Cilantro, also called Vietnamese
Coriander and Rau Ram is one of those mysterious and exotic herbs. A pretty little plant in the knotweed family, Polygonum,
it is often used in Vietnam interchangeably with peppermint and what we would
call normal Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum. And, while we may be most familiar
with normal Cilantro in Salsa, it is used in many different ways throughout the
There are three fairly well known plants that sport the 'Cilantro' flavor.
Besides Cilantro, and Vietnamese Cilantro, there is also Culantro, Eryngium
foetidium. And while not identical in flavor to Coriandrum sativum, Vietnamese
Cilantro is by far the easiest to grow.
Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum,
is a cool weather annual that does best when directly seeded. You can sow it in
pots or directly into the ground in late winter. It can be transplanted but take
care to do so gently. Any stress causes the plants to produce flowers. And, even
though you may want to harvest the coriander seed, a three inch tall stressed
out plant doesn't do a thing but die after it flowers.
Culantro, Eryngium foetidium, is a hot weather perennial that
dies at 32 degrees. The flavor is identical to Cilantro, but it is a thistle and
that means thinking outside the box.
This is not an easy plant to grow but we do offer it on occasion, usually in
the late spring or early summer. The species name foetidium means " foul smelling",
which is how a lot of folks feel about the aroma of Cilantro. You either love it
or can't stand it, although some do come to love it after living with it for a
Vietnamese Cilantro, Polygonum odoratum, is also a hot
weather perennial that dies at 32 degrees. Grown in a large
the growing season, it can be brought into a well lit, warm room before the
first frost. The genus name Polygonum refers to the many sections of
the stems which grow coarsely from joint to joint. It grows rapidly and can
outgrow its container quickly. When this happens, the plant stops producing the
lettuce like leaves and needs to be transplanted to a larger pot or broken up
and repotted. This can happen several times in one season, depending on the size
of the original container and the growing conditions. An understory ground
cover, Vietnamese Cilantro grows best with afternoon shade or all day filtered
shade and plenty of water.
The dark green, maroon- blotched leaves with their burgundy
underside are ( also like lettuce) used fresh. As the recipe below, for
Chicken Salad--ga bop--from the nationally acclaimed Lemon
Grass Restaurant shows, Vietnamese
can be used in place of Cilantro or Mint in most Vietnamese recipes. The leaves
have the best flavor when they are young. As they age, they become tough and
leathery and a bit acrid. The plant may be cut back to the ground at any time
during the growing season to produce more fresh young leaves. If after
cutting back, the plant seems to be slow on the rebound, it probably needs to
repotted or divided.
Any plant that can provide copious amounts of healthy, flavor
filled greens is a good candidate for my herb garden. That it is so easy to grow
makes it a real sweetheart.