By E. VinjeTweet
Native to the Mediterranean and popular in Mexican and Asian cuisine, kitchen gardeners across the country are growing cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) for it’s fresh, bright green and aromatic leaves. The annual’s pungent seeds — known as coriander — are dried and used, whole or ground, as a spice. Temperamental plants grow 1-3 feet tall and self-sow readily.
Fact: The Chinese believed coriander provided immortality and it is thought that the crushed seeds, when added to warm wine, have aphrodisiac qualities.
Cilantro may be grown in containers or home herb gardens. It requires regular water throughout the growing season and does best in full sun and loose soil amended with organic compost. The plant will bolt (flower and go to seed) quickly in warm temperatures.
How to Plant:
Cilantro is best planted from seed directly into the ground. Do not transplant cilantro, as the long tap root is delicate and if damaged, the plant will fail. Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep after all danger of frost has passed. The seeds germinate at temperatures ