An herb known by more than 73 names…Eryngium Foetidum

About two weeks ago my next door neighbor asked me if I could grow some Shadow Bennie, an herb that she was familiar with from Trinidad. As I was completely unfamiliar with Shadow Bennie, and 100% uncertain of the spelling, she darted into her kitchen and returned with a bottle of Shadow Bennie sauce that her sister had brought back to Barbados from Trinidad. One sauce made from Shadow Bennie is traditionally served over Shark and Bake and is a mixture of White Wine Vinegar, Garlic, Vegetable Oil, Habanero Peppers, and of course the Shadow Bennie. It is also used in various curries and chutneys.

When I finally made it to the seedling nursery last Thursday I spotted an unfamiliar looking herb and asked what it was: Shadow Bennie! I bought (4) small seedlings and sat down in front of computer to decode the Shadow Bennie mystery.

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The list of countries that count Eryngium Foetidum as part of their culinary culture is extensive, ranging from Asia, to Latin America and throughout the Caribbean including: India,Vietnam, and Thailand, Mexico, Honduras, Brazil, and Guyana, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe, and Trinidad and Tobago. Equally varied are the names by which Eryngium Foetidum is known. In Puerto Rico, Eryngium Foetidum, known there as Culantro, is a key ingredient in Sofrito, this was news to me!

In Trinidad and Tobago, the name Shadow Bennie or Shado Bene is actually derived from the French Patois term Chadon Bene, meaning “Blessed Herb.” However, and possibly confusing things further, the Indo-Trinidadian population in Trinidad and Tobago refer to Eryngium Foetidum as Bandhania which is derived from the Hindi word, dhania, which means Coriander Seed. It is interesting to note that although the use of Bandhania is prevalent in the Indo-Trinidadian culture, I had difficulty locating references to it’s use in continental Indian cuisine; I fear that this might possibly mean that it has yet another name…

The consensus on Eryngium Foetidum is that it in flavor resembles Cilantro, however it’s flavor is much deeper and stronger; there is often confusion between it and Cilantro due to the close spelling. It is also interesting to note that Eryngium Foetidum is used extensively for medicinal purposes to combat fevers, stimulate appetite, improve digestion, combat colic, soothe stomach pains, and as an aphrodisiac. If you happen to be stung by a Scorpion the root of Eryngium Foetidum can be eaten raw to relieve the inflammation.

So no matter how you call it: Chicoria, Escorzonera, False Coriander, Fit Bush, Fit Weed, Herbe a Fer, Herbe Puante, Jia Yuan Quian, Jintenan… and the list goes on, enjoy it.

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