What would salsa or stir-fry be without cilantro?
Cilantro, also known as coriander or Chinese parsley, is an herb frequently used in Mexican and Chinese cooking. It is also found in Indian, Russian, and many other regional dishes. Cilantro has been popular for so long that a pint of cilantro seeds was found in King Tut’s tomb!
Some people call the leaves cilantro and the seeds coriander, but not always. Whatever you call it, if you have a space in the yard or garden to dedicate to cilantro, you and your family can enjoy many years of leaves and seeds. All parts of the plant are edible and cilantro self-seeds readily. It’s deep taproot also helps break up compacted, clay soil and the umbel-shaped flowers (think umbrellas) are a big favorite of beneficial pollinators and parasitic wasps.
How to grow cilantro
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) prefers moist, well-drained soil, with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8. In temperate areas, your cilantro patch may grow year round, as it can tolerate a light frost. In areas with lots of scorching hot sun, cilantro can be part of your shade gardening plan. If cooler weather is the norm, cilantro can be planted out in the open. If plants receive too much sun and heat, they will bolt (go to seed). Since the seeds are also edible, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it will really slow down leaf production. At first, it is a good idea to start new plants every 3 to 4 weeks. After a while, the plants will develop an ongoing cycle. Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep and 6 to 8 inches apart. Keep the soil moist until plants are 2 inches tall and then water as needed, depending on weather, soil, and growth needs. Mature plants tend to be about 20 inches tall.
Young cilantro plants can be pinched back for bushier growth and more foliage, or they can be allowed to run wild. It’s your call. Personally, I prefer the running wild version. I believe that this allows the 'survival of the fittest' to create a forever patch of cilantro in my yard with minimal effort on my part.
Cilantro pests and diseases
Cilantro plants may have trouble with mildew, leaf spot, aphids, whitefly or wilt. The insects can be managed with insecticidal soap. If wilt, leaf spot, or mildew are seen, make a point of removing diseased plants and keeping the area clean for a season or two, to dry things out.
Many beneficial insects, both pollinators and predators, are attracted to cilantro’s umbels-shaped flowers (think umbrella). The USDA Extension reports that California growers have discovered that planting cilantro, along with Alyssum plants, in their lettuce crops attracts predatory hoverflies, whose larvae can eat 150 aphids a day!
While coriander seeds can be stored for a good long while, cilantro leaves do not dry well. Unlike many other herbs, which get a stronger flavor when dried, cilantro leaves tend to lose most of their flavor. To make the most of your cilantro crop, trying canning some salsa or cilantro pesto.
Something weird about cilantro - not everyone tastes it the same way. To some people, cilantro is the perfect addition to guacamole, Indian dal, and salsa. To others, cilantro tastes soapy or rotten. Weird, right? Taste studies have found that identical twins agreed on the flavor of cilantro 80% of the time, while fraternal twins only agreed 50%.
Popular culture claims that eating cilantro can help remove heavy metals from your system. Unfortunately, scientific studies report that it only worked as well as a placebo. Cilantro may have the ability to reduce the formation of gastric ulcers and stabilize blood sugar, but more research is needed. Until scientists sort all that out, go out and put some coriander seeds in your yard and enjoy the flavor!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!