Curry leaf - history

The curry leaf tree is native to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Andaman Islands. Later spread by Indian migrants, they now grow in other areas of the world where Indian immigrants settled. Widely cultivated, the leaves are particularly associated with South Indian cuisines.

Origins

Curry leaf trees are naturalised in forests and waste land throughout the Indian subcontinent except in the higher parts of the Himalayas. From the Ravi river in Pakistan its distribution extends eastwards towards Assam in India and Chittagong in Bangladesh, and southwards to Tamil Nadu in India. The plants were spread to Malaysia, South Africa and Réunion Island with South Asian immigrants.

History

The use of curry leaves as a flavouring for vegetables is described in early Tamil literature dating back to the 1st to 4th centuries AD. Its use is also mentioned a few centuries later in Kannada literature. Curry leaves are still closely associated with South India where the word 'curry' originates from the Tamil 'kari' for spiced sauces. An alternative name for curry leaf throughout India is kari-pattha. Today curry leaves are cultivated in India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Australia, the Pacific Islands and in Africa as a food flavouring.