The saw leaf plant is native to the Caribbean and Central America but has become naturalized in parts of Southeast Asia and Florida. It was taken to Southeast Asia by the Chinese who were seeking an alternative to cilantro.
Saw leaf belongs to the same family that includes carrots and cilantro and has long been used by native Caribbean tribes as a medicine. Practitioners of traditional medicine have used saw leaf to treat stomach issues as well as fevers and colds. In some places, it is used to treat seizures.
Saw leaf gets its name from the shape of the leaves, which are long and have serrated edges so that they resemble saw blades.
The saw leaf herb has an unusually long list of aliases including long coriander because it has a similar flavor to the coriander plant, which is also called cilantro. The saw leaf name is limited to Southeast Asia. The herb is also called culantro or recao depending on where you are in the Caribbean.
Saw leaf flavor profile
The flavor profile of saw leaf is very similar to that of cilantro — it has the same grassy citrus flavor that some people might find soapy; however, many claim that it doesn’t have the soap taste at all despite being in the cilantro family. Some people liken its smell to that of a crushed stink bug.
The big difference with the flavor is that it is more intense and has a little more earthiness and bitterness. Some say that saw leaf is 10 times as strong as cilantro. The leaves of the saw leaf herb also have a tougher texture than cilantro.
Health benefits of saw leaf
Saw leaf has long been considered a medicinal herb. Its ability to improve health comes from compounds like:
- Vitamins: You can get a significant amount of vitamin A from saw leaf as well as vitamin B-2 also known as riboflavin. The herb can also provide you with a significant amount of vitamin C.
- Antioxidants: Studies have shown that saw leaf has a high antioxidant content, which means that it is beneficial for combating oxidative stress.
- Minerals: Saw leaf is a good source of iron and calcium.
Saw leaf in your diet can help treat or prevent problems like:
- High blood sugar: The riboflavin in saw leaf can help it to lower blood glucose, which means it can be beneficial for people with diabetes.
- Inflammatory diseases: Studies have shown saw leaf to be beneficial for fighting inflammation, which means that it may be effective against arthritis and other conditions that cause inflammation.
Like cilantro, the saw leaf herb is popular in Vietnam. It is often served torn up in bowls of pho. In the Caribbean, the herb is especially popular in Trinidad and Tobago and Puerto Rico where it is used in marinades for meat.
Because it has a similar flavor to cilantro but more pungent, saw leaf is often used as a cilantro substitute to be added early in the cooking process since its flavor doesn’t fade out with a long cooking time the way its cousin cilantro does. Use it in sofrito along with garlic and onions or to flavor rice and in stews. You can use it as a cilantro substitute in raw preparations as well. It is an effective complement to salsas and guacamoles as long as it’s used in moderation.