Exotic Vegetables for the Garden – Latin American Greens

October 22, 2013 at 9:55 am

It is that time of year to start planning what next year’s garden will look like. In recent years here has been a proliferation of ethnic vegetable varieties, many of which were originally brought here by recent immigrants, grown by the more adventurous gardeners. If you feel adventurous yourself, here are a couple of Latin American greens that you might like to try.

Many times mistaken for its cousin cilantro, culantro is a biennial herb indigenous to Central America and the West Indies. The herb is used extensively in Latin America and is also used in Caribbean and Asian dishes. It is used mainly as a seasoning in the preparation of a range of foods, including vegetable and meat dishes, chutneys, preserves, and sauces. It has long, serrated leaves and a pungent aroma and flavor. In common with cilantro, it has a tendency to bolt in hot weather.

Culantro  Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Culantro is grown as an annual in the Midwest as it is native to the tropics and is very sensitive to frost. Experts at Purdue University recommend that you start culantro in containers and set out after the danger of frost is passed. Transplants should be spaced 4 – 6 apart using compost or any soil amendments that you would use for leafy greens. 

Culantro Plant Photo: Purdue University

Culantro Plant
Photo: Purdue University

Huauzontle (pronounced ““wah-zont-lay”) is a Mexican vegetable related to the common American weed goosefoot. It sort of resembles a thin version of broccoli. It is also called “Aztec spinach” or “Aztec red spinach.” According to Deborah Madison, author of “The Greens Cookbook,” huauzontle can be used in the same way as broccoli, but it should be boiled first when using in any dish to remove bitterness. In traditional Mexican cuisine, it is also boiled then covered in cheese, battered and deep fried in a dish called tortas de huauzontle. This is usually served with a salsa made with dried guajillo chilies.

Huauzontle  Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Fast growing Huauzontle is planted directly in the garden after the danger of frost has passed. The seed heads are cut when they are young and used as above. The leaves turn red as they mature but it is suggested that huauzontle should be harvested before that point. After they sprout, the plants should be thinned so they are spaced 4 – 6 apart and again use compost or any soil amendments that you would use for leafy greens.

There are many more Latin American and Caribbean treats out there for you to grow. If you feel like to taking your garden on an adventure next summer run to the border and order some Latin American seed this winter!

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds carries culantro seeds:


Huauzontle seed is a little hard to find, but Terrior Seeds does carry them: