Chadon Beni — Trini Supplement Extraordinaire.

Chadon beni or shado beni is a herb with a powerful pungent scent and flavor that is used extensively in Caribbean cooking, way more Trini cooking. The scientific name for the herb is’Eryngium foetidum’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 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 tougher and more pungent scent. It will also be noted that chadon beni is one of the botanical family Apiaceae where parsley, dill, fennel, and celery, also belong to this botanical family. An aromatic family at that I would also add!

The plant goes on numerous 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 called’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)
Stinkdistel (Netherland)
Culantro, Shado beni or Chadon beni (Trinidad and Tobago)

In Trinidad and Tobago, nearly all our recipes necessitate chadon beni. The herb is popular to flavor many dishes and is the 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 create on the island is “Chadon Beni Chutney” that is usually served with a favourite trini snack called pholourie (pronounced po-lor-rie).  Chado Beni If you cannot find culantro at your market, you are able to always substitute it with cilantro, however 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 generally 3-6 inches long. Each plant includes 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 studied because the prickly leaves of the flower will make the 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 are also full of iron, carotene, riboflavin, and calcium, and are an excellent supply of vitamin A, B and C. This herb also has medicinal properties. The leaves of the plant certainly are a good remedy for high blood pressure, and epilepsy. In some Caribbean countries it is known as fitweed because of its anti-convulsant properties. It is a stimulant and has anti-inflamatory and analgestic properties. As a matter of fact, the complete 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 could be grown from the seed, but it’s slow to germinate. This plant will need to get full sun to part shade, and placed in fertile, moist, and well-drained soil.

That 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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