Also known as Mexican coriander, this strongly flavoured herb is widely used in Latin American and southeast Asian cuisines. Its sharp flavour combines nicely with mint, cilantro, and other strongly flavoured herbs. It is a standard fixture on Vietnamese herb plants, and provides a wonderful contrast with peppery soups and salad rolls. Culantro saw tooth herb grows as a perennial in the tropics, but it should be treated more as a heat loving annual in North American gardens. It works well in containers, raised beds, and any place where the soil tends to be on the warm side. It dries well, keeping its fine flavour.
Learn how to grow culantro in the home herb garden for a never-ending supply of sharply flavoured leaves. This herb is so widely used around the world that it goes by many names: Shado beni, chardon béni, bandhaniya, samat, alcapate, cilantro de monte, cinlantro habanero, Mexican coriander, sneki wiwiri, and so on. You might find it listed as fitweed, spiritweed, stinkweed, duck-tongue herb, sawtooth, or saw-leaf herb. In Vietnamese it is ngo gai.
Season: Warm season
Exposure: Full sun
Zone: 3 to 10 – not cold hardy
Start the seeds in CowPots or medium sized coir pots. Culantro is a biennial plant with a central taproot, so it does not transplant well. The strategy is to transplant its whole root system as needed. Start seeds indoors about eight weeks before the last frost date. That’s early February on the west coast. This tropical herb requires warm soil. Optimal temperature for germination: 26°C (80°F). Seeds should sprout in 14-28 days.
Sow the tiny seeds on the surface of pre-moistened, sterilized seed starting mix. Using bottom heat speeds germination. Do not transplant until all risk of frost is well over. Keep the planting medium quite moist. Aim for an ultimate spacing of one plant per one gallon pot, or three plants per five gallon pot.
Rich, moist, well-drained soil in a warm location is best. Culantro thrives in full sun, but there seems to be some consensus among growers that it will be more productive over a longer period if grown in partial shade. The leaves grow larger and more tender this way.
Typically culantro is used as a fresh herb, cutting individual leaves from the plant (or row) as needed. If frost is expected or plants appear to be bolting, harvest at once, and allow the leaves to dry completely with the tap root attached. The leaves retain their flavour surprisingly well. It can also be chopped and frozen in water in ice cube trays like basil, but this seems to diminish the flavour a little.
Usual seed life: 2 years. Using fresh seed each year is recommended.