The Two in One Herb: Cilantro and Coriander

Two is the loveliest number, especially in the garden, where you can double your investment with this wonderful herb

Enjoy cilantro leaves and flowers or wait for the coriander seeds

Grow cilantro and coriander for delicious fresh foliage and sumptuous seeds

If you want to expand your fresh herb choices beyond parsley and dill this summer, double your investment with two crops in one.

The herb known as cilantro in North America (and universally by the botanical name of Coriander sativum) is a leafy annual green that looks a lot like flat-leaf parsley. In Europe it is known as coriander, but here that name is reserved for cilantro’s dried round seeds.

How to Grow Cilantro

Cilantro prefers well-drained soil, and grows happily with average nutrient levels in raised beds or large containers in full or partial sun. They are actually easier to grow in northern gardens than southern ones, as we don’t tend to be troubled by the hot weather that can cause these annuals to bolt, setting flowers and seed before we are ready to stop harvesting the foliage. Planting several batches at intervals a week or two apart can provide successive crops of this fast grower.

I seed directly into the garden, as cilantro does not like being transplanted. In my northern garden, the raised beds are generally thawed out and warm enough by mid to late April. The seeds are a good size to handle individually, and I just drop them one or two at a time into holes poked in the soil less than 2.5 cm (1 in.) deep and about 10 cm (4 in.) apart, filling them back in gently. Afterward, I don’t pack the bed or even water it, as I want the soil to stay as warm and open-textured as possible.

I manage my crop by thinning out every other plant for kitchen use while they are still small and intensely flavoured (15–20 cm/6–8 in.); the leaves don’t store or dry well, so I just harvest as needed.

Storage Techniques

The surviving plants, now spaced at 20 cm (8 in.), are left to go to flower and seed. Once they start to bolt (i.e., send up flower stalks), I stop picking leaves and forget about them for the rest of the summer, returning to harvest the dried seed heads in late summer or early fall. Thrown into paper bags to dry in a cool dark place, they release the round seed capsules when they are ready.

The seeds store well in a tightly capped bottle in a dark pantry; as with the fresh leaves, the seeds should be prepared only at the last minute, ground up and added at the end of the cooking process to preserve the unique spicy citrus flavour.

Origins of Cilantro and Coriander

Originating in North Africa a few thousand years ago, cilantro and coriander are now essential in many cuisines, including Indian garam masala and chutneys, Russian salads, Mexican salsas and a variety of Chinese dishes.

This is a cosmopolitan herb that has travelled the world and found itself at home wherever it sets down roots. If it is grown for no reason other than the attractive fresh green foliage and crisp white flower umbels that attract beneficial pollinating insects, that’s okay too.