Cilantro/Coriander Named Herb of the Year 2017

March 5, 2017 lawanda Newspaper Columns

The International Herb Association has chosen cilantro and coriander as the 2017 Herb of the Year.  It may seem as though they’ve chosen two herbs, but they’ve actually selected just one – coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant.

People tend to either love or hate the taste of cilantro.  The taste has been described variously as lemony, peppery, soapy, musky and metallic.  You’ll find it in Mexican, Latin American, Caribbean and Asian dishes.

Cilantro looks like flat-leaf parsley and is easy to grow from seed.  Seeds should be planted while the soil is still cool in late April or early May, in full sun, ¼” – ½” deep and 6” apart.  Keep soil evenly moist throughout the growing season until coriander seeds begin to form.

Cilantro is difficult to transplant because it has a long taproot, but in lieu of planting from seed, seedlings can be purchased from a nursery and planted in the garden.  Cilantro works well in containers too, but provide afternoon shade.

Begin harvesting leaves from the outside of the plant when it reaches 6” tall.  Growth will continue from the center of the plant.  You can also cut the entire plant an inch from the soil line and it will regrow.  Store leaves in the refrigerator up to a week.

Cilantro will bolt as soon as the weather gets hot, causing the flavor of the leaves to change to something most people find unpleasant.  When it bolts, lacy, fern-like leaves form along stalks up to two feet tall topped by pretty light pink or white flowers that attract beneficial pollinating insects.

Soon after flowering, coriander seeds begin to form.  At first the odor of the seeds is unpleasant and has been described as the scent of crushed bedbugs.  In fact, the scientific name Coriandrum was derived from the Greek koris, which means bug or gnat.  Thankfully, as the seeds ripen and dry, they take on a pleasant spicy, citrusy fragrance that matches the taste of the mature seed.

Harvest seeds when leaves and flowers turn brown, but before the seed pods burst open and scatter the seed.  Cut the plant and hang it to dry inside a brown paper bag to catch seeds as they fall.  You can also allow seeds to fall in the garden to produce a host of volunteer cilantro seedlings both in the current growing season and the next.

Remove seeds from their pods before culinary use.  Rub them between your hands or place them on a paper towel and rub your hand over them.  The outer sheath will separate revealing two seeds. Coriander seed can be used whole or ground in baked goods, breads, soups, casseroles, potato salad and fruit salads.

Roots of cilantro plants that have not yet gone to seed can be harvested and are often used in Thai food.  The taste of the root is similar to that of the leaves, but with an added nutty flavor.

Herbs


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