This annual member of the parsley family has a split personality: The plant’s finely cut upper leaves are known as cilantro and the rounded seeds of the fruit are called coriander. Both are used to flavor many foods. Native to southern Europe and nearby areas, coriander has been cultivated there for more than 3,000 years and is now grown throughout the world.
The erect plant has pungent leaves and white flowers, followed by pale brown, mildly aromatic fruits. The genus name Coriandrum comes from the Greek koriannon, which was a type of bedbug thought to have an odor similar to that of this herb.
Common Names: Coriander, Cilantro, Chinese Parsley
Description: Bright green, finely cut compound leaves; umbels of tiny white flowers on 18- to 24-inch stems; clusters of spherical, ribbed, brownish seeds
Flowering: Summer to fall
Parts Used: Leaves and seeds
Range/Habitat: Native to the eastern Mediterranean region and southern Europe
Coriander seeds and cilantro leaves taste very different, but both are used widely in cooking. Whole coriander seeds—which taste like a mixture of lemon and sage—are used in marinades, pickling brines, and in some beverages, such as mulled wine. Ground coriander seed is a popular ingredient in curry blends, soups, and baked goods, especially in Scandinavia and Thailand. Fragrant cilantro has a distinctively pungent flavor reminiscent of parsley and citrus. The leaves are used in the highly seasoned cuisines of Mexico, the Caribbean, India, and Asia. Cilantro root is a popular ingredient in Thai salads and relishes.
Coriander seeds have carminative properties, so they have been used as a mild digestive tonic to improve appetite and relieve flatulence, intestinal spasms, bloating, and cramps. In ancient Egypt, as well as medieval Europe, coriander was considered an aphrodisiac. In Ayurvedic medicine, dried coriander fruits are made into an infusion, or other preparation, to treat sore throat. The oil is used to treat joint and nerve pain. Coriander seeds can be chewed to sweeten your breath, particularly after eating garlic.
The flowers of this plant are an important source of nectar for the beneficial insects that prey upon pest insects.
How to grow it
Coriander grows best in well-drained soil and full sun. For a summer harvest, plant the seeds of this fast-growing herb in spring; for a fall harvest, plant it in midsummer. Cilantro leaves are usually ready to harvest 1 month after germination, and the seeds develop in about 6 weeks. For the best-flavored cilantro, gather the fresh leaves before the plant blooms. Harvest coriander seeds when they turn brown, indicating that they are ripe.