How to Grow Cilantro

comments (1) August 4th, 2008

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Pungent and pretty, cilantro is found in both culinary and ornamental gardens. Here, the author picks new green leaves for a lively salsa verde.
Homegrown cilantro makes great salsa.
Thin seedlings to 12 in. apart when true leaves appear. Once established, cilantro resents being moved.
Pungent and pretty, cilantro is found in both culinary and ornamental gardens. Here, the author picks new green leaves for a lively salsa verde.Click To Enlarge

Pungent and pretty, cilantro is found in both culinary and ornamental gardens. Here, the author picks new green leaves for a lively salsa verde.

Photo: Cary Hazelgrove

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Cilantro shows off its versatility in the kitchen and in the kitchen garden. Answering to names like coriander leaf or Chinese parsley, this aromatic herb is bursting with flavor and bouquet. At once pungent, complex, and redolent of citrus and spice, cilantro provides a refreshing foil for the fiery chiles, garlic, and spices favored in Mexican, Chinese, Southeast Asian, and Indian foods.

Cooks around the world use different parts of this plant. Thai cuisine prizes the roots in spicy marinades, while the bright green leaves season and garnish Chinese stir-fries and Vietnamese noodles. Packed with inimitable personality, cilantro leaves also provide the green garnish that enlivens Mexican salsas, soups, and salads

  Favored in Asian and Mexican cuisines, cilantro can be tricky to grow because it bolts quickly.

Thin cilantro seedlings to 12 in. apart when true leaves appear, no later, because once established, cilantro resents being moved.

Even cilantro’s seeds—known as coriander—have international culinary appeal, and its dainty white flowers may be used as edible garnish for salads or sorbets.

While cilantro brings delight in the kitchen, it may cause gardeners despair when they attempt to grow it. Cilantro abounds in hot-blooded countries and cuisines, yet it does not abide hot weather and bolts at the first sign of summer (or spring) in my Texas garden. Several unseasonable 80˚F days in February will send it into a premature flowering frenzy.

I learned to grow cilantro the hard way. Following advice in British and New England herbals, I sowed seeds in spring once there was no danger of frost. By April, I had a garden full of stunted cilantro plants in full bloom, long before their culinary partners—tomatoes, chiles, eggplant, and squash—were ready for harvest. In the fall, however, I discovered self-sown volunteers exuberantly springing forth from the earth.

Tracing the roots of coriander
Aphrodisiac, carminative, and spice, coriander cures what ails you and puts some zing into your life, as well. Hippocrates recommended it, ancient Egyptians used it, and the Bible makes references to it. During the Middle Ages, coriander was used in medicine, cooking, and love potions. The word coriander sprang from the Greek word koris, which means bedbug, referring to the similarity in smell between the insect and the herb. It is fitting that a plant with such earthy etymological roots has found favor throughout the world.

The word cilantro, which is the one most people associate with the leafy greens of the plant, as opposed to the seeds, probably came from south of the border.

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