I often get queries on how to grow coriander or cilantro in the city. Honestly, I have not been successful in growing cilantro myself. Cilantro typically prefers a cooler climate than what we have here in Manila. However, I do have a more practical alternative to cilantro: the sawtooth coriander, also known as culantro. This herb has the same but slightly stronger flavor and aroma than the typical cilantro/ coriander, and it adapts better to our warm and humid tropical zone.
Sawtooth coriander, or culantro, is also known by various names in different countries: Thai Coriander, Ngo Gai (Vietnamese), Mexican Coriander, to name a few. I have grown accustomed to this herb since I was a kid, when my mother would add its chopped leaves unto our favorite Vietnamese dishes.
As the name suggests, the edges of its leaves are jagged like a small saw. When the weather is hot, it bolts out and produces spiky flower heads growing from the center of the plant. When the flower heads start to appear, the leaves turn yellow and brown. In order to ensure a regular supply of leaves, cut off the flower stem as soon as it starts to appear.
How to Propagate Culantro
The sawtooth coriander can be propagated from seeds. Its seeds can be harvested from the flower heads once they turn brown. After harvesting the seeds, the flower head can be cut off to allow the plant’s energy to focus more on growing new leaves.
Harvesting and Maintenance
This herb thrives well in hot humid weather. It can be grown in medium sized pots, and requires at least 4 hours of sunlight per day. During summer months, its leaves tend to wilt from the heat, a sign that more frequent watering is needed. To harvest, simply cut mature leaves from the base of the plant. This will encourage the growth of new leaves at the center. The harvested leaves can then be dried and stored in a dry cool place, ready for use as may be needed.
Uses of the Sawtooth Cilantro
The main use of this herb is for seasoning, marinating and garnishing. It is widely used in Mexican cuisine, as well as in some parts of Asia, like Thailand and Vietnam. It is not a common ingredient in the Philippines, though I often recommend it as a close substitute for cilantro. According to Wikipedia, the herb has been used in traditional medicine for the treatment of fevers, minor burns, hypertension, asthma, and diarrhea.