In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
December, 2005
Regional Report

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Fresh cilantro leaves are used in many cuisines, and the seeds (coriander) flavor pastries.

Some Say Cilantro ... I Say Coriander

Coriandrum sativum goes by many names: cilantro, coriander, Mexican or Chinese parsley. The green, leafy part is the herb cilantro, often the "secret ingredient" (along with cumin) that makes Mexican food taste authentic. The dried seedpod is known as coriander, usually used as a spice in baking and desserts.

Native to Egypt, cilantro is one of the most ancient herbs still cultivated (for more than 3,000 years). This annual plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall and thrives in moderately rich, light, well-drained soil in full to partial sun. Now is the perfect time to sow seed and transplant seedlings. Like parsley, its long taproot makes seed-sowing more successful than transplanting, unless the seedlings are very young.

Plant seeds half an inch deep and 2 inches apart. Germination may take 14 days or longer --just when you're about to give up, you'll see tiny green shoots. Continue reseeding every three weeks or so for a continuous harvest, since the slightest spring warmth will make the plants go to seed. Sowing in a broad space instead of rows enables easy harvesting by cutting a swath.

Don' be overly generous with fertilizer. Too much nitrogen produces less flavorful foliage and may delay the ripening of the seed. Well-distributed moisture and fairly even temperatures throughout a growing season of 90 to 100 days is best.

Harvest fresh leaves once the plants are at least 8 inches tall by cutting outer leaves and allowing the inner growing leaves to continue producing foliage until plants go to seed. Dried leaves lose their fragrance, but you can freeze them in water (or make cilantro pesto) for use later.

In the garden, cilantro blossoms attract beneficial insects, so let it go. Harvest seed when the entire plant is dried and crisp but before seedpods break open and scatter seed.

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