Kaffir Lime

Kaffir Lime:  A Tree Worth Traveling With. 

Asian cooking uses a lot of Kaffir Lime leaves.   It gives a tangy lemony scent and taste.   Though finding lime leaves in the US is getting easier, you still have to go to an Asian market and for the most part they’re not fresh enough or they’re frozen.  I grow my own Kaffir Lime, in pots of course.  As a tropical plant they won’t last the winter outside in my area.  The largest one has been with me for at least 18 years, spends most of its life inside.  I take it with me, along with the jasmines wherever I move.  I have to cut it down every year, in spring and late fall; otherwise it won’t fit in the basement (winter training camp).  At my parent’s house (tropics), they grow in the ground and one of them grew almost as high as the house itself and bore plenty of fruit.   Last I heard, it had died of old age, and may it rest in peace.

18 years old & fresh out of winter camp.

Two of my largest I trim to keep just a little taller than me, no higher.   The three-year-old generation, five of them, is just over a foot and a half tall.  I think I’m going to limit their growth to two feet since dragging the largest one in and out of the basement twice a year proves not an easy task.  I love the perfume from their leaves so brushing against them during moving makes the job sort of pleasant until the 1 to 1.5 inch thorns find your skin.  Yes, their thorns are very intimidating.

I started sixteen seedlings last March.  Don’t ask me why.  I just like them and I think it’s a challenge to grow a small tree from seed, let alone a tropical tree.  They are pretty good looking 1.5 inch tall babies currently and are enjoying their first summer outside.  Two of my colleagues have already put their names on one kid each.  Once they have a couple more sets of leaves they will be ready for adoption. I will have to figure out how I’m going to deal with the rest them in winter when they are bigger; our basement is still the same size.

Cooking with fresh Kaffir Lime leaf is a pleasure.  I usually use the fresh leaves in soup, curry and salad.  The really young buds that still have a hint of burgundy in them, you can just pick them off and dip in a tasty sauce.  The fruit can be used in sour curry, but you need to take its skin off first. Just be very careful since it has a much stronger, sharper taste than other limes.  The common use of fruit is the skin; it’s part of the ingredient in most curry if you plan to make curry paste yourself.

You can also grill the fruit, skin and all, then use the juice to wash your hair.  It’s supposed to clean all the residue off your hair very well and give a shine and smoothness to it.  I did try it when I was young just to see if it really works.  It did but I felt a tingling on my scalp since it had a little scratch in it; imagine squeezing a lemon on a scratch.  I also had a tough time rinsing the pulp out of my hair since no one told me I was suppose to strain it first.  My hair smelled really nice though.  You can find shampoo infused with Kaffir lime in the market now but I don’t know if it works as well as the real thing.

Seedlings a few months old enjoy sunlight.

Anyway,  growing one Kaffir Lime is one of the best things you can give yourself if you love cooking  Southeast Asian food or just cooking in general.  New recipes always start with an experiment.  One of my colleagues finely chopped  a little bit of leaf and put it in scrambled eggs.  She told me it was good.  I haven’t tried it myself, so can’t really vouch.  My new trick is tearing it to small pieces and putting it in ice tea just to give the tea that fresh, uplifting scent.

Kaffir lime doesn’t need much attention.  Light and water, not too much though, and it will keep growing.  I feed them twice a year since they are in pots and change the potting soil every couple of years.  One thing to watch for if you keep them in the house is spider mites.   They love to hang out on the young leaves, but are easy to get rid of.  If the plant is small, just put it in the bathtub and spray with water on both the top and bottom of the leaves.  If the plant is too big to give it a bath, take the bucket to the plant.  If you take good care of it, it will keep you company for years and may outlast you.  One of mine has been with me for at least 18 years, longer than many relationships I’ve known.  I haven’t come to the point of having a conversation with it yet but Bill chats up the plants whenever he’s among them.  ..Don’t ask.

5 thoughts on “Kaffir Lime

    1. I make my own compost and mix it with potting soil (organic). Kaffir lime likes soil to be on the dry side. The roots will rot if the soil is wet all the time from watering too much. Be carful with potting soil you purchase from a store, many of them are mixed with materials (& chemicals) that are not well-composted so they will deplete nitrogen from your plant. Light is also essential. I keep mine in the basement with other tropicals during the winter with plant-lights on a timer for 12 hours a day. I hope this info helps.

  1. Hi! This is a great, informative post. I had trouble finding good information on growing a kaffir lime from seed, and it seems like you might be a great person to ask. A couple months ago, I bought a pot with three small plants in it; they each had a few leaves on them. I had no idea the kaffir becomes a tree! Now I think I have three young trees growing in this same pot, and I think I need to separate them, and I also have a couple other questions. Would you be willing to chat with me over email, so I could send you a picture of the plants, too? Thanks! I hope you can help me.

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