Favourite Herbs: Cilantro and Coriander

Cilantro and Coriander

Coriandrum sativum

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Tender annual

Height 30 to 60 cm; spread 10 to 45 cm.

Erect-growing herb with strongly scented, lobe-shaped leaves.

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Coriandrum sativum (cilantro, leaf coriander, Chinese parsley) is the most common variety and is widely available; the flavour is similar to a blend of parsley and citrus.

Planting

Seed cilantro directly into the garden or, to get a jump on the season, set out young plants purchased from a garden centre.

How much: Two or three plants.

When: After all danger of frost has passed.

Where: Full sun, sheltered. Prefers light, well-drained soil with low nitrogen content. Space plants 25 to 30 cm apart and rows 75 cm apart.

Care and Nurture

Cilantro is easy to grow! For best leaf development, try to keep cilantro from flowering. Coriander is quick to produce seed, bolting when temperatures reach 21° C.

Harvesting

If you've ever grown cilantro, you know that picking off the flower buds can be a full-time job. Fortunately, the flowers taste wonderful—their flavour is similar to that of the leaves, but slightly sweeter.

For best flavour: Choose lower leaves, which are broader and more flavourful than younger, upper leaves, which have a milder taste and a pungent aroma.

Leaves: Harvest throughout the growing season. Cut sprigs and use whole, or trim the leaflets. Tender stems can be eaten, but discard tough older stems.

Flowers: Pick as they appear, just after they have opened. Clip the flower stalk where it attaches to the plant stem; use stalk and all.

Seeds: Collect as soon as they ripen (get hard and turn brown), late in the season.

Preserving the Harvest

Store fresh cilantro stem-down in a glass of water; cover the leaves with a plastic bag. Change the water every two days. The stems will keep for up to a week. Cilantro leaves do not dry well but may be frozen or preserved in light oil. Cilantro flowers may be used fresh or preserved in oil, butter, or vinegar. Coriander seed is used dried.

Tips

  • Cilantro is one herb most gardeners can sow directly into the garden. Sow cilantro when you sow your carrots and don’t thin the plants. The result will be numerous fine, small plants with lots of beautiful green leaves.

To Note: 

  • Records show that coriander was grown in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and small packets of coriander were placed in the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs some 3000 years ago.
  • The raw seed of coriander is a good breath freshener.
  • The essential oil of cilantro is used in perfumery, soap making, and food flavouring.
  • The best known part of this plant is the coriander seed, which is a major ingredient of curry powder.
  • Ancient societies believed that eating coriander lead to longevity and a better love life.
  • The quality of coriander's volatile increases in northern regions. Oil yield also increases during cool, moist summers; the optimum growing temperature for coriander is a cool 18° C.
  • For generations, British children have been rewarded with “comfits." These sugar-coated pink or white candies withstood sucking for a long time. When the sugar coating was gone, what remained in the middle was a coriander seed. Coriander seed is also found in the middle of jawbreakers.
  • In the language of flowers, coriander means "hidden worth.
  • According to ancient Chinese belief, if one were to eat coriander seed during a trance, one would instantly be granted immortality.
  • In Arabian Nights, the tale-spinning princess Scheherazade notes that coriander is a powerful aphrodisiac.