Culantro – The Perennial Answer to Fresh Cilantro
Culantro is not cilantro. It has long leaves with tapered tips and serrated edges. When it comes to flavor, culantro is like cilantro, times ten.
In warmer climates, above Zone 7s, the actual cilantro plant can be reseeded and grown commercially, harvesting the leaves as they appear. In zone 7 and below the climate is seasonally ideal for Cilantro so many people buy the plant expecting it to bear leaves for an extended period, but it will not. The reason is true cilantro, in heat, is working to expend it’s energies to go to seed, coriander. Leaves are herbs, seeds are spices as a general rule in understanding the difference between the two.
The solution to a perennial heat bearing cilantro is the plant, Culantro – Ergyngium foetidum. Culantro is a biennial herb grown throughout the Caribbean and Central America, and is a meaningful ingredient in Puerto Rican cooking. It is comparatively unknown in the United States, and is often mistaken for its relative cilantro (Coriandrum sativum L.). It is also known by many other names, such as Puerto Rican coriander, Black Benny, saw leaf herb, Mexican coriander, Saw tooth coriander, long coriander, Spiny coriander, Fitweed, and spiritweed. In Puerto Rico it is known as recao. When grown, culantro thrives under well-watered, shady conditions. It belongs to the same plant family as cilantro, but looks quite different. The long, tough leaves smell very similar to cilantro (with much more flavor) consequently making it a respectable summer replace cilantro, which prefers cooler weather.
Culantro can be planted in pots or on the ground. If planted in the ground, this herb will continue to copy for an almost endless supply. Culantro is comparatively pest and disease free. It is rumored to be attractive to advantageous insects such as ladybugs, green lacewings, and to provide an excellent defense in the garden against aphids. In cooking it is used to flavor salsa, softrito, chutney, ceviche, sauces, rice, stews, and soups. To harvest, remove
the oldest leaves all the way down to the base of the plant leaving the young new leaves to grow. The leaves can be chopped and used fresh or frozen to keep their flavor.
Unlike cilantro, culantro doesn’t bolt, it will produce seeds, but the vegetation stays aromatic and tasty. It is a tender perennial that can be wintered over in a pot or cut back and mulch over in the fall.
Culantro is the answer for those who enjoy cilantro but live in a hot/warm climate and want fresh all spring/summer and fall.