Culantro – The Perennial Answer to Fresh Cilantro
Cilantro is not coriander. It has long leaves with sharp tips and jagged edges. When it comes to flavor, coriander is like cilantro, multiplied by ten.
In warmer climates, above Zone 7, the royal coriander plant can be reseeded and grown commercially, harvesting the leaves as they appear. In zone 7 and below, the weather is seasonally ideal for cilantro, so many people buy the plant expecting it to produce leaves for an extended period of time, but it doesn’t. The reason is that the true cilantro, in heat, is working to expend its energies to go to the seed, the cilantro. Leaves are herbs, seeds are spices as a general rule to understand the difference between the two.
The solution for a heat producing perennial cilantro is the Culantro plant – Ergyngium foetidum. Cilantro is a biennial herb that is grown throughout the Caribbean and Central America, and is a key ingredient in Puerto Rican cuisine. It is relatively unknown in the United States and is often confused with its relative coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.). It is also known by many other names, including Puerto Rican Coriander, Black Benny, Sawleaf Herb, Mexican Coriander, Sawtooth Coriander, Long Coriander, Prickly Coriander, Fitweed, and Spiritweed. In Puerto Rico it is known as recao. When grown, coriander thrives in shady, well-watered conditions. It belongs to the same family of plants as coriander, but it looks quite different. The long, tough leaves smell very similar to cilantro (with much more flavor), making it a respectable summer substitute for cilantro, which prefers cooler weather.
Coriander can be planted in pots or in the ground. If planted in the ground, this herb will continue to reproduce for an almost endless supply. Coriander is relatively free from pests and diseases. Rumored to be attractive to beneficial insects such as ladybugs, green lacewings, and provides an excellent garden defense against aphids. In the kitchen it is used to flavor sauces, softritos, chutneys, ceviches, sauces, rice dishes, stews and soups. To harvest, remove
the oldest ones go to the base of the plant, leaving the new and young leaves to grow. The leaves can be chopped and used fresh or frozen to maintain their flavor.
Unlike coriander, coriander does not fall off, it will produce seeds, but the foliage remains aromatic and flavorful. It is a tender perennial that can be overwintered in a pot or cut back and mulched in the fall.
Culantro is the answer for those who enjoy cilantro but live in a hot/hot climate and want freshness throughout spring/summer and fall.