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Coriander or Cilantro?

Herb Snips



Coriandrum sativum is the mysterious plant that yields leaves called cilantro, and coriander seeds. These names are often used interchangeably causing much confusion. The roots like the other plant parts are edible and strong in flavor. This herb is irreplaceable in Indian, Asian, Chinese and Mexican cooking and it holds its own with the assertive tang of chili, garlic, onion, and other spices. It is often called Chinese or Mexican parsley. The leaf shape is similar but the flavor is sharper than parsley.

This is one of the most utilized herbs in the world and has been cultivated for over three thousand years. The word coriander is derived from koris; the Greek word for bedbug. The plant is said to emit the same unpleasant odor as these pests. I can't attest to this since I have never smelled a bedbug, but I like the taste and smell of this herb. Once the seeds are set, the herb's scent becomes more pleasantly citrus. In Biblical Palestine the dried coriander seeds were chewed for bad breath, and they are used in some breath freshners today. Early European monks used the seeds to flavor liqueurs. We use it when we make our own orange liqueur.

Coriandrum sativum is an annual in Tehachapi that grows to about three feet tall and a foot wide, and is happy with partial sun and well-drained soil. The foliage is fern like with a profusion of small, light colored, mauve flowers that ripen into brown coriander seeds. The seeds that fall to the ground often winter over and produce new plants come spring.

The heat of summer causes it to grow quickly and set seed, but choosing "slow bolt" cultivars such as Santo and Jantar will extend the growing season. It is mostly grown from seed because it has a taproot that makes it difficult to transplant. Sow some seeds every few weeks throughout the growing period, and you will have enough plants to provide for all your needs.

It is recommended in "companion planting" to repel aphids and carrot rust flies and it supports the germination of anise. It is not a good neighbor for fennel. An infusion of the dried seeds and water may be used to reduce spider mites. Bees and other pollinators are attracted by the profuse bundles of showy flowers.

Allow the seeds to become dry on the plant and store them in an airtight container in a dark, cool, dry place. A light toasting in a greaseless pan will strengthen coriander's citrus flavor. It can be ground and used in soups, salad dressings, salads, breads, desserts and marinades. Its pungency partners well with strong flavored ingredients.

The leaves are a tasty cross between anise, sage and citrus. Cilantro adds a bold fragrant flavor to salads, beans, tomatoes, stews, rice, salsa and guacamole. It is best used fresh and added just before serving. Wash the cilantro and put it stem tips down in a glass with a little water or use an herb keeper. Store it in the refrigerator changing the water every couple of days, and discarding leaves as they wilt or discolor. Fresh leaves can be chopped and frozen in ice cube trays with a bit of water.

The root of this plant tastes like the leaves with an intense, nutty overtone. It is an important ingredient in Thai cooking where it is minced and added to salads, curries and relishes. It can be used in combination with its plant mates in many recipes and, like the leaves, can be frozen.

Medicinally, the seeds and leaves are said to relieve gas and indigestion. Some herbalists suggest that eating a tablespoon of fresh cilantro will relieve such symptoms while others say a tea made from coriander will do the trick.

To dry the blooms and leaves for ornamental use, place them between the pages of an old telephone book or other weighted and layered paper. These dried sprigs can be used to decorate candles, wrapping paper and cards. Fresh cuttings are a lovely, delicate addition to live flower bouquets. The seeds are also used for their orange like aromatic qualities, in potpourris and simmering spices.

With coriandrum sativum we can utilize "three herbs in one" but let us remember the proper names, differences and niches they fill. This sassy plant will enhance your garden with its variety of uses, scents and tastes.

See my website for class oportunities. Your questions and suggestions are always welcome. Enjoy an herbally delightful month.


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