Culantro Eryngium foetidum is a culinary and medicinal leafy green herb commonly used throughout the West Indies, Latin America, Central America, West Africa, and many Asian countries. The herb is mainly used as a seasoning in the preparation of a range of foods including vegetable and meat dishes, sauces, chutneys, and preserves. In addition to its culinary usage, E. foetidum is commonly used for its well-documented medicinal properties as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic.
This herb has many names, depending on the country where it is used. Examples are ngo gai (Vietnam), recao and culantro (Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic), Culantro de Pata (Honduras), alcanate (El Salvador), Chicória (Brazil), fitweed (Guyana), herbe à fer (Martinique and Guadeloupe), coulante (Haiti), and shado beni and bhandhania (Trinidad and Tobago).
Eryngium foetidum belongs to the family Apiaceae which includes carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativus), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), celery (Apium graveolens), and parsnip (Pastinaca sativa ). Eryngium foetidum can be considered a biennial or a short-lived perennial.
Eryngium foetidum is native to continental tropical America and the West Indies. This plant is widely cultivated in such places as Costa Rica and Puerto Rico for local consumption and export to the United States.
Culantro is a tender perennial and is grown as an annual in the Northeastern US. Due to the fact that it is frost sensitive and can take up to three weeks to germinate, transplants are recommended for the cultivation of Eryngium foetidum in the Northeast. Germination can take 3 weeks or longer even with bottom heat supplied at 75°F. The plants should be set out after the danger of frost has passed. Transplants should be spaced 4 - 6 inches within the row and no closer than 6 inches apart between the rows. It is recommended to use the same fertility you would use for leafy greens.
When culantro begins to produce flowers, the leaves become tough and less suitable for eating. The harvest is achieved by cutting the entire rosette at soil level. The flower stalks must be pruned regularly in order to maintain vegetative growth and maximize yields.
Although cultivation of E. foetidum is possible in full sun, the plants tend to flower sooner than shade-grown plants and have an inferior quality due to decreased leaf size and a loss of succulence. Flowering occurs at the expense of continued vegetative growth. Plants grown under shade produce larger and greener leaves that are more marketable because of their better appearance, texture, and pungent aroma. Owing to the increased production costs of pruning the flower heads frequently, it is in the interest of growers to reduce the level of flowering in this crop.
Recent research at the University of Massachusetts indicates that culantro is sensitive to daylength. The onset and rate of flowering is enhanced as the daylength increases. Since the production of flowers is detrimental to the growth of leaves, the long days of summer make this a difficult crop to produce commercially in the Northeast.
Seed is available from Johnny's Selected Seeds.