Chadon Beni : Trini Root Extraordinaire.
Chadon beni or shado beni is a herb with a solid pungent scent and flavor that is used extensively in Caribbean cooking, much more Trini cooking. The scientific term for the herb is’Eryngium foetidum’however in Trinidad and Tobago the favorite “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 arises from the similarity in both herbs’scents. The difference between Chadon beni (or culantro) and cilantro is that chadon beni (or culantro) has a stronger 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 the botanical family. Trinidad cooking chadon beni An aromatic family at that I’d also add!
The plant passes 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’s referred to as’Bhandhanya ‘. Different countries likewise have its term 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)
Culantro, Shado beni or Chadon beni (Trinidad and Tobago)
In Trinidad and Tobago, almost all our recipes demand chadon beni. The herb is trusted to flavor many dishes and is the beds base herb used when seasoning meat. It is used in marinades, sauces, bean dishes, soups, chutneys, snacks, and with vegetables. One popular chutney we like to make on the island is “Chadon Beni Chutney” that is usually served with a favourite trini snack called pholourie (pronounced po-lor-rie). If you cannot find culantro at your market, you can always substitute it with cilantro, however you will have to improve the 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 has 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 could make your skin layer 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 may also be full of iron, carotene, riboflavin, and calcium, and are an excellent supply of vitamin A, B and C. This herb even offers medicinal properties. The leaves of the plant are a good remedy for high blood pressure, and epilepsy. In some Caribbean countries it is called fitweed due to 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’s 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 certainly one of my personal favorite herbs in cooking and with such flavorful and health qualities, I can’t do without this simple but extraordinary herb.