Growing Cilantro Leaf
and Coriander Seed (Coriandrum sativum)
Growing cilantro can be a challenge, but it's well worth the effort. Every single part of this plant is edible, even the roots!
Native from southern Europe and North Africa to southwestern Asia, this spice has dual personalities. The leaf is known as coriander leaf in other regions, but is known mainly known as cilantro in the Americas due to the Spanish name. Most often, when someone here is referring to the coriander spice, they are speaking only of the seed.
The cilantro plant looks similar to its cousin, parsley, but has a completely different and captivating scent and flavor.
Cilantro will reach 20 inches in height and 12 to 18 inches in breadth, but will die back every year with the frosts. The flowers are white, pink, and mauve, and fairly appealing, reminiscent of candy tuft, only taller.
Light, Soil, and Moisture Requirements
Light: Full to partial sun.
Soil: Average soil, not too rich, but well drained.
Moisture: Moderate moisture.
Gardening Tips for Growing Cilantro
Start from seed (preferred) or seedling. Due to its sensitive tap root, cilantro does best with direct sowing into the garden, however, if you’re very careful, it is possible to start them early and transplant later.
Cilantro does its best when protected from the heat of afternoon sun. It has a tendency to bolt rather quickly in the heat of summer, so unless you’re planning to harvest the coriander seeds, sow your seeds every 2 to 6 weeks for a continuous supply of foliage throughout the warm seasons.
You can also sow seeds rather thickly to help shade the roots and deter bolting. When it does bolt, cut off the developing flower head to lengthen your foliage season a smidge.
Varieties to Try
Often sold as plain ol' Coriandrum sativum, there are only a few noteworthy varieties out there.
‘Santos’ is very popular, with an abundant leaf harvest, but if you have hot summers, it's worth planting sparser but more bolt-resistant ‘Jantar’.
Flavorful 'Defino' has lacier leaves than typical cilantros, and is well-suited to container gardening because of its smaller stature (16 inches high).
Also good for hot summers: an entirely different plant known as Mexican cilantro (Eryngium foetidum). Mexican cilantro is the same as culantro, which you find called for in Vietnamese Pho recipes. In either case, it is interchangeable with coriander leaf/ cilantro.
Mexican cilantro looks nothing like the herb we have been discussing here- grows in a low rosette and blooms in the summer- but tastes the same. I'm still riding the learning curve on this one and will post more when I know more.
How to Use
The Leaf: the cilantro herb is famous for its presence in Latin, Tex-Mex, and South Western dishes. It is best used fresh as it tends to lose flavor quickly when dried or cooked.
Salsas and tomato-based sauces help the cilantro leaf keep its flavor a bit longer.
The Seed: the coriander spice is a rich part of South Asian and southern Indian cuisines, especially curries and garam masalas.