The curry plant, also known as immortelle or curry bush, lives up to its name. It smells pleasantly of curry and spice meals like rice and meat dishes. But also as a medicinal herb it has been known for a long time, so that it is still used today in natural medicine.
Profile of Curry plant:
Scientific name: Helichrysum italicum
Plant family: composite, asters
Other names: italian strawflower, immortelle
Sowing time / Planting time: February – March
Flowering period: June – September
Harvest time: all year round
Soil quality: sandy and nutrient-poor soils, low fertilizer
Use as a medicinal herb: wound healing, skin complaints, stress, restlessness
Use as aromatic herb: rice dishes, chicken, beef, paella
Plant characteristics and classification of Curry plant
Origin and distribution of curry herb
Curry plant is not known in Central Europe for too long. The plant originates from the Mediterranean and is today in wild form mainly in the countries of southern Europe, Turkey, Cyprus and some countries of northwest Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco). There it grows in the so-called sclerophyllous vegetation (also called macchia). Other names that are sometimes used are curry bush, Italian strawflower or Italian immortelle.
Systematics of curry herb
The Curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) is a relatively inconspicuous plant of the daisy family (Asteraceae). It is thus related to many other herbs such as the marigold, the dandelion, tarragon, chamomile or stevia. The genus strawflowers (Helichrysum) is very species rich with more than 600 species. In addition to the Curry plant, which is also called Italian straw flower, are the dwarf everlast (Helichrysum arenarium) and the licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare). From the Curry plant itself about six subspecies are known, i.a. the dwarf Curry plant (Helichrysum italicum ssp. Serotinum).
Characteristics of Curry plant
The Curry plant is an evergreen subshrub, which can reach growth height up to 70 cm (28 inches) and usually grows very bushy. The plant is perennial and prefers sunny locations. Also the plant has relatively narrow roots.
The leaves of Curry plant have a silvery-gray to silvery-green color with a pointed lanceolate or needle-like shape. They remind a little of the leaves of lavender or rosemary. The leaves contain many essential oils that are responsible for the curry-like fragrance. After fresh rain the scent intensifies. The stem is initially quite unstable and lignifies with age.
The curry bush produces relatively small and bright yellow flowers. The flowering period is usually between late June and mid-September, but can also be significantly shorter. The flowers are arranged in a racemose inflorescence, which include the cup-like partial flowers.
From the flowers develop fruits that contain several brown, oval seeds. The fruit form is a nut fruit, which is called an achene in asteraceae. Furthermore each individual achene possesses an air shield (called pappus).
Curry plant – sowing and care
Since the Italian straw flower has gained some popularity especially as a kitchen herb, some gardeners and herbalists have begun to grow the plant in the garden or on the balcony itself. The plant is a very easy-care species. Beginners should prefer to put on fresh plants, since the sowing sometimes requires a little patience.
The Curry plant is a typical Mediterranean plant and prefers sunny to full sun locations. At the bottom, the plant makes only small demands. It needs sandy, less humid soils, which have a good drainage. Likewise waterlogging is essential to avoid. If only loamy soils are available, it is advisable to mix in a good amount of sand so that the water can drain off well.
Sowing succeeds best when the seeds of curry herb are grown in pots on the windowsill or in the indoor greenhouse already in winter (mid to late February). For the germination of the seeds, temperatures around 18 °C (64 °F) and sufficient light are needed. The curry plant needs light for germination. Therefore, the seeds must be pressed slightly into the ground and watered little. The soil should always be kept slightly moist in the following period. In general, the seedlings show up within 10 to 14 days.
The plantlets can be put outside, as soon as no more night frosts are to be expected. The cultivation in the pot on the balcony or in the apartment is also possible, however, pots should be chosen with a larger diameter, because the plant can grow very bushy. If the plant is cultivated in the garden bed, distances between 30 and 35 cm (12 and 14 inches) should be kept between each plants. Plants that are well-tolerated with the Curry plant are e.g. thyme, sage, lavender and savory.
As a Mediterranean plant, the herb is adapted to hot and dry locations. The plant should only be watered sparingly. The plant usually lasts longer dry periods, but should be supplied with water on very hot days in the evenings.
The Curry plant usually requires no fertilizer. If the plant is to grow at the same location for several years, some compost can be mixed in the following year or a special herbal fertilizer can be applied.
In winter it is recommended to let the shrub to overwintering in a frost protected place. Although the Curry plant is frost hardy or frost tolerant, very low temperatures can cause irreversible frost damage. Pruning back in autumn is not recommended.
Curry plant and its use
The Curry plant is not very widespread in kitchens, but it is a very worthwhile and high quality spice herb. The same applies to the use as a medicinal herb. It is rarely used, but has some interesting features that are very beneficial for alleviating certain ailments.
