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Chadon Beni : Trini Organic Extraordinaire.

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Chadon beni or shado beni is a herb with a strong pungent scent and flavor that is used extensively in Caribbean cooking, more so Trini cooking. The scientific name for the herb is’Eryngium foetidum’however in Trinidad and Tobago the most popular “market” names for chadon beni are culantro or bhandhania.

Culantro is distinct from cilantro or coriander (another herb) which carries the scientific name’coriandrum sativum’and should not be confused. The confusion originates from the similarity in both herbs’scents. The difference between Chadon beni (or culantro) and cilantro is that chadon beni (or culantro) has a tougher and more pungent scent. It should also be noted that chadon beni belongs to the botanical family Apiaceae where parsley, dill, fennel, and celery, also belong to this botanical family. An aromatic family at that I’d also add!

The plant goes by several other names such false coriander, black benny, fitweed, duck-tongue herb, saw leaf herb, sawtooth coriander, spiny coriander, and long coriander. In Hindi it is referred to as’Bhandhanya ‘. Different countries also provide its own name for this herb. Some examples are:

Alcapate (El Salvador)
Cilantro extranjero, cilantro habanero, parejil de tabasco (Mexico)
Ngo gai (Vietnam)
Pak chi farang or pak chee (Thailand)
Racao or recao (Puerto Rico and Spain)
Sea holly (Britain)
Jia yuan qian (China)
Fitweed or spiritweed (Jamaica)
Langer koriander (Germany)
Stinkdistel (Netherland)
Culantro, Shado beni or Chadon beni (Trinidad and Tobago)

In Trinidad and Tobago, virtually all our recipes demand chadon beni. The herb is popular to flavor many dishes and is the beds base herb used when seasoning meat. It is found in marinades, sauces, bean dishes, soups, chutneys, snacks, and with vegetables. Culantro One popular chutney we love to create on the island is “Chadon Beni Chutney” which will be usually served with a favourite trini snack called pholourie (pronounced po-lor-rie). If you fail to find culantro at your market, you are able to always substitute it with cilantro, but you will have to boost the total amount of cilantro used, or look for it by its many names as listed above.

The leaves of the chandon beni are spear like, serrated, and stiff spined and the dark, green, shiny leaves are usually 3-6 inches long. Each plant features a stalk, usually 16 inch tall, with smaller prickly leaves and a cone shaped greenish flower. When harvesting the herb’s leaves much care has to be used since the prickly leaves of the flower will make your skin itch. But that can easily be combated by wearing gloves or gently moving aside the flower stalk while picking the the leaves.

The leaves of the chadon beni are also full of iron, carotene, riboflavin, and calcium, and are an excellent source of vitamin A, B and C. This herb also offers medicinal properties. The leaves of the plant really are a good solution for high blood pressure, and epilepsy. In certain Caribbean countries it is called fitweed because of its anti-convulsant properties. It is a stimulant and has anti-inflamatory and analgestic properties. As a matter of fact, the whole plant could be used to cure headache, diarrhea, flu, fever, vomiting, colds, malaria, constipation, and pneumonia.

Chadon beni grows better in hot humid climates. It can be grown from the seed, but it is slow to germinate. This plant will need to get full sun to part shade, and put in fertile, moist, and well-drained soil.

This is among my favorite herbs in cooking and with such flavorful and health qualities, I can’t do without this simple but extraordinary herb.

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