Chadon Beni : Trini Plant Extraordinaire.

Chadon beni or shado beni is a herb with a solid pungent scent and flavor that is used extensively in Caribbean cooking, moreso 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 shouldn’t be confused. The confusion arises from the similarity in the 2 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 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. Chardon An aromatic family at that I would also add!

The plant passes a number of other names such false coriander, black benny, fitweed, duck-tongue herb, saw leaf herb, sawtooth coriander, spiny coriander, and long coriander. In Hindi it is called’Bhandhanya ‘. Different countries likewise have 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, almost all our recipes call for 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 love to create on the island is “Chadon Beni Chutney” that will 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, however you will have to improve 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 usually 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 needs to be taken since the prickly leaves of the flower may make your skin 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 are also 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 are a good remedy for high blood pressure, and epilepsy. In a few Caribbean countries it is known as fitweed due to the anti-convulsant properties. It is a stimulant and has anti-inflamatory and analgestic properties. As a matter of fact, the entire plant could be properly 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 is slow to germinate. This plant will have to get full sun to part shade, and put in fertile, moist, and well-drained soil.

That 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.