Every year I try out some new plants. Last summer I grew culantro, Eryngium foetidum. I'd never heard of it but ran across it while looking at a seed catalogue. There is nothing more fun for a gardener than dreaming of new plants. I was intrigued and ordered the seeds.
This cousin of cilantro has a similar flavour but much stronger. It is also quite a bit sturdier. When I grow coriander it comes up quickly, and goes to seed quickly. Culantro remained active all summer and I did not have to replant it.
This is a native of Mexico and is used in Caribbean and South American cuisine as well as in Asian cooking. I have never seen it offered in my local supermarkets (Southern Ontario) but maybe i'm not going into the more gourmet places. It is sometimes called Mexican Coriander, sawtooth coriander, recao or in Asian stores: ngò gai. In french it's Chardon Beni. Culantro is the characteristic flavour for Puerto Rican Sofrito, (Recaíto). I think that Latino grocery stores would carry it.
I did not know what to expect or even if it would grow.
If you are interested in the medical use of culantro I have a couple of articles in the side bar. The one from Borneo journal of Pharmacy is particularly interesting.
I started it in early March. The seeds are tiny and need to be gently pushed on top of the soil and not covered. I guess it's one of the plants that need light to germinate.
Culantro is a tropical plant and likes to have a heated germination mat and to be kept moist while it germinates. I put a little round of plastic film on top of the pot to help keep it moist. It look at least 3 weeks to germinate. The seedlings were tiny and took their time growing. In hindsight I might have speeded up things with a bit more warmth.
I grow my seedlings under lights and the culantro babies did just fine. They were not fast growing though.
Come spring I put them out in the "greenhouse". My pool enclosure is a plastic greenhouse and in the spring it doubles as a nursery for the garden babies. It might have been a bit cold for them but they survived and come warmer weather I put them out in one of the raised beds.
The bed they ended up growing in was partly shaded but that turned out to be good. It made for slightly softer taller plants than ones in full sun.
I planted seedlings every 8 inches in 3 rows about 18 inches apart. This turned out to be just a little crowded.
If you look at the seed packet you can see a plant with a bunch of leaves growing in a sort of rosette. The photos Mr.Google showed me had tidy bunches of leaves ready to be chopped up and eaten.
What I got was a bit different. The rosette stage was never very prominent and my plants quickly grew stems and bunches of leaves. The plants ended up about 12-18 inches high. They produced quite a dense mat on the ground.
They were green and a bit tough with a very strong cilantro smell. They were also very prickly. There is a very sharp tip to the leaves and little thorns on the stems. The leaves were quite coarse and I was never able to just pick leaves, chop them up, and put them in a salad. I don't think I ever got the soft easy to eat plants. I tried chopping the leaves finely but the thorns did not chop and I ended up with a prickly mush.
As soon as the weather turned hot, the culantro exploded and grew well.
Eventually they started flowering. If you look at the photos, you can see what looks like small pine cones, that's the flower.
How did I use my Culantro
When harvesting I wore tough gloves, they are very prickly.
The flavour is fabulous, Coriander on steroids. My sister who can't taste coriander did not like it.
There was no question of sprinkling the leaves on a salad or a salsa. Instead I roughly chopped the leaves, put them in the magic bullet with some liquid and strained the liquid into whatever dish I wanted. It worked well in vinegar for salad dressing, and in water to add to soups or other cooked dishes. This worked very well and was delicious.
I could add the liquid to a curry or other dish and the flavour was not damaged by cooking. Cilantro flavour is very delicate and does not really survive cooking, Culantro flavour remains quite strong even after cooking. That alone is a good reason to grow it. I also wrapped a bunch of leaves in cheese cloth and removed it after cooking and that worked well.
It might be that I would have gotten softer plants by growing in warmer weather and in more shade.
I suspect that the variety I grew might not have been the best for salads and salsa so I'll try a different variety this year. I put a couple of links for seeds from Amazon. I'll try one of those.(If you buy from the link I get a small referral fee, this keeps the website up and running. I'm hoping for fame and fortune but so far it's just enough to keep the website up.)
Will I grow Culantro again?
YES I will. It is delicious and worth having. I will change a few things though. I will start them later when the weather is warmer. Mr.Google tells me that they want at least 10 degrees C. at night. There is no great gain in setting them out early unless you plan to put them in a cloche or a covered bed. They simply don't grow very well.
I think I will also place them in a slightly shadier spot than they were already to see if I can make the leaves grow larger and softer. This might make them less thorny.
I try to be accurate and check my information, but mistakes happen.email me if you find mistakes, I'll fix them and we'll all benefit: Christine