Coriander is not one of the world's favourite flavourings, it's two of them. This dual purpose annual herb is grown both for its seeds or fresh young leaves. It is often referred to as Cilantro although Cilantro is actually the leaves of the plant. All parts of the plant are edible, the leaves taste very different than the seeds, similar to parsley but juicier & with a hint of citrus.
Compared to shop-bought both the leaves and seeds smell amazing. If you use coriander in any recipe, you would never regret planting and harvesting your own - the difference can be quite startling. Harvest during early morning or late in the evening. The seed will have a very strong odour at first, but this will soften and become more lemony when the seed is thoroughly dry.
Planting Position: Herbs do best in a hot, sunny spot. In these conditions they’ll make the highest level of the aromatic oils that give them their taste and aroma. They also prefer well-drained soil, and are perfect for growing in pots near the kitchen door or in hanging baskets. Like all plants they enjoy regular feeding throughout the growing season.
Sowing: Sow successively from August to March at 15º to 18ºC (60º to 65ºF). Coriander is best grown from seed planted directly where they are to grow. This is because it is quite a sensitive plant; transplanting young plants can shock them and cause them to bolt (run to seed). If you wish to plant a few for use early in the year, you can do so indoors, but plant more directly outdoors once the weather warms a little. Also consider planting into a container and moving the container outdoors in spring. The key to having coriander available for all summer harvest is to plant successive plantings every four weeks. Coriander plants go to seed quickly, so if you want to use the young leaves at the time that tomatoes and peppers are ripe, you will need to plant some more in early or mid summer.
Sowing Indoors: Sow the seeds 1cm (1/2in) deep into 7cm (3in) pots containing normal potting compost. Make sure that the compost remains moist. The seedlings will appear a week to ten days later. Transplant (or transfer the container) outside a month after sowing. Space at least 20cm (8in) between each plant.
Sowing Direct: Sow the seeds 1cm (1/2in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart in ordinary garden soil which has been raked to a fine tilth. Make sure that the compost remains moist. The seedlings will appear a week to ten days later. Thin out the seedlings to 20 to 25cm (8 to 10in) apart.
Container Growing: Plants can be successfully grown in a window box along with dill, chives and rosemary in the same box. The size of your container is pretty important it should be 20 to 30cm (8 to 12 in) wide and about 15cm (6 in) deep. Ensure good drainage with plenty of broken crockery, bark or chippings. Do not over water the plant in the evening as coriander does not like wet feet. Plant the seeds straight into the container in groups of three to five seeds at 10cm (4in) in the spring. Thin them when they are large enough to handle. Feed them with a bit of liquid feed about once a fortnight from the time the flowering stem is half grown until the time when the flowers fade.
Cultivation: Shock to the plant such as lack of water or extremes of temperature can cause bolting, this is a survival technique the plant uses. Try to minimise such stresses to the plant. Don't leave them standing in water, they don't like their roots too wet. To maintain a good crop keep picking the mature leaves.
Companion Planting: Coriander repels harmful insects such as aphids, spider mites and potato beetle. A tea from this can be used as a spray for spider mites. Partners for coriander are anise, caraway, potatoes and dill. Don't plant near to fennel as it is bad for both plants.
Harvesting Leaves: Coriander will be ready to harvest in about 47 days. Harvest the young green leaves sparingly once the seedlings are 15cm (6in) tall. Cut the leaves with scissors when required, starting with the outside leaves (those nearest the edge of the plant) and working your way inwards. Fresh cilantro does not keep well, and the flavour of dried is not comparable. To store fresh, pick out any wilted leaves, and put it in a jar with water like a bunch of flowers. Cover the leaves with a plastic bag and put the whole thing in the refrigerator. Change the water every two days or so, picking out any wilted leaves when you do. The leaves do not freeze, the best way to keep them is in oil or vinegar for winter use.
Harvesting Seeds: Fresh Coriander seed is an openly aromatic spice. Almost like a cross between regular dried coriander seed and green peppercorn. There's nothing like it. The seeds are ready to harvest when they begin to turn brown. Under ripe coriander seeds have an unpleasant flavour. Too ripe and they shatter. The process is progressive and you should harvest when between half and two thirds of the seeds are ripe. Don't leave them too long on the plant or they will disperse themselves. You may need to cut off the tops of the plants and take them indoors to ripen if you want to harvest as many seeds as possible, but this is usually not necessary. Cover bunches of about six heads together in a paper bag tie in up and hang it upside down in warm, dry and airy place. Leave it for about two weeks. Store seeds in an airtight container. Harvest during early morning or late in the evening. The seed will have a very strong odour at first, but this will soften and become more lemony when the seed is thoroughly dry.
Culinary Uses: Coriander is the dried seed of the cilantro. The seeds are round tiny balls. They are used whole or ground as a flavouring for food and as a seasoning. The seeds are used in curries, curry powder, pickles, sausages, soups, stews, and ratatouille. For an interesting take try using it in ice cream recipes - it is a fabulous complement for the sour notes of fruits such as rhubarb and lime.
The fresh leaves are an ingredient in many South Asian foods (particularly chutneys), in Chinese dishes and in Mexican dishes, particularly in salsa and guacamole and as a garnish. Chopped coriander leaves are a garnish on cooked dishes such as dal and curries. As heat diminishes their flavour quickly, coriander leaves are often used raw or added to the dish immediately before serving. The root can also be cooked and eaten as a vegetable.
Other Uses: The essential seed oil is used in various herbal remedies and dietary supplements, and to flavour gin, vermouth, liqueurs, tobacco and perfumery. Produce your own pot-pourri by adding a few crushed seeds to rose petals, rosemary, lavender and other scented herbs to impact a pleasing lingering subtle perfume to sitting room, office or bathroom.
Nomenclature: Coriandrum sativum not only has two common names, but two entirely different identities and uses. Cilantro, originally a Spanish word, describes the first or vegetative stage of the plant's life cycle. It is also sometimes called Chinese or Mexican parsley. After the plant flowers and develops seeds, it is referred to as Coriander.
History: Coriander is one of the oldest known herbs used by Man. A flavouring and medicine for over 3,000 years, it has been well documented through the ages, from ancient Sanskrit text, to the Ebers Papyrus and even the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, where its seed was likened to the manna provided by God. The oldest coriander was discovered in the Nahal Hemar cave in Israel, dating back over 8,000 years. Some Sanskrit texts talk of coriander’s cultivation in ancient India nearly 7,000 years ago although only a few plant fossils exist to back up the literature.