Nothing matters more than getting an herb which adds a little sauce to your food meal, spice it up and at the same time proves to be useful medically. There are many herbs known today to be quite beneficial to once health and can be used for culinary and medicinal purpose. One of such herbs is the Culantro which is often confused with counterpart Cilantro, perhaps due to some similarities.

Culantro is an herb known to have originated from the Caribbean and used extensively in the cuisine, thanks to its aromatic flavor and taste. Asides from Caribbean dishes, you will also find Culantro in dishes of Central America, South America, and Asia continents.

You did wish to know about this mysterious herb, don’t you?  Then it’s time to look through and salivate every one of its features and potential benefits. Follow through;

You sure got a little snippet to what Culantro is as a nutritional herb, but how does it look like and where are you likely to find it?  The Culantro is an herbal plant associated with the botanical name Eryngium foetidum. The Genus name Eryngium is derived from a Greek sea known as holly (Eryngium vuldgare). Whereas, the specific name foetidum is of the Latin origin which means stink or bad odor. This plant belongs to the family Apiaceae along with plants like parsley, dill and coriander.  

It is known that Culantro is available extensively in the Caribbean (South American) or West Indies, which might prove that it originates from there. Also, the Culantro herb is found native to Mexico, Central America since it can thrive in sub-tropical and tropical climates. Aside from these communities (Mexico, Central, and South America), it’s challenging to find culantro.

Culantro goes by many names depending on the country type. However, it can be commonly referred to as shado beni (associated with Trinidad, Caribbean). It may also be called false coriander or fit weed. It also goes by the names spiny cilantro (Spanish), saw-toothed mint, cilantro de hoja ancha (Spanish name meaning broadleaf cilantro),Known as Recao in Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, langer koriander (German), ketumbar java (Malay), pak chi farang (Thai) and as  ngo gai (Vietnamese).

Shado beni (culantro) is a tap-rooted biennial herb with long, evenly branched roots. The plant grows like other vegetative herbs such as coriander and parsley. It comes with glossy green leaves, arranged spirally around a short, thick stem, forming a basal rosette pattern. The leaves grow up to one foot in height and two inches in width. The leaf margin is serrated, with each tooth of the margin containing a small yellow spine. The plant stems of shado beni (culantro) are multi-branched with spiky green flowers with a white center. However, the Culantro is often harvested right before it flower sprouts to avoid it losing its flavor.

What Does Culantro Taste Like?

When it comes to herbal plants generally, they do come with their taste patterns. These taste patterns are usually due to the presence of organic compounds (chemicals). Those chemicals usually come from groups of terpenoids, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other basic essential oils.  

While some herbal plant leaves don’t have taste, some may have a sour taste, some taste astringent or bitter, and some are sweet. The taste of some of these herbal plants usually determines its uses as a spice for special types of food. 

In the case of culantro, it is unbelievable to state the fact that it is widely used to sweeten dishes because it is quite tart and has a bitter taste. More pungent and bitter than its counterpart cilantro with a soapy flavor. This has however proven the fact that a pungent element that could be distasteful on its own can add an extra dimension to the flavor of dishes. In addition to this piece of information, it is also a known fact that culantro has the stinking smell of crushed bed bugs.

Where Should You Grow Culantro?

The Culantro herb is quite nutritious, and this is one of the best herbal plants to grow in your home herb garden today. Growing the culantro comes with no much ado so long you have a good indoor nursery. To grow culantro, you require good quality seeds of Culantro (in the form of fresh seeds) as they do not store well. 

(Via ebay.com)

Now, growing culantro is like growing other vegetative plants such as lettuce where you plant after frost in the spring, then pick the leaves before summer days. At some point in its growth, culantro will grow out of its rosette into a flower stalk. Soon afterward, the plant gets depleted. If the seeds are allowed to drop into the soil, it may reseed provided it is not at locations of freezing temperatures. However, your best bet is growing shado beni during the spring.

To promote the growth of the leafy part, cut off the flower stalk when it appears. Although, it will later spring out flowers, and when it does, the leaves will lose its flavor.  At first, you start growing in the nursery by planting culantro seeds (with enough shelter) with the use of containers (pots, nursery trays, and the likes) as this helps preserve it against frost and keep the plants from flowering early which shortens the plant’s lifespan. The average germination rate once In the nursery is usually 20 – 25 days. However, this can be improved at optimum temperature (not excess heat) and the right humidity.

That been said, the Culantro is not a plant to set out at locations where there is any chance of late frost and requires shelter from adverse weather conditions. In sub-tropical areas of the Central American where it is usually grown, the Culantro is grown in partly shady areas on the edge of forests. The plants tend to blossom at such areas with evidence in the form of larger leaves and a prolonged harvest.

Caring for the plant requires that you space plants 8 to 12 inches apart on well-drained soil. For good leafy growth, a soil rich in organic matter is usually the best ideal and might often require the addition of artificial or natural compost fertilizer to improve the soil nutrients. Mulching of plants is essential as it helps to conserve soil moisture and to prevent soil from splashing into the foliage. Ensure it gets enough water as water is needed to keep plants healthy.

What Is The Difference Between Cilantro And Culantro?

The Cilantro and Culantro are often mistaken for each other especially for those who work in the cuisine. Culantro and Cilantro have almost the same flavor only that Culantro is more pungent and soapy than cilantro. Both plants require the same special needs of full sun exposure. Despite their similarities, they are different from each other in some other aspects.

For a quick reminder, the Culantro is known as Eryngium foetidum whereas the cilantro is known as Coriandrum sativum. Other different aspects include:

Plant Details

In this regards, it is important to note that Cilantro is an annual plant whereas the Culantro is a biennial plant. In terms of leaves, the cilantro leaves are often small and scallop-shaped with no spines but lacy like parsley leaves. Cilantro leaves often grow on thin stems that are several inches above the ground. For Culantro plant, it grows glossy green leaves, arranged spirally around a short, thick stem and forms a basal rosette pattern. The leaves of culantro are said to be tougher than cilantro leaves, and they grow up to 10 inches long and 2 inches wide. The leaves are often grown on whorls that form the base of the plant. When it comes to flowering, Cilantro’s flowers have a whitish appearance and grow in lace-like fashion on a long stem while Culantro comes with flower stalks that also have spines on them. They produce flowers that produce seeds making them self-seeding.

Growing and Harvesting

In terms of growing and planting, both plants differ strongly. Although at the earlier stages of both plants it is often advisable to start from the nursery. Cilantro can be grown in the herb garden and indoors too but for culantro (shado beni) it should only be grown in pots within and should just be taken outside during the time of optimum temperatures.

The Manner of Use in Cooking

When it comes to the application of both plants in cuisines the leaves are the beneficial parts. You can probably eat cilantro raw and that is why it can be applied after cooking. It is often advised to add after cooking due to its sensitivity to heat. For Culantro, the leaves are applied to dishes while being cooked.

Taste and Smell

Although the scent and aroma of both plants are alike. Culinary experts state that culantro is ten times stronger and pungent than cilantro. It is also said that cilantro has a soapy smell and taste. However, you can probably pass cilantro flavor to be a mixture of parsley and citrus.

Nutritional Profile

Both culantro and cilantro are rich in phytonutrients, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds. They also comprise of vitamins and minerals. This significant vitamin-mineral make-up has increased its diverse use in cuisines for decades of years. They, however, differ in their vitamin constituents. Culantro has Vitamin A, Vitamin B-complex, and Vitamin C. It also contains iron, calcium, carotene, and riboflavin. But the case is different for Cilantro as it contains Vitamin A, C, E, and K. Additionally, Cilantro is known to feature minerals such as iron, potassium, and calcium but its caloric value is almost not in existence. However, the calcium content in both Culantro and Cilantro makes them contribute to building strong teeth and bones.        

Quick Differences:

Culantro

Cilantro

Has long serrated leaves that look like parsley. (10 inches long, 2 inches wide).

Has scallop shaped leaves

Contains Vitamins A, B complex, C and Riboflavin

Contains Vitamins A, C, E, K showing that it is richer than culantro

It is a Biennial Herb plant and self-seeding.

It is an Annual Herb plant

Used on a meal while cooking since it can withstand heat

Used on meal after cooking because it is heat sensitive

Nutrition Facts and Medicinal Uses of Culantro

Nutrition Facts:

The leaves of these herbal plant are rich in calcium, carotene, iron, and Riboflavin. Vitamins such as Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, and Vitamin C. Fresh leaves are 86–88% moisture, 3.3% protein, 0.6% fat, 6.5% carbohydrate, 1.7% ash, 0.06% phosphorus.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a typical fat-soluble vitamin naturally present in many foods including veggies such as Culantro. Its presence in the culantro once used in food dishes confers some health benefits to our body system. Vitamin A is highly essential for normal vision or sight, strengthening of immune system and reproduction. Vitamin A often works in the human body as an antioxidant that fights cell damages usually caused by activities of free radicals. This on its own helps curb the prevalence of aging. Consuming Culantro will go a long way to aid organ function and maintain body freshness.

Vitamin B

Culantro consist primarily of two forms of vitamin B. There is Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin). The prevalence of thiamine in culantro confers some medical effects once taken into the human body system. It helps medical cases of AIDS, diabetics, stress, and Heart diseases. It also helps strengthen the body’s immune system. In the case of Riboflavin it helps break down proteins, body fats thereby playing a vital role in maintaining the body’s energy supply. The presence of vitamin B2 makes culantro a food supplement for preventing the development of cataracts, maintaining a healthy liver, Aids production of Hormone (Adrenalin) by the adrenal glands. 

Vitamin C

This is simply a water-soluble vitamin also present in culantro veggies. It is water soluble in the sense that it can dissolve in water. The presence of Vitamin C in culantro confers on it some abilities such as:

  • Fast healing of bodily wounds.

  • Aiding the absorption of Iron.

  • Repairing of body cartilage, bones, and teeth.

  • Prevents aging

  • Production of protein used in the making of skin, tendons and blood vessels.

The human body cannot produce Vitamin C neither can it store it. Therefore, taking home dishes with Culantro as a nutritional supplement in the body regularly provides the necessary vitamin C needed for a healthy lifestyle.

Calcium

Several works and researches have stated that Culantro is quite rich in calcium. Calcium is one of the most important nutrients you need in the body as it is important for bone formation, growth and development. It is also essential for muscle contraction, blood clotting, nerve impulses, regulating heartbeat and fluid balance within the cells. The deficiency in the human body could lead to a serious bone disease known as Osteoporosis. The fact that calcium is present in Culantro makes it useful as a food supplement for pregnant women and lactating mothers.

Beta Carotene

Culantro also of Beta-carotene. Beta- carotene comes with antioxidant properties and helps neutralize the effect of free radicals (such as reactive oxygen molecules) that potentially damages lipids in cell membranes, proteins, and DNA. Regular intake of culantro as a supplement with your side dishes will help reduce the risk of cancer, inflammations, oxidative stress and aging.

Medicinal Uses

Eliminate Bad Breath:

On a general comment, Veggies such as parsley have been known to act as a remedy for bad breath. Since parsley and culantro belong to the same family of Apiaceae, Culantro can also be said to solve issues regarding bad breath. The fresh scent from shado beni and high chlorophyll content suggest that it has some deodorizing effect. To use Culantro for bad breath, chew on fresh leaves after each course meal to eliminate the effect of Sulphur compounds which are the actual causes of bad breath.

Lowers Glucose:

It has been discovered from research findings that leaves and stems from Culantro help lower blood sugar levels in animals. It can lower body Glucose because of Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) present as a nutritional supplement. Riboflavin promotes a healthy Liver function which can release insulin hormone more effectively. Since a healthy liver is equivalent to a balanced body sugar level, it is only relevant to take a dietary supplement of shado beni with a meal. You can chop Culantro’s leaves coarsely, grind stems finely and then add this to salads, salsas, and smoothies to lower your sugar and reduce diabetic risk. 

Asthma: 

Asthma is a common disease associated with lungs. It profoundly affects people living in industrialized areas where there is a prevalence of heavy metals, dust, and toxic gas emissions. However, recent researches have found that plants are excellent sources of medicine that can help cure asthmatic conditions and Culantro is one of such herbal plants.

Pain Relief:  

Culantro is generally known to reduce inflammations around the body parts such as bone joints, muscle contractions and a host of other body pains. To effectively use culantro as a pain reliever; cut out the leaves and boil them, apply the hot culantro water on your body parts or drink it.

Prevents Neurological inflammation:

Regular dosage of Culantro on one’s diet helps retracts diseases associated with the brain. Neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s can be prevented as a result of its natural constituents that can reduce inflammations in the brain cells.

Detoxification:

Regular intake of Culantro help reduce the prevalence of toxins in the human body mainly due to the presence of vitamin B2 that aids liver function in the body. The liver performs the function of eliminating some toxic wastes from the body system.

Final Words

Even though Culantro is one of the herbal plants that are highly beneficial, its wide use is known to be almost limited to the Caribbean and other parts of South and Central America. However, due to the increasing ethnic immigrant populations and varied dishes around the world Culantro is now becoming an essential herbal import in some part of the world such as the United States. From the information provided above, you could see that the herb never fails at performing its double duty which is medicinal value and culinary value. 

If you want to learn how to grow this herb, look out for our next post on how to grow Culantro.