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What Is Culantro? Health Benefits, Side Effects And Recipes

| Reviewed By Karthika Thirugnanam

Culantro, scientifically known as Eryngium foetidum is a biennial herb (lasts for two years) grown basically in Tropical America and West Indies. However, it is widely used in the Caribbean, Asian and American dishes. Culantro belongs to family Apiaceae and is well known for its use as a spice and medicinal herb.

The common name of culantro is long coriander (bandhania) as it is a close relative to cilantro, also named as coriander (dhaniya). In India, it is mostly found in the northeastern part that includes Sikkim, Manipur, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura. Culantro is also found in some parts of South India such as Andaman & Nicobar Island, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. There are lots of amazing things about culantro that need to be unraveled. Take a look.

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Plant Description

Culantro is commonly found in moist and shaded areas where heavy soil prevails. Though the plant grows well in full sunlight, in shaded areas the plant produces larger and greener leaves with a higher pungent aroma. [1]

The plant germinates from seeds within 30 days of being planted, which is why it is also considered a best garden or backyard plant.

Culantro comprises of around 200 species. Most of them are recognised by thick roots, fleshy wax leaves and blue flowers. The leaves are spirally arranged in the stem. The plant is relatively disease and pest-free.

The flavour of the leaves is pungent with a unique aroma. That is the reason why the herb is widely used in seasoning a large variety of foods that include curries, chutneys, soups, meats, vegetables, noodles and sauces. Culantro tastes bitter and is used only in small amounts.

Nutritional Profile

Fresh culantro leaves are 86-88% moisture, 3.3% protein, 0.6% fat, 6.5% carbohydrates, 1.7% ash, 0.06% phosphorous and 0.02% iron. The leaves are also an excellent source of vitamins A, B1, B2, and C and minerals such as calcium and boron.

Difference Between Culantro And Cilantro

People often confuse culantro with cilantro. Here are a few differences which will give you clear ideaabout the two herbs.

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Culantro Cilantro
It is also known as spiny coriander or long-leaf coriander. In India, it is known as 'bandhania'. It is also known as Mexican coriander or Mexican parsley. In India, it is known as 'dhania.'
It is a biennial plant with a life span of two years. It is an annual plant.
The leaves are more pungent (around 10 times) compared to cilantro. The leaves are less pungent than culantro.
The leaves are tougher and can be boiled at a high heat without damage. The leaves are delicate and soft, the reason why it is added only after the food is prepared.
The leaves are long with several small yellow spines. The leaves are small and lacy with no spines
The leaves grow on thick short stem and are arranged spirally. The leaves grow higher above the ground on a thin stem.
The flowers of culantro are blue and have spines too. The seeds are naturally present in the flower, making the plant self-seeding. The flowers are whitish and have no spines.

Health Benefits Of Culantro

1. Treats infectious diseases

According to a study published in the DARU Journal of Pharmaceutical Science, culantro possesses antimicrobial properties that can help fight against various strains of gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria, along with some species of viruses, fungi and yeasts.

The phytochemicals in the herb target the pathogens and can treat multiple infectious diseases in human, including antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. [2]

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2. Manages diabetes

The essential oil extracted from the leaves of culantro have demonstrated strong antioxidants activity. This aromatic herb contains a high amount of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) that acts as an antioxidant and help in scavenging free radicals.

This makes the herb an effective part of the treatment of diabetes and other disorders caused due to oxidative stress in the body. [3]

3. Eliminates bad breath

The fresh scent of culantro is very effective in treating bad breath. The chlorophyll content in the leaves, responsible for its dense green colour, has a deodorising effect.

When the fresh leaves of this herb are chewed, it eliminates the sulphur compound from the mouth which is caused due to the breaking of food particles into carbohydrates by the oral bacteria.

4. Treats heart diseases

Culantro contains compounds such as saponins, flavonoids, coumarins, steroid and caffeic acid. These compounds are the main reason for the anti-inflammatory activity of the herb.

In a study, culantro has shown inflammation reduction in the acute stages of vascular or heart diseases. It also helps reduce inflammation caused due to protein-rich fluids that ooze out of blood vessels. [4]

5. Treats renal disorders

As per European herbal medicines, culantro promotes diuresis and help in treating renal disorders such as chronic prostatitis, cystitis, painful urination and urethritis. This essential herb may also help in preventing kidney diseases.

6. Prevents Alzheimer's

The anti-inflammatory property of culantro is very useful in preventing degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Saponins and flavonoids, the anti-inflammatory compounds in the herb may help in reducing the inflammation in the brain cells. Also, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and help prevent brain cell damages caused by oxidative stress.

7. Manages asthma

Due to the increased prevalence of asthma in the Caribbean, culantro is widely used in the management and prevention of the condition. A study says that people residing in the Caribbean use at least one medicinal herb in their tea that includes shadonbeni or culantro or other popular herbs such as tulsi, pepper, lemongrass and nutmeg. [5]

8. Treats fever

Stigmasterol, a plant-based steroid in culantro posesses an anti-inflammatory property that helps treat fevers, flu, cold and related symptoms. When pathogens enter the body, they trigger the production of pyrogen, a substance that induces fever. As a result, inflammation occurs due to the natural response by the immune system. Stigmasterol and other anti-inflammatory compounds in culantro help reduce it and prevent fever. [6]

9. Prevent gastrointestinal problems

The leaves of culantro stimulate gastric and small intestinal digestion. The carotenoids, lutein and phenolic content in the leaves help in proper digestion and eases various gastrointestinal problems, thus maintaining good gut health. [6]

10. Treats malaria

Culantro leaves are packed with flavonoids, tannins and many triterpenoids. These compounds demonstrate antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties which are effective against malarial parasites and other microbes like bacteria and fungi. [7]

11. Treats worms

Culantro is a traditional spicy herb used across the world for treating multiple ailments. A study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology says that culantro possesses an anthelmintic property that may help in killing worms present in the intestines. [8]

12. Treats oedema

Oedema or edema refers to the swelling of a small body part or entire body due to injury or inflammation. Other reasons include pregnancy, infections and medications. In a study, culantro has shown to reduce oedema due to the presence of stigmasterol, beta-sitosterol, brassicasterol and terpenic compounds. [9]

13. Treats infertility

Since ancient times, women have tried to enhance their fertility and reproductive problems through herbs. Culantro is used in many folk medicines to treat such problems. In a study, the effectiveness of certain plants was evaluated in treatingreproductive problems in women and men.

Culantro was mentioned to be helpful in treating problems related to childbirth, infertility and menstrual pain. The herb also acts as an aphrodisiac that helps increase sexual desire. [10]

14. Treats damp-heat syndrome

Culantro is an everyday herb frequently used in many dishes. A study mentions that this medicinal herb may help treat damp-heat syndrome and other ailments caused due to hot and humid climate in the coastal regions. [11]

15. Manages blood pressure

Culantro is used as a healthy herb due to the presence of a significant amount of iron, proteins, calcium, vitamins (A, B and C) and carotene. The compounds help manage hypertension or blood pressure. [12]

16. Prevents epileptic seizure

Culantro has several medicinal properties. A study demonstrates the anticonvulsant property of culantro due to the presence of bioactive compounds such as eryngial, flavonoids and tannins in the plant. [13]

17. Acts as a pain relief

Trimethylbenzaldehydes in culantro leaves act as a powerful pain reliever. They sooth all types of acute pain that include ear pain, headaches, pelvic pain, joint pain and muscle pain. This may be the reason why culantro leaf tea is widely used.

Side Effects Of Culantro

There are no proven side effects of culantro. However, it may cause allergic reactions to some people or interact with drugs. Overconsumption of culantro may also lead to certain adverse effects. A study says that daily consumption of culantro for 24 weeks may cause kidney dysfunction, considering it is taken in a higher dose (around 35 times more than the normal dose). [14]

Also, no sufficient studies talk about the safe dose of culantro during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Consult a doctor before using it.

Culantro Tea Recipe for Diabetes/Constipation/Fever

Ingredients:

  • Culantro leaves (3-4)
  • Cardamom (1-2) for flavour
  • Water

Methods:

Bring the water to boil. Add culantro leaves and cardamom and let the mixture boil for 2-3 minutes. Slow down the heat and let it steep for 5 minutes. Serve hot. You can also add honey for sweetness.

Culantro Chutney Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh culantro (bandania or shadobani)
  • Few chopped chillis (optional)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Mustard oil (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ cup of water

Method:

Add all the ingredients (except salt and mustard oil) to a blender and blend them. Make a slightly thick paste. Add salt to taste and a few drops of mustard oil to enhance the flavour. Serve it.

Common FAQs

1. Can you eat culantro raw?

The flavour of culantro comes out when it is either cooked or boiled. Unlike cilantro, it cannot be eaten raw due to its bitter taste and soapy flavour.

2. What part of culantro do you eat?

The most used part of culantro is the leaves. However, the whole plant is considered of medicinal value including roots stem and seeds. Roots are mainly used as an infusion in tea or oil and seeds in a paste.

3. Can I use culantro instead of cilantro?

Cilantro can be substituted for culantro while the reverse is not possible. Cilantro has soft and delicate leaves while culantro leaves have a tough texture. This is why cilantro or coriander leaves are added after preparing food as extra boiling may cause the leaves to lose flavour and aroma.

On the other hand, culantro flavour comes out well when boiled. Cutting culantro into thin ribbons for salads, however, may do the job sometimes.

4. How do you keep Culantro fresh?

It is better to freeze the culantro leaves than storing them in the dry form. Wash the leaves and pat them dry. Wrap them in a paper towel, place in freezer bag and freeze. One can also make a chutney out of it and store it in a freezer.

Karthika ThirugnanamClinical Nutritionist and Dietitian
MS, RDN (USA)
Karthika Thirugnanam
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