Chadon beni or shado beni is really a herb with a strong pungent scent and flavor that’s used extensively in Caribbean cooking, moreso Trini cooking. The scientific name for the herb is’Eryngium foetidum’however in Trinidad and Tobago the 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 will also be noted that chadon beni belongs to the botanical family Apiaceae where parsley, dill, fennel, and celery, also belong to the botanical family. An aromatic family at that I would also add!
The plant passes numerous other names such false coriander, black benny, fitweed, duck-tongue herb, saw leaf herb, sawtooth coriander, spiny coriander, and long coriander. Chardon In Hindi it is referred to as’Bhandhanya ‘. Different countries also provide its 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)
Culantro, Shado beni or Chadon beni (Trinidad and Tobago)
In Trinidad and Tobago, almost all our recipes necessitate chadon beni. The herb is popular to flavor many dishes and is the bottom herb used when seasoning meat. It’s utilized in marinades, sauces, bean dishes, soups, chutneys, snacks, and with vegetables. One popular chutney we like to produce on the island is “Chadon Beni Chutney” which can be usually served with a favourite trini snack called pholourie (pronounced po-lor-rie). If you fail to find culantro at your market, you can always substitute it with cilantro, but you’ll have to improve the amount of cilantro used, or seek out 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 needs to be used because the prickly leaves of the flower could make your skin itch. But that could easily be combated by wearing gloves or gently moving aside the flower stalk while picking the the leaves.
The leaves of the chadon beni will also be abundant with iron, carotene, riboflavin, and calcium, and are a great supply of vitamin A, B and C. This herb even offers medicinal properties. The leaves of the plant certainly are a good solution for high blood pressure, and epilepsy. In some Caribbean countries it is named fitweed due to the anti-convulsant properties. It is really a stimulant and has anti-inflamatory and analgestic properties. As a matter of fact, the entire 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 may be grown from the seed, but it is slow to germinate. This plant must get full sun to part shade, and placed in fertile, moist, and well-drained soil.
That is 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.