Growing a Makrut lime may be the perfect citrus solution for those of us gardening in locations where getting citrus to form fruit isn’t easy. Why? Well, it isn’t so much that this variety of citrus tree is hardy through icy winters. Rather, it’s about what we harvest from these trees.
If you’ve dipped into a bowl of soup at Thai restaurant, odds are you’ve enjoyed the Makrut. If you buy those plastic packages of lime leaves for curries at the grocery store, you’re buying Makrut lime leaf.
Hey wait a minute! Isn’t that called a K-something lime?
Yes, the Makrut lime is the one that goes by that other name, but let’s all move past that. No need to use racial slurs when we’re talking gorgeous plants and tasty eats!
While the knobby fruits from these trees are edible, they aren’t the most ideal lime fruits. They’re small, lumpy (I think I read somewhere that ‘Makrut’ translates to lumpy or knobby, but I can’t find the reference again) , and don’t offer up that clear lime flavor you want for, say, salsa. Believe me. I bought a few last year and won’t buy them again. But I do use the leaves all the time in the kitchen.
In our PacNW garden, I’ve missed the heady fragrance of citrus blossoms. My folks’ garden in Los Angeles is filled with orange, lime, lemon, and I think they even added a grapefruit recently. Lucky them, right? And, during our years renting an old house near Berkeley, we spent many an afternoon languishing under the boughs of an ancient, delicious lemon tree. Here in Seattle, keeping citrus going through the winter is challenging — to say the least.
In an attempt to get back the joy of growing citrus, we’ve kept a spiny, dwarf Yuzu citrus going through the winter. But, this little monster is all spines and no flowers or fruit. And, the leaves are neither fragrant nor tasty. Three years into growing this tiny beast, and it’s all kind of a big disappointment.
So, earlier this year when I spied a 5′ tall Makrut for sale for about $50 retail at a local nursery, the plant sucker in me snatched it up. The tree was grown by Monterey Bay Nursery in California, and it is rated just outside our zone parameters, so I expect the tree to not be hardy here. So, in winter, we’ll be keeping this baby inside the passive greenhouse and hauling it into the house during any extreme cold snaps. Ideally, it will make it through and thrive for years to come.
Still, even if this tree decides to croak come winter, we’ll have a delicious summer harvest preserved to enjoy in the months ahead.
How to Harvest & Preserve Makrut Lime
The Makrut lime produces an abundance of double-lobed leaves. Basically, there’s a notch in about the center of each leaf where it’s fairly simple to snip out a portion of each leaf rather than the entire leaf.
With most plants, I’d never suggest clipping out part of a compound leaf, but it seems that taking out just a portion of a leaf is just fine for the Makrut. The remaining portion of the leaf continues to grow just fine, photosynthesizing away on the tree to feed it. And, the tip portion you take out is ready for your soup pot or your freezer.
If the leaves are younger, you may be able to snip out what you want with your fingernails. As the leaves age, they become tougher. So, using a pair of micro tip snips make save you from tearing the leaves and harming the plant.
When you harvest leaves from your Makrut, take care not to take a portion of every leaf on the plant. Instead, select ones that make sense to prune out anyway first. Leaves that cross and rub other leaves. Leaves that are forming on weird branches that don’t make sense for the long-term form of the plant. Then, choose a few others in the tree, but be sure to leave the majority of the leaves on your tree so it will continue to thrive.
After you snip the leaves, rinse them well to clean off any detritus, spider webs and what have you. Shake or pat them dry. Then label a zipper freezer bag or a freeze proof canning jar with the Makrut name and harvest date. In years past, I’ve used freezer bags, but this year I’m using more freeze-proof glass in an effort to get away from plastic. And, it’s working great.
As the season progresses, snip out a few more leaves every couple of weeks, adding to your storage container in the freezer. Then, when you’re making soups, curries and even cocktails in winter, just grab a few leaves from your deep freeze — instead of making a trip to the grocery store for an expensive plastic container holding a few withered leaves.