In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2012
Regional Report

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Yummy cilantro can be recut repeatedly throughout spring growth

Cilantro or Coriander or Mexican Parsley or Chinese Parsley?

It's all the same Coriandrum sativum. The green, leafy part is the herb cilantro, frequently used in Mexican and Chinese cuisine. The dried seed pod is called coriander, usually used as a spice in baking and desserts.

It's one of the most ancient herbs still cultivated -- for more than 3,000 years. Native to Egypt, it spread around the Mediterranean and to Asia. Today, it's grown in Morocco, Mexico, Argentina, Canada, India, and the United States. Uses are medicinal, culinary, and aromatic. In the garden, it's a companion plant and attractant for beneficial insects like bees and other pollinators.

Leaves have a bold taste that combines sage with sharp citrus, similar to but tangier than parsley. Whole or minced, cilantro combines nicely with meats, vegetables, soups, sauces, and beverages. But to some, it tastes like soap, so they leave it to the rest of us who love it.

Seeds taste simply of citrus, becoming more fragrant with age, and can be used whole or ground in marinades and pickling brines, dressings, chili sauce, guacamole, cakes, custards, and jellies, or with cheese and eggs. Food and beverage industries use coriander seed as a flavoring for foods, sugared confections called confits, liqueurs, and gin.

Cilantro/coriander thrives in moderately rich, light, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.6, in full to partial sun. It is best sown where it will grow to maturity, as taproots (like parsley) are long, and seedlings difficult to transplant successfully.

Seeds should be sown as soon as the danger of frost has passed in the spring, or in the fall. The seed may require soaking in warm water for several hours, cracking, or scarifying before planting. Sow seed either by scattering and covering lightly with soil or mulch, or individually. Germination may take 14 days or longer.

Coriander is sensitive to warm weather. It's best grown as a cool season crop, as it bolts with the slightest warmth of late spring or early fall. For continuous cropping, reseed every three weeks through cool weather. Seed sown in spring will bloom in nine to ten weeks and mature seed late in summer. As a winter crop, seed sown in fall will mature seed in late spring.

Do not overfertilize. 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 eight inches tall by cutting leaves one to two inches above the central growing point to continue producing foliage until plants go to seed. Dried leaves lose their fragrance, but can be frozen for use later.

Coriander seed can be harvested when the entire plant is dried and crisp but before seed pods break open and scatter seed. Cut the whole plant, threshing it out for further drying, or hang it to dry, gathering the seed as it falls. Seed that has not been dried has a bitter taste.

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