Curry leaves are a staple tempering ingredient in many South Indian dishes, yet it's mostly never consumed. Many believe it's part ends once it has been thrown into hot oil, imparting its strong and unmistakable 'curry' flavour and it need not be consumed thereafter. Well, maybe by the time you are done with this blog, you may never fish out that humble curry leaf to be thrown away ever again! The curry tree is a tropical to sub-tropical tree, native to India and Sri Lanka. Its leaves are used in many dishes in India, Sri Lanka, and neighbouring countries. Often used in curries, the leaves are generally called by the name 'curry leaves', although they are also literally 'sweet neem leaves' in most Indian languages, as opposed to ordinary neem leaves which are very bitter.
The most amazing benefit attributed to curry leaves is related to premature greying of hair. However, curry leaves help in many more ways and we are going to enumerate a few in this article.
As per Ayurveda, curry leaves can balance out all the three doshas in the body and reduce pitta in the stomach. Carbazole alkaloids present in curry leaves are both anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, hence of great use in stomach/ indigestion related ailments. Typically, part of an Indian meal will be the masala chaas or spiced buttermilk, usually made with buttermilk, ginger, cumin and salt and either tempered or finely chopped curry leaves. A special soother in scorching summers!
Curry leaves are also known to reduce blood sugar levels by affecting insulin activity and also protects the liver from oxidative stress. Like most green leaves, curry leaves too are a potent source of iron and folic acid. A simple kitchen remedy to tackle anaemia is having a date with two curry leaves first thing in the morning on empty stomach.
Studies conducted at the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University suggested that these chemicals had insecticidal and antimicrobial properties as well, specifically mosquitocidal properties. A study worth pursuing during times when problems of Dengue and Zika continue to plague us.
Coming back to hair care with curry leaves, taking a handful of curry leaves and then mixing them with yogurt, smashing them up makes a paste that can be applied directly to you hair. Leave the mixture in for half an hour. Then, wash the mixture out and wash your hair as normal (with soap nut if you want to keep it natural). This can help rejuvenate hair follicles and prevent hair loss.
It is also a good idea to make a ready-to-use curry leaf hair oil to be used when needed for a good head massage. Take some virgin, cold pressed coconut oil and heat it in a pan. Add generous amounts of curry leaves to it. My Mother also added hand crushed hibiscus leaves and allowed the oil to simmer. Once slightly cool, she would add a pinch of camphor in too.
My Mother also mentioned to me several times that eating about 300 curry leaves a day could actually reverse premature greying of hair. While I have no means of verifying this, I started digging for recipes that could help one consume curry leaves in large enough quantities for it to be able to have any therapeutic effect. That's when I came across Karuvepellai Podi.
This Podi can be made and stored easily for a month and goes brilliantly with idli, dosai and tempered rice. Here's the recipe that we use:
*Dry roast curry leaves on Low flame till they are crisp and dry enough to be powdered well.
*Also roast udad dal and dried red chillies separately and allow everything to cool.
*In a blender, blend together red chillies, curry leaves, asafoetida (gluten-free) and Himalayan salt.
*Lastly, add the udad dal and blend everything together. Store in a glass jar (I have always refrigerated this blend).
Traditional Indian food (recipes from your grand mother and earlier) rarely had an ingredient that was not significant or beneficial. I remember a lovely statement that said, "your food can be your quickest form of medicine or slowest form of poison".
It really sums up how food and nutrition is so critical in today's day and age. It goes beyond satiating hunger pangs. Well cooked, balanced and healthy food is meant to nourish the body as well as the soul.