Herb to Know: Kaffir Lime

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Genus: Citrus hystrix

• Hardy to Zone 9

I have been growing Kaffir lime for some years as a potted plant. When I was in Thailand this winter to attend cooking classes, I learned more about ways of using this plant. The leaves give a very pleasant, distinctive lime flavor to Thai, Balinese and other Southeast Asian dishes. In Thai cooking the leaves are used like a bouquet garni (several herbs tied in a bundle and added during cooking), then removed. Kaffir lime leaves are also rolled up and sliced very thin, then added to dishes as they cook, often combined with coconut milk, hot peppers, lemongrass and chicken. The leaves are generally used fresh, but if they must be preserved longer than a week in the refrigerator, they can be put in freezer bags and frozen for later use. The leaves don’t dry well, however, and there’s no good substitute for the agreeable fresh Kaffir lime flavor.

In their native climate the Kaffir lime becomes a standard-sized citrus tree, bearing a fruit that is sour and tastes like the leaves. For home use in this hemisphere, the plant is easy to keep to houseplant size by regular pruning. It is easily grown in pots in full sun or bright indoor light. The attractive, shiny, dark green leaves are hourglass-shaped and very fragrant. The plant does produce thorns, but they are easy to avoid. It’s an attractive plant, indoors or out, and can withstand temperatures to almost freezing, so it can be grown in warm climates as a landscape plant.

Sources

• Plants available from Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 Old Salem Rd. NE, Albany, OR 97321; (800) 422-3985; www.NicholsGardenNursery.com .
• Seed available from Baker Creek Seed, P.O. Box 70, Mansfield, MO 65704; (417) 924-1222; www.RareSeeds.com .