The Kaffir Lime Tree

Every time someone new visits our yard, we take them straight to our kaffir lime tree (Citrus hystrix) to introduce them.  We find that most people have never heard of it.  However, those that are familiar with it absolutely love this fabulous tree.

This is one of our kaffir lime trees. It needs pruning. The butterflies love this tree.

The first thing I do is pick a leaf off the tree, crush it and stick it right up to our guests nose and say, “smell this”.  The reaction is always the same… oh wow!  We never fail to send our guests home with a freezer bag full of the fresh leaves.  They freeze perfectly for later use.  They can frequently be found in the freezer section of most Asian markets in the U.S.

The kaffir lime leaf has a unique shape and flavor. Citrusy and aromatic.

It’s tough to describe the flavor and smell of the kaffir because it is unique.  It’s very pleasing though.  Most people love it right off the bat.  Personally, I don’t think I could live without it in my life.  Okay, that might be a tad dramatic, but you get my drift.  It’s exquisite.

I have a kaffir lime tree growing in my front yard and in the back.  My kids love to grab a leaf as they walk by the tree, crunch it up in their hand and hold it for awhile.  Sometimes they’ll bring some leaves in the house to throw in their glass of water or lemonade.  I do cook with the leaves quite a bit too, especially in my coconut milk, lemongrass chicken and Thai curries.  The leaves are used to flavor and are not usually eaten.  For some more kaffir lime leaf recipe ideas, check out ThaiTable.com.

It is the leaf of this citrus tree that is generally used for culinary reasons, not the fruit.  We’ve started using the fruit recently though and now we wonder why we didn’t start using it sooner.  The fruit tastes exactly like the leaf but it’s very sour (a little bitter maybe).    We think the kaffir lime makes a wonderful drink and we even add the zest to the drink.  I like to add a little of the zest to my yerba mate too.  I’m sure there are thousands of ways to use this incredible flavor.  I will not be letting them fall off the tree to rot anymore.

Funny looking, bumpy, and very sour kaffir lime.

A kaffir lime cut in half.

The kaffir lime tree grows well in zones 9, 10 and 11.   It is susceptible to frost damage.  My trees have been through a couple very cold Florida winters recently and only had minimal damage.  They recovered quickly from their frost bite.

Check out LifesDandies.com for more information on finding a kaffir lime tree in Florida.

I haven’t grown a kaffir lime tree in a container for myself, but I’m certain the tree would do well if it was taken care of properly.  It would need to be fed during its growth cycle and shouldn’t be overwatered.  My favorite book on growing edible trees in containers is Growing Tasty Tropical Plants*in any home, anywhere… by Laurelynn G. Martin and Byron E. MartinI love this book for its pictures because it inspires me and gives me great ideas. The book gives some information on how to grow tropicals inside, but I think it could use a lot more.  It still remains one of my favorites.

A female Eastern Black Swallowtail on our kaffir lime tree.

Have I talked you into growing a kaffir lime tree for yourself?  I hope so.

Come grow with us!

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17 Responses to “The Kaffir Lime Tree”

  1. Paula Williams Says:

    I returned to Tampa after two months exploring Thailand, and of course, falling madly in love with the Kaffir lime. Yesterday without even setting out to, I found and bought a Kaffir lime tree! Yea! Poking around the internet a bit this am to get info on caring for it, loved finding your blog ;) Thanks for the info, and I’ll be checking out that book you mentioned as well.

  2. Hi just have a look at your karffir lime tree, it is so lovely. I am Thai live in the UK and just ordered one karffir lime tree, can’t wait to see it. In Thailand we use the fruit as well, we use it skin in curry paste and some recipes we use it juce as well. It just wonderful to hear that other people love them to.

  3. Albert Yiu Says:

    Thank you for your information. I live in Auckland (i.e. New Zealand). This morning I bought a kaffir lime tree (i.e. a small one) and I planted it in my front yard. I hope that I can have fruits very soon and I love making lime drink with kaffir lime fruit. Everything of the kaffir lime tree is usable, including leaves, fruit jouce and zest. Oh, my God.

  4. I thought I bought a “regular” lime tree but the small fruit looks so bumpy, so it seems I have a kaffir lime tree, quite by accident. It has just been planted in the back yard in Florida north of Orlando. I found your blog searching for how to use it and what it will look like in the future. I am going to go grab a leaf right now-who knew! Now to just explain to my husband why it won’t work for his bar!

  5. Nancy Lowell Says:

    I also bought a kaffir lime sold to me as a Persian lime, probably 8-9 years ago. It lives in a large pot, blooms and fruits quite generously. But only today have I learned what variety of citrus it is. (The Hillsborough County extension agent thought it might be “rough lemon stock”).Thank you so much for the information yu’ve provided.

  6. sweetie c. maurillo Says:

    hello… im a filipino but i love thai cuisine so much… i want to have a kaffir lime plant but i dont know if it is available in our country…do u have any idea if it is? we are a tropical country im sure it will grow best here but people in the commercial gardens i’ve visited have no idea about this plant… thanks a lot and more power!

    • I’m sorry but I do not know if kaffir lime is available in your country. It certainly would be a great addition though. Do you have any Thai friends in your area that might know? I bet they would have the answer for you.

    • yes it is available. i bought mine in Edsa Garden in Quezon City. I planted it in my front yard and forgot all about it, i thought it died. and one day i was sitting in the yard and smelled that nice scent of kaffir lime, and i didn’t realise that it has grown 7 feet already!

  7. Interesting, My wife is Thai and we live in Indiana and of course the Magoot tree(Kaffir lime) will not live in this clilmate. So the wife has one potted in a large container. She has had it for about 12 years taking it out in the spring and back inside in the fall. It has never had any fruit but she uses the leaves and when she cuts it back in the fall before bringing it in she freezes those.

    • Keith, thank you for the feedback. Your comment will let others know they can grow a kaffir lime tree too even if they don’t live near the tropics. Now that I’m used to having these kaffir lime leaves whenever I want them, I would grow one in a pot just like your wife if I had to.

  8. It is a challange to move the tree in off of the patio with all of the thorns but I have a moving pad that I throw over the tree for my protection. Hopefully we wil soon move to FL and I can put it into the ground. Maybe get a second so we can enjoy the fruit

  9. Charlie Says:

    I love cooking my Thai curries using the Kaffir lime leaves. I used to buy them at the Thai Market down the street but it burned down last week due to arson. :( I think I know of another place to get the lime leaves though, but it just isn’t as convenient. May have to try growing one myself. I do very much love the taste the leaves add to food A word of caution tho…I have found that having the lime leaves in my fridge/freezer will oftentimes make everything taste a bit like the lime leaves, so I double-bag mine, at a minimum. I like the taste and aroma but not in my skim milk. :)

  10. After a recent trip to Thailand, taking a Thai cooking course, and loving the food, I went in search for Thai ingredients, I did not find Kaffir leaves, but I found Kaffir lime trees at the local Asian market! After discussing with my husband, I’m on my way to buy a tree! Thanks so much for your information and encouraging words. :-)

  11. Went for dinner to a friends house. He happened to have some of the fruits sitting in a bowl. I have been to Thailand a few times and I am very familiar with kaffir lime leaves. It did not even take me a second to recognize the tree due to its fragrant smell….and now I am hooked. Will be looking for one this weekend. I love adding the leaves to my Thai curries. Cheers

    • The Kaffir (Magoot) are also added to the Tom Yum soups for a flavoring. Sometimes I think Americans over do the Kaffir limes leaves and other herbs trying to capture Thai cooking. Of course being married to a Thai might influence my thinking

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