spice is dried. If you’re using dried curry leaves, add a handful to get the same flavor you’d get from one fresh leaf.

Here are ways to add more curry leaf to your diet:

• Add fresh curry leaves to salads and salad dressing.

• Add them to seafood or meat stews.

• Try them in chili.

• Add a few fresh leaves to chicken soup, or ladle the soup and add a fresh leaf to each bowl of soup.

• Use it instead of bay leaf, for a change of pace and taste.

• The citrus-like flavor of curry leaf makes it a natural for marinades.

• Add a curry leaf or two to pickling recipes.

Onion and Tomato Chutney

This deliciously spicy Indian chutney was developed by my friend Alamelu Vairavan, a native of South India, for her book Healthy South Indian Cooking. Serve it as a snack with bread or crackers or as an accompaniment to grilled beef, chicken, or fish. Add more or less red chile depending on your personal preference for the heat.

2 tablespoons canola oil

¼ teaspoon asafoetida powder

5 fresh curry leaves

2–4 whole dried red chiles

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon urad dal (split white lentils) or 1 teaspoon cumin seed

1 cup coarsely chopped onions

1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes

3 garlic cloves, peeled

¼ teaspoon tamarind paste

½ teaspoon salt

1. Heat the canola oil in a small skillet or wok over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the asafoetida powder, curry leaves, red chiles, mustard seeds, and urad dal. Cover and heat until the mustard seeds pop and the urad dal turns golden brown, about 30 seconds.

2. Add the onions, tomatoes, and garlic cloves and stir-fry until tender.

3. Add the tamarind paste and salt. Stir and cook for a few minutes until the mixture is well blended. Remove from heat.

4. Transfer the ingredients to a blender or food processor. Add 1 cup of warm water and grind until the ingredients are ground thoroughly and reach a thick consistency.

Makes 2½ cups.

Read more: http://health.tipsdiscover.com/curry-leaf-from-mother-natures-branch-of-medicine/#ixzz2j5WUaCIP

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