Curry plant in the kitchen
Basically you should not mix the Curry plant with the spice curry. It does not even have something to do with it. Curry powder is a spice mixture (including coriander, pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin), whereupon the Curry plant got its name due to the typical smell of curry. Nevertheless, the taste is relatively similar, but notes of sage also come in addition. Overall, the taste is quite intense and pleasantly bitter.
Curry plant suits many dishes. Relatively well known is the use for rice dishes, which give the rice a very interesting and curry-like flavor. Also pasta dishes, paella, vegetable dishes, soups and meat dishes (especially lamb, chicken), which are seasoned with Curry plant, can give a delicate variety. Additionally many exotic recipes with Curry plant are found on the internet, which according to the reviews find great approval.
For preparation either the leaves can be finely chopped or whole branches can be used. In dishes that are cooked with twigs, the branches of the curry bush should be removed before consumption, otherwise stomach problems may occur. Excessive daily consumption of Curry plant should also be avoided.
It should be used fresh, but also dried it is still suitable for use as a kitchen herb. Those who use fresh curry herb should pay attention to harvest the leaves and branches before flowering. After flowering, the leaves lose a lot of aroma.
Curry plant as a medicinal herb
The Curry plant has been known to the Greeks and Romans as a medicinal herb since ancient times. Also in the herbal books of the Middle Ages, the plant was mentioned as Helichrysum, however, about their healing power was at the time very little known.
In the herbal book by P.A. Matthioli the herb was used especially against snake bites, urinary problems and apparently for various women’s disorders. The Curry plant was also recommended against moth infestation.
Even today, the it is used in folk medicine and naturopathic procedures because of its valuable ingredients. The plant has wound-healing, anti-inflammatory, fungicidal, antibacterial, expectorant, antispasmodic and relaxing features. Typical applications of curry herb plant are:
- wound cleansing
- Relief of colds (cough, bronchitis)
- Disorders of the lymphatic vessels
- mild depression
- nervous restlessness
- Skin problems (itching, impurities, eczema)
Preparation of a curry plant tea
Occasionally recommended is the preparation of a curry plant tea, which can be used especially for cold complaints. For this, however, the flowers are used rather than the leaves. For the preparation of 250 ml (8.5 fl oz) Curry plant tea about 1 to 2 teaspoons of Curry plant blossoms are needed, which are poured over with boiling hot water. The tea must then steep for about 7 minutes. The tea should be drunk twice a day, preferably in the morning and in the evening.
For the treatment of skin diseases, skin irritations or mild sunburns occasionally also ointments on the basis of Curry plant are used. The essential oils and flavonoids contained in the plant are responsible for the healing effect.
Curry plant is occasionally also used in cosmetic products (natural cosmetics) such as: moisture sprays.
Buy Curry plant – What is there to pay attention?
Curry plant is available mostly only as a fresh plant. Many plant centers, online retailers and some hardware stores offer season-grown plants. When buying, make sure that the soil in which the plant is put in is not too wet. The leaves should also not hang and have the typical silvery-gray color. Pests are rarely seen on curry herb plants. When buying should be strictly paid attention to the botanical name (Helichrysum italicum). Some traders offer other species of the family Helichrysum as curry herb plant, which could lead to disappointment.
Seed is rarely available and if, then usually only available through online trading.
Relatively rarely, the essential oil of Curry plant can be purchased, which is mainly used for cosmetic applications or perfumes. Genuine essential oil is very expensive and usually costs more than 400 EUR/$ per 100 ml (3.5 fl oz). Usually this oil is sold as immortelle oil.
This is a very useful site, thank you for the info.
I purchased a curry plant at my local greenhouse. It is growing beautifully. We thought we were buying “curry” that we use is our Thai recipes. This site was so informative. I now know a lot about the curry plant.
My question is, how can I find recipes to use this sweet smelling herb. Should I grind it to use it? Use the whole stem? We really would love to use it and not just toss it when the snow starts falling.
Regarding recipes. Generally you can use, as with many other herbs, curry plant as you like. You could use a little in a pancake with vegetables or for poultry dishes. I think, best is to try it as a general cooking ingredient, but not too much of it. You can also dry it, freeze it and pickle in oil, so it lasts longer. Best time for harvest is before or during flowering. The flowers can also be picked. But you can pick leaves all year, it’s just most aromatic before flowering.
Thanks for the handy information, it really answered all the questions I had. I can put the plant to use in a few areas and is also a pleasant plant to have in the garden at watering time.
I tried drying the leaves and grinding them, but I ended up with a mass of “insulation”looking stuff; not powder. I tried chopping it in a food processor and a macerator and it just got fluffier, lol. Am I missing something? Should I just use it dried as leaves and not try to powder it? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.
What I figured out is, that curry herb does not dry like other herbs. The herb is not really getting dry and crinkle, if you touch it. If you want to use it for tea or cooking, you can simply dry and use it without powdering it. Maybe the dried flowers can be used to make powder. This could be worth a try.