By Julie Bawden Davis

Do you crave the unmistakable flavor of cilantro but dislike the plant's penchant for bolting-- Culantro (Eryngium foetidium), an easy-to-grow tender perennial, tastes like cilantro but doesn't easily bolt. The herb is native to Puerto Rico, where it is called recao, but it thrives in the United States as a summer annual, producing until frost. This low-growing member of the thistle family has dandelion-like leaves and spiny flower stalks.

Use culantro, cooked or finely chopped raw, as you would cilantro, in salsa, stir-fries, and soups. It imparts its flavor to a cooked dish in about half an hour. It also dries well.

Start culantro from transplants or seeds. Because the seeds need temperatures of 80oF to sprout, culantro is a little tricky to germinate. It's best to start seed indoors about two months before your last frost and transplant seedlings into the garden after the threat of frost has passed. Seed can also be started now for a fall harvest. Culantro does well in almost any soil with excellent drainage; it produces the biggest, most succulent leaves in shade. Culantro also grows well in containers: place one plant in a gallon pot or three plants in a 5-gallon pot.

Fertilize in-ground plants every two to four weeks with a high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer, and container plants weekly with a half-strength solution. Keep soil evenly moist. For the most vigorous plants, remove flower stalks as soon as they appear. These can be chopped finely and eaten.

About six weeks after planting, harvest leaves by cutting the plant at the base. New leaves will grow and another crop will be ready in a month. Available from Richters, (905) 640-6641,

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