While the appeal of cilantro's flavor may be up for debate, one thing we do know is that cilantro is a cool-season herb. As the temperatures rise, culantro is a savory alternative. This herb grows best in summer heat and thus fills the flavor void for cilantro lovers who still want garden-fresh flavor.
Culantro (Eryngium foetidum) is a biennial herb commonly grown in the Caribbean and Central America. In Puerto Rico, where it is used in a variety of dishes, it is called recao. Other names for this herb include Puerto Rican coriander, black Benny, saw leaf herb, Mexican coriander, fitweed, or spirit weed. Here's a fun fact: culantro is a key ingredient in the popular sauce sofrito, which also includes garlic, onions, and peppers.
Culantro is a member of the same plant family as cilantro (Apiaceae), but it has a very different appearance with long, tough, green leaves. The leaf margins are serrated or toothed, which is why it is often called saw leaf herb. The leaves smell similar to cilantro but produce a stronger flavor.
Planting and Care
Culantro grows best in an area with moist, well-drained soil; it is also moderately salt tolerant. Contrary to most herbs and vegetables, culantro does best in a shady area. Shade also aides in keeping your plant from bolting, that is, producing its cream-colored flowers and going to seed. Once a herb has gone to seed, it becomes undesirable as a culinary plant.
You can grow culantro in a container or planted directly into the ground. Planting directly in your garden can potentially provide you with a longer harvest period. Culantro is usually planted from seed; it takes about three weeks for seeds to germinate.
Beyond providing you with a flavorful herb, culantro may even attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs and green lacewings. Big bonus!
You can harvest leaves for use at any time. Many people prefer to harvest culantro by removing the oldest leaves, which are closest to the base of the plant, and leave the younger leaves to mature. Keep in mind that culantro leaves do not store well, so it's best to harvest only what you need. Additionally, whole leaves can be tough, so it's best used finely chopped.
For more information on growing culantro in your area, contact your local county Extension office.