Friday, January 13, 2006

Cilantro

Cilantro can be grown year around here in the temperate zones of Northern California. It benefits from coastal fog, our plentiful rain, and the cool summer nights found along the coast and in our interior mountains and valleys. Fresh cilantro is valued in the kitchen for spring salads, summer garnishes and fresh salsa, and during autumn’s caning season. In winter cilantro is prized. Not only does it thrive in the garden; its fresh zesty flavor adds a welcome appeal at a time when many of our herbs have gone dormant.

Cilantro is classified as a short lived annual. If left to its own devices it will begin flowering and subsequently setting seed within about 6 weeks of germination. By pinching out the flowering stalks the plants productive life can be extended for several weeks at least. (Dice up those stalks and use them in the kitchen!) All parts of the plant are edible. In addition to the leaves and seeds, the flowers make nice garnishes for salads, and the roots are used in Thai cooking. (1)

Cilantro is most cost effectively grown from seed, which can be successively sown to ensure an ample supply through the seasons. It can be grown in pots situated in a sunny window, on a cool porch, in raised beds, or amongst flowers, vegetables, or herbs in the garden. Expect your plants to get up to a foot tall before they flower, and up to two and a half feet when in bloom. Cilantro’s flowering stalks have a weedy habit, sprawling loosely over near by plants. If you are going to let some of your cilantro bloom and go to seed, choose an out of the way place to plant it. The seeds will need to be left to ripen somewhere its slouching posture won’t overly annoy you. If you live in one of our hot summer zones, spring and summer plantings might best be situated where they will get plenty of shade. Fall and winter planted cilantro, and those planted in summer fog belts will benefit from the sunniest spot you can spare.

Gophers leave cilantro alone, at least in my garden. Not only is it bothered by few pests, its flowers attract beneficial insects. Ladybugs, lacewings, and the small wasps that parasitize caterpillars and aphids benefit from the high-energy pollen and nectar that cilantro produces.

Seeds from Cilantro are large, easy to handle, and are considered a seasoning in their own right. Cilantro seed is known as coriander. It can be ground and used in confections, baked goods, and curries. The whole seeds can be added to potpourri, or to herb blends for fragrant teas. The seeds are also reputed to have medicinal properties. I am most familiar with them being used as remedies for female complaints. But a search on the Internet turns up a plethora of ailments from swelling, to diarrhea, & high cholesterol etc. (2) Should you tire of cutting the flowering stalks from your cilantro plants, simply let them grow their wispy fragrant flowers and set seed.

As soon as the seed stalks are dry and brittle your coriander / cilantro seeds are ready to gather. They should be brought in and left to cure in a dry spot with good air circulation for a few weeks before being sealed into jars or zip lock bags. They are now ready to plant, for use in foods or crafts, or to trade with other gardeners for seed you would like to try.

Cilantro seeds have erratic germination, beginning within about a week of planting and continuing for about 6 weeks. I like to start them in the house on folded wet paper towels slipped into sandwich bags. They do need to be checked nearly every day. As soon as individual seeds show signs of germination, I transfer them to small pots or six packs. Any good potting soil or screened compost seems to work out well.

In the absence of a greenhouse, the small plants may live outside during the day, on the porch if it is raining, and out in the sun if the weather is fair. In the summer young cilantro plants should spend the day in light or dappled shade, and their need for water will have to be attended to a few times each day. Once the seedlings reach about 2 inches tall, they can withstand some nibbling by hungry slugs and are ready to be planted out in their permanent spot. Until that time I have the best luck bringing the seedlings in at night. If slugs are not a problem in your yard, you can sow the seeds directly where you want them to grow. In any event, once the plants reach a good size, the slugs’ interest turns to other less robustly flavored greens. By starting a few seeds every two or three months (or more seeds more often if you are very fond of this herb) you can supply your kitchen with plenty of cilantro and coriander through out the seasons.
Sources:
Seed: Evergreen Seed: http://www.evergreen.com and many other fine garden catalogs and nurseries.
(I have seed – but I won’t be arranging any new trades till next fall.)

Recipes: A recent search on Google Blogs turned up about a zillion recipes:
http://search.blogger.com/?ui=blg&q=Cilantro&x=19&y=11

Citations:
(1) http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/ingredients/cilantro.html
(2) http://www.101lifestyle.com/health/spices7.html

886 Words
Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell
harvest95546@yahoo.com

6 comments:

martha said...

cilantro (out here it's typically called Chinese parsley) is such a versatile spice - thanks so much for your info!

Harvest said...

Hi Martha,

Thanks for your comments and I am glad you found the little article on Cilantro useful. Where are you from? Are you able to grow Cilantro in your yard?

Harvest

Peta-de-Aztlan said...

Gracias for this little article Harvest. Cilantro brough back to mind some good family memories of childhood times long past when my Padre would make some good menudo on Sunday mornings and we had to have cilantro with the meal. Umm.. miss those innocent times. ~Che Peta

Harvest said...

Hi Peta,

I am suffering from cilantro deprivation at the moment. My fall planted cilantro is done, my mid winter planted cilantro was destryoed by slugs, and the newest starts are not yet producing . . .

But spring is around the corner!

Harvest

hellaD said...

I hadn't realized you had written this great article about cilantro! Nice one I love the stuff!

Harvest said...

Hey HellaD! This year I am growing cilantro in pots, or at least starting it off that way. Last year it go so over run with everything else, I lost it, and had to purchase it at the store. So I have one pot going and almost ready to start taking snips, and another batch coming on as seedlings .. . I want to try culantro--that heat tolerant herb from Mexico that tastes similar. It has a couple of names, but I only remember the one. I think one name might start with a P. Do you know the herb I am thinking of???