Eryngium Foetidum (Long Coriander)

Plant family: Apiaceae (parsley family)
Long coriander, Mexican coriander, Wild coriander, Recao, Shado beni (English-speaking Caribbean), Spiritweed, Ngò gai (Vietnam), Sawtooth, Saw-leaf herb, or Cilantro cimarron) is a tropical perennial and annual herb in the family Apiaceae. It is native to Mexico and South America, but is cultivated worldwide. In the United States, where it is not well-known, the name culantro sometimes causes confusion with Coriandrum sativum, the leaves of which are known as cilantro, and which culantro is even said to taste like. The two plants are in the same family, Apiaceae.

Origin
The plant is native to the Caribbean islands. Today, is has been introduced to large parts of South East Asia (Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia).

Etymology
The derivation of culantro and racao, two names by which the plant is known in Central America, the former is maybe just a variant of cilantro.

Many names in languages that are spoken outside the natural habitat of long coriander compare it to the common coriander, e.g. Thai pakchi farang “foreign coriander”, Chinese ci yuan sui “pricky coriander”, Hindi bhandhania “broad coriander” or Malay ketumbar Jawa “Jawanese coriander” (although I haven’t seen it in Jawa). Note, however, that the Thai name pak chi farang may also mean parsley, which also deserves to be called “foreign coriander”, the similarities being more visual than olfactory.

The Thai term farang “foreign, Western, European” has a complex history and derives, in last consequence, from the name of a Germanic people, the Franks! In Medieval Europe, the Franks had occupied a powerful position (see also lovage for the herbal edict of Charlemagne), and a large percentage of the Crusaders were Franks. So it was natural to call the continent Europe just firanja “Frank country” in Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic forms are ifranji (noun), faranj (adjective) “European”, where the initial variation (ifra vs. far) results from different strategies to avoid the initial consonant cluster. From Arabic, the word spread eastward, e.g. Urdu frangistan , Sanskrit phiranga and Kannada paramgi “Europe”, and Kurdish farangi , Dhivehi faranjee , and Khmer barang “foreigner”.
English saw leaf herb refers to the serrated leafs, which loosely remind to a saw.
The botanical genus name Eryngium goes back to the Greek name of the related sea holly (Eryngium vulgare), which was called eryngion; the name is probably related to er “spring time” (cognate to Latin ver). The genus name foetidus is Latin and means “stinking, bad smelling, ugly”.

Plant Description:
Eryngium comprises over 200 tropical and temperate species (Willis 1960). Most are spiny ornamental herbs with thick roots and fleshy waxy leaves with blue flowers in cymose heads. Eryngium foetidum is a tap-rooted biennial herb with long, evenly branched roots (Fig. 1). The oblanceolate leaves, arranged spirally around the short thick stem, form a basal rosette and are as much as 30 cm long and 4 cm broad. The leaf margin is serrated, each tooth of the margin containing a small yellow spine. The plant produces a well-branched cluster of flower heads in spikes forming the characteristic umbel inflorescence on a long stalk arising from the center of the leaf rosette (Morton 1981; Moran 1988). The calyx is green while the corolla is creamy white in color.

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CULINARY USES AND NUTRITIONAL VALUE
The appearance of culantro and cilantro are different but the leaf aromas are similar, although culantro is more pungent. Because of this aroma similarity the leaves are used interchangeably in many food preparations and is the major reason for the misnaming of one herb for the other. While relatively new to American cuisine, culantro has long been used in the Far East, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In Asia, culantro is most popular in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore where it is commonly used with or in lieu of cilantro and topped over soups, noodle dishes, and curries. In Latin America, culantro is mostly associated with the cooking style of Puerto Rico, where recipes common to all Latin countries are enhanced with culantro. The most popular and ubiquitous example is salsa, a spicy sauce prepared from tomatoes, garlic, onion, lemon juice, with liberal amounts of chiles. These constituents are fried and simmered together, mixed to a smooth paste and spiced with fresh herbs including culantro. Salsa is usually consumed with tortilla chips as an appetizer. Equally popular is sofrito or recaito, the name given to the mixture of seasonings containing culantro and widely used in rice, stews, and soups (Wilson 1991). There are reportedly as many variations of the recipe as there are cooks in Puerto Rico but basically sofrito consists of garlic, onion, green pepper, small mild peppers, and both cilantro and culantro leaves. Ingredients are blended and can then be refrigerated for months. Sofrito is itself the major ingredient in a host of other recipes including eggplant pasta sauce, cilantro garlic butter, cilantro pesto, pineapple salsa, and gazpacho with herb yogurt.

Culantro is reported to be rich in calcium, iron, carotene, and riboflavin. Fresh leaves are 86–88% moisture, 3.3% protein, 0.6% fat, 6.5% carbohydrate, 1.7% ash, 0.06% phosphorus, and 0.02% iron. Leaves are an excellent source of vitamin A (10,460 I.U./100 g), B2 (60 mg %), B1 (0.8 mg %), and C (150–200 mg %) (Bautista et al. 1988). On a dry weight basis, leaves consist of 0.1–0.95% volatile oil, 27.7% crude fiber, 1.23% calcium, and 25 ppm boron.

Sensory quality
Aroma strong, very similar to fresh coriander leaves; taste similar, but even stronger.

Main constituents
The essential oil from the leaves of long coriander is rich in aliphatic aldehydes, most of which are α,β unsaturated. The impact compound is E-2-dodecenal (60%), furthermore 2,3,6-trimethylbenzaldehyde (10%), dodecanal (7%) and E-2-tridecenal (5%) have been identified. Aliphatic aldehydes appear also in other spices with coriander-like scent (e.g., Vietnamese coriander).

Yet another essential oil can be obtained from the root; in the root oil, unsaturated alicyclic or aromatic aldehydes dominate (2,3,6-trimethylbenzaldehyde 40%, 2-formyl-1,1,5-trimethyl cyclohexa-2,5-dien-4-ol 10%, 2-formyl-1,1,5-trimethyl cyclohexa-2,4-dien-6-ol 20%, 2,3,4-trimethylbenzaldehyde ).

In the essential oil from the seeds, sesquiterpenoids (carotol 20%, β-farnesene 10%), phenylpropanoids (anethole) and monoterpenes (α-pinene) were found, but no aldehydes.

MEDICINAL USES
The plant is used in traditional medicines for fevers and chills, vomiting, diarrhea, and in Jamaica for colds and convulsions in children (Honeychurch 1980). The leaves and roots are boiled and the water drunk for pneumonia, flu, diabetes, constipation, and malaria fever. The root can be eaten raw for scorpion stings and in India the root is reportedly used to alleviate stomach pains. The leaves themselves can be eaten in the form of a chutney as an appetite stimulant (Mahabir 1991).

Medicinally, the leaves and roots are used in tea to stimulate appetite, improve digestion, combat colic, soothe stomach pains, eliminate gases and as an aphrodisiac.

In Carib medicine as a cure-all, and, specifically for epilepsy, high blood pressure, and fevers, fits, and chills in children.  In Suriname’s traditional medicine fitweed (culantro) is used against fevers and flu.  It is used as a tea for diarrhea, flu, fevers, vomiting, diabetes and constipation. In India the root is used to alleviate stomache.

Disclaimer:
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

CONCLUSION
Although used widely throughout the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Far East, culantro is still mistaken for and erroneously called cilantro. The herb is rapidly becoming an important import item into the US mainly due to the increasing ethnic immigrant populations who utilize it in their many varied dishes from around the world. It is closely related botanically to cilantro but has a distinctly different appearance and a much more potent volatile leaf oil. Recent research to prevent bolting and early flowering will increase its leaf yields and consequently its demand. Successes in prolonging its postharvest life and storage under refrigeration will undoubtedly increase its export potential and ultimately its popularity among the commonly used culinary herbs.

References:

http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1999/v4-506.html

http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/spice_photo.html#eryn_foe

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eryngium_foetidum

http://www.herbnet.com/Herb%20Uses_C.htm

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