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How to Grow

3 Easy to Grow Tropical Herbs and Spices

Many common culinary tropical herbs used in our Asian cooking recipes can be easily grown. Not only do they contribute wonderful flavours and aromas to a wide variety of dishes; they smell fantastic in the homes and gardens and help deter pests. The two most important considerations are to harvest at full flavour and to never use fertilizer or pesticide on them that is not labelled for use on edible plants. Here are some more tips for growing three most commonly used culinary herbs in Singapore.

PandanusFragrant Pandan (Pandanus amaryllifolius) This is the only Pandanus species with fragrant leaves belonging to the screw pine family. It grows to up to a metre in height with spirally arranged sword-like leaves. Mature leaves are about 30 to 50cm long and 2 to 3cm wide with pointed tip. It is also known as “the vanilla of the east,” and is an indispensable ingredient in many South East Asian countries. The leaves are used as a flavouring agent along with curry leaves or alone in various curries, desserts and sweets. The fragrant leaves are widely used as a car freshener with repellent effect on cockroaches.

The pandan plant is easily propagated and grown in one’s backyard or a container. Like many of its pandanus relatives in the wild, they thrive near water. ‘Prop’ roots emerge from the stem, usually close to but above the ground, which helps to keep the plants upright and secure them to the ground. As seeds of this cultivated species are not readily available, it is propagated by root suckers or by stem cuttings. Both suckers and cuttings (30 to 40 cm) with 2-3 aerial roots can be carefully removed and planted in the kitchen garden. It requires regular but light watering and semi shade for better performance. If there is no sufficient watering, leaves will become dry on the leave edge and aroma will not be strong. 

Curry PlantCurry Leaf Plant (Murraya koenigii ) The Curry Leaf plant is native to India. It is a small tree that can grow 4–6 m (13–20 feet) tall, with a trunk up to 40 cm diameter. The leaves are pinnate, with 11-21 leaflets, each leaflet 2–4 cm long and 1–2 cm broad. The flowers are small, white, and fragrant. While the small black shiny berries are edible, their seeds are poisonous. The highly aromatic leaves are used in delicious Indian, Asian and Thai dishes throughout the world. Believe it or not, Murraya is from the citrus family (Rutacaea). It has been used for centuries in Ayruvedic medicine for its anti-diabetic, antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Although the plant is regarded as an outdoor plant it can tolerate semi-shaded locations, where it can receive four to six hours of filtered sunlight daily. Use a well-drained potting mix. This allows necessary moisture to reach the plant while at the same time maintaining good aeration in the soil. It is also found that a slightly acidic soil keeps the plant healthy. Regular applications of fertilizer are helpful to stimulate plant growth. You can top dress with organic fertilizer every 6 weeks or apply a liquid fertilizer at half the recommended dosage fortnightly.

The curry leaf plant is attractive to the Lime plant (Common Lime Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio demoleus) butterfly caterpillar. The caterpillars can be hand pick and remove from plant. The hungry caterpillar is known to defoliate the entire plant over night. To treat common pests encountered such as the mealy bug, scale organically, we recommend using neem oil which smothers the bugs. Also, concurrently you must use high-pressure water to dislodge the cottony mass, which is where the adults, crawlers and eggs of the mealy bugs hide. Repeated applications of neem oil are needed. The easiest way to propagate the curry plant is by seed. Seedlings can be pinched at the terminal (pruning the growing tips) when they are young so they will make a multi-branched specimen giving you more leaves to harvest.

Laksa PlantLaksa Plant (Persicaria ordorata) In Singapore and Malaysia it is known as Laksa leaves and Daun kesum or "daun laksa". It is an essential ingredient in a bowl of Singapore’s famous curry noodle and cockle dish. Without the strong and unmistakable aroma of laksa leaves it is no way your laksa noodle can be complete. Laksa plant is a member of the mint family. They grows up to 15-30cm high, thrives well damp soil condition and can tolerate semi shade conditions where it can receive four to six hours of filtered sunlight daily. The leaves will turn yellow then brown and start withering when they are not getting enough water. The stalks will grow long and needs regular harvesting to encourage more new leave growth and to keep the plant in shape. It is easily propagate from stem cuttings. Get a few healthy stalks of fresh Laksa leaves of length approximately 8-10cm. Place the stalks in a glass filled with 2 cm of water. Let them sit for a few days until a substantial length of roots can be seen growing at the bottom of the jar. Transfer your stalks into a container filled with damp earth. Cover about 2.5cm of the stalks in the potting mix. Make sure the bottom of the container has some small holes to let excess water to flow out.

ARTICLES

We have compiled information on a variety of topics that we are frequently asked about. Whether you are new to gardening or a master gardener we hope that our gardening articles will provide tips for happy plants and pleasurable gardening hours. Happy Gardening