Coriander – Cilantro
Herbs make up an important part of our diet and food selection. They also are a key element of any edible garden. Some are attractive perennials that used as much as a garden plant as an edible one. These are usually easy to grow and give years of great harvesting. The annuals or tender perennials can be a bit more tricky. They need plenty of sun, good moist but not wet soil and regular pruning. These include popular ones like basil, parsley, coriander and dill.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is an annual herb that most people love but there are some that don’t like it. They find it too strong and dominant and they won’t eat anything that uses the fresh leaves. It does have a strong flavour but if it is used in a subtle way that blends the various herbs most will enjoy it. It is used in many Asian dishes, (especially Thai), Mexican, some European and many of those dishes that have come from a blend of world cuisines. It is a great addition to seafood, salads, sauces, dressing and vegetable dishes.
Coriander root is also used in Asian cooking. It is added to soups and stews where it imparts a similar flavour which is slightly more resilient to cooking.
The seed, ground and whole is a popular spice in many Indian and Latin American dishes. It is a very different flavour from the foliage and partners very well with seed of fennel, fenugreek, cumin and caraway. The seeds are best dried and then placed in a pepper or salt grinder where it is easily ground and can be used as a condiment along with salt and pepper.
Coriander is really easy to grow and use, if cultivated well it will give many months of product and it looks nice in the garden. Some varieties can go to seed quickly in the summer months so always look for a ‘slow bolt’ form. The best way to keep your coriander from going to seed is to feed it, water it and keep using it. The more you cut it the longer it will last. If you don’t need all the material then add some oil and blend into a paste. This can then be placed in the freezer (in an ice block tray) for later use.
The deep green foliage makes an attractive border plant to the veggie garden or a small cottage garden bed where it can get full sun in a moist but well drained soil. It grows well in pots which can be kept near the kitchen for quick and easy access. Plants can be bought and planted year round.
Due to its ancient history and the fact it is in recipes from every region except for northern Europe and Australia, there many names for the plant. In the west we know it as Coriander, Asian Parsley and Cilantro. The latter coming from the Spanish name and in the US is mainly used to refer to the fresh leaves. Other names include ketumbar (Indonesian), koriannon (Greek), kustumbari (Sanskrit) and kishnets (Russian).
It is thought to be native to Asia but it has become naturalised in many parts of the world. It is an historic herb that was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks with archaeological specimens going back to the Bronze Age. In more recent times it was referred to in the Bible, used by the Romans, noted as being used in the middle Ages in England and introduced to the Americas in the seventeenth century. Like so many of our common herbs it has been used for centuries and probably also has a strong history in China, Japan and India.
Like ‘lemon’ flavour, the coriander ‘taste’ appears in a variety of different plants. One is Perennial or Mexican or Sawtooth Coriander. This comes from north and central Mexico and is a short lived perennial and is quite popular there and in southern USA as an alternative to common coriander. Its Latin name Eryngium foetidum. Another common alternative is Vietnamese Coriander (also known as Vietnamese Mint or Laksa Leaf) which is very popular in Vietnamese and Thai cooking. This plant is neither a mint nor a coriander and has the Latin name Polygonum odoratum. It grows like a mint and needs to be contained. The fresh young leaves are best used for cooking and unlike common coriander it can be added at all stages of cooking.
The uses for Coriander are as diverse and interesting as any common herb. The leaves should be used fresh and are best either raw or added just prior to serving. They add a flavour layer to salads and dressing that turns a bland dish to a taste experience. The leaves can be mixed with various forms of mint and verbena to produce quite interesting teas. The strong complex flavour is indicative of a range of constituent essential oils. These are what give so many plants their beneficial properties. Regular usage of the leaves, seeds and roots are supposed to help reduce cholesterol levels and the also reduce the amount of cholesterol that sticks to the artery walls. It is also thought to help in reduction of cancer, ease digestion and improve skin tone. It is high in a range of good nutrients like Vitamin C, A and K, minerals like Potassium and Manganese and others like riboflavin and niacin.
This is an easy to grow herb that stimulates the taste buds and is a great healthy addition to our diets.