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Murraya koenigii (L.) Spreng. 1825
pronounced: mer-RAY-yuh koh-NIG-ee-eye
(Rutaceae — the lemon family)
synonym: Bergera koenigii L. 1771
pronounced: BER-ger-uh koh-NIG-ee-eye
common name: Curry Leaf Tree
The genus was named for Johann Andreas Murray (1740–1791), who was both a medical doctor and a botanist. He studied under Linnaeus at Uppsala, taught medicine at Göttingen from 1764, and was director of the city’s botanic gardens from 1769. Koenigii is for Johann Gerhard Koenig (1728-1785), Danish doctor and botanist, another pupil of Linnaeus.
Fresh leaves from this tree are in indispensible ingredient in Indian cooking, having a very distinct spicy aroma and flavour.
The tree is found naturally in the outer Himalayas, from the Ravi eastwards, at altitudes up to about 1500 m, and in Assam, Chittagong and Burma. It is also found in both evergreen and deciduous forests in peninsular India, often as underwood.
It is a small spreading shrub, about 2.5 m tall; the main stem is dark green to brownish, with numerous dots. The leaves are without stipules, pinnately compound, about 30 cm long, with 24 alternate leaflets that are lanceolate. The leaflets closer to the petiole are often sub-opposite or even opposite. The biggest leaflets are almost 5 cm long and 2 cm broad, with petioles about 5 mm long.
The flowers are bisexual, white, infundibuliform, sweetly scented, just over a centimetre in diameter, produced in a terminal cyme, each cyme bearing 60-90 flowers. Each flower has 10 stamens in two circles of 5, one circle of small stamens about 4 mm long, and the other of stamens a millimetre or two longer.
The fruits are globose to ovoid, a little over 1 cm in diameter. When fully ripe, they are black, with a very shiny surface; the pulp is blue. There is one seed per fruit, green in colour, taking up about half of the fruit. Although the fruits are sweet to the taste, and are eaten fresh, they have a slightly unpleasant odour that some people find off-putting.
The plant has a number of medicinal properties. A preparation made from leaves, bark and roots is used as a tonic and a stomachic. One made from the bark and roots is used as a stimulant. They are also used externally to treat boils and bites from poisonous animals.
The green leaves are eaten raw to treat dysentery, and an infusion of the leaves is said to stop vomiting. Twigs from the plant are used to clean the teeth, and this is also said to strengthen the gums.
The tree is quite ornamental, and can be used as a garden shrub or as a hedge, as well as a source of the fresh leaves for flavouring curries; but, beware – in a tropical climate fallen seeds germinate readily, and seedlings sprout all around the trees. As well as this, birds love the fruits, and spread the seeds everywhere. This tree can easily become invasive, and a real pest.
The timber is a heavy hardwood, and much sought after, especially in Asia – supplies are usually extremely limited. The root wood in particular is locally considered the best wood for making small objects. It fetches high prices, and is sold by the piece.
feed on this plant.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2013
Page last updated 2nd January 2017