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Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs
Growing & Selling  
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Growing and Selling
Fresh-Cut Herbs

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Herb of the Month

Culantro (Recao)

Eryngium foetidum
Slender, evergreen, branched perennial with fibrous roots and lanceolate leaves 2-10 inches long, which have spiny-toothed margins. Numerous, green-white flowers with leafy bracts appearing in summer.  Height and width 24 inches.

         Cultivation:  Prefers damp, heavy soil in sun or shade. Best pH 4.3-6.8. Propagate by seed sown in spring, or by root cuttings in late winter. The container should be at least 2 inches deep because the seedlings send out a long tap root. Transplants will be ready to plant in the field around 8 weeks after seedling emergence The seedling is easy to transplant because its root system can withstand some handling.   Leaves are picked before flowering; roots of 2nd –year plants are lifted in autumn and used fresh for flavoring, and fresh or dried in infusions and decoctions.  Slugs and snails a particular problem as well as mealy bugs.  Blanching prior to drying the herb preserves the green color.  In northern climates, the plants should be set out after the night time temperatures are 50F or above, usually in early June. Transplants should be spaced 4 - 6 inches within the row and no closer than 6 inches apart between the rows. It is a good idea to add starter fertilizer at the time of planting. Recao can survive in poor soils with little fertilizer, but does better in fertile soils.  For commercial production, the plants should be covered with a floating row cover. This is for three reasons. First, the long summer days will stimulate growth of the flower stalk. The flower stalk must be trimmed weekly or the plant will stop producing leaves. Shading the plant slows the growth of the flower stalk. The row cover should be placed on the crop in such a way that it can be removed easily and withstand weekly handling.  The second reason to use row cover is to keep the leaves as succulent as possible. Leaves of recao grown under row cover have less chlorophyll and have much softer spines. The third reason is that leaves grown under row cover are cleaner than those grown without row cover.   The leaves will grow as much as 10 inches long, especially under shade. The entire rosette is harvested by cutting the leaves with a knife at the soil line. The rosette is left to grow new leaves. The cut leaves can be held together with a rubber band and sold as a bunch.  The crop is sold in bunches of 6-10 leaves per bunch. They could be held together with a rubber band or twist tie. Shelf life is 3 to 4 days. After that, the leaves begin to decay and produce an off-flavor. One way to slow decay is to wrap the bottom end of the leaves in plastic with a little bit of moisture.

Culinary Uses: Important in Latin American cuisine and increasingly used in SE Asia in soups, curries, and rice and fish dishes.  Flavor similar to that of coriander but stronger.  This is one of the herbs that gives Caribbean foods its distinct flavor. The Puerto Rican condiment sofrito uses recao as a key ingredient. The roots and leaves are used in Thai cooking. Add as many washed and chopped leaves as required for taste. Fresh leaves can be used in salad. Chopped leaves are added in soups and stews. Recao can be dried and stored. Unlike cilantro, recao retains its flavor and color after drying.

The comprehensive revised edition of Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs is available from author, most internet booksellers, bookstores, and in libraries.  It can be ordered from the distributor, Independent Publishers Group


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