By: Justin Butts
Coriander is one of the oldest documented plants in the world, with references dating back more than 5,000 years. This aromatic herb was written about in Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Old Persian, and even Sanskrit. Coriander was mentioned in stone tablets of ancient Egypt and in the oldest writings of the Old Testament.
Coriander cultivation followed early trade routes from the Mediterranean to India, China, and Indonesia. Roman armies carried coriander seeds to France and England. Spaniards took the seeds to Latin America, wherein later centuries it became a highly popular flavoring.
Coriander is considered both an herb and spice. Herbs generally refer to plants whose fresh or dried leaves are used for seasoning; spices typically come from the dried bark, seeds, flowers, or roots of plants. Coriander leaves are used as an herb, while the dried seeds are considered a spice.
In America, we say cilantro to indicate the leaves of the plant; we call the seeds coriander. This is an important distinction in recipes. In Europe, this distinction is trickier because both the leaves and seeds are referred to as coriander. In China, coriander is called Chinese parsley.
The word coriander comes from the Greek work koris, which means bedbug. Etymologists claim this name stuck because coriander smells like a squashed stink bug. Entomologists would certainly agree, along with some people who dislike coriander because, to them, it tastes like soap. These unfortunate folks have a genetic predisposition to abhor coriander—just the smell of the plant will drive them out of the room. But for most people, this pungent herb is a staple seasoning, especially in Latin American and Thai dishes.
In the Coastal Bend, coriander/cilantro is an essential plant in the garden. Plant your coriander now and enjoy its beauty, aroma, and flavor all the way into spring.
A Need-to-Know Basis
Spacing, 12”. Height, 18” to 24”. Cool weather annual. Full sun; likes evening shade in warm weather. Any well-drained soil. Plant with plenty of organic compost. Grows easily from seed planted directly into garden; thin to spacing and eat thinnings. Transplants give head start on season. Water until established and then as needed. Compost lightly with native leaf mulch.
All parts are edible; leaves, flowers, stems, and roots. If planted by seed, eat the delicious tender shoots as they are thinned. Harvest the flavorful lower leaves (they resemble parsley leaves) by taking no more than 1/3 leaf growth at a time, and allow to regrow. As plant matures, upper leaves (feathery and slender) offer an unusual flavor. White flowers are spicy. Dry seeds; they’re the best part of the plant. Cut up stems and roots for soups.
“Cilantro and coriander differ in tastes and textures. The leaves and stalk offer a bright addition to any dish. The seeds are found in many dishes like curries and stews. Cilantro is one of those herbs you either love or hate. With coriander, I am looking to bring out nutty flavors and subtle spices. It’s perfect for traditional Asian curries or spicing up a pot roast. Don’t stop at soups when using coriander, bring life to burgers or roasted chicken with its earthy citrus nuances. The flavor combinations are endless.”
– Joe Brock, The Lookout at Bluffs Landing @bluffslookout
Because of its pungent aroma, cilantro is one of the best pesticides available for the cool-weather garden. Plant cilantro next to pest-sensitive plants such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage by using the 2-1-2 pattern. For example, plant two broccoli side-by-side in a row, then one broccoli centered, then two more side-by-side. Plant cilantro on either side of the lone broccoli. Also, plant one cilantro for every four lettuce plants down the row. Cilantro repels pests until spring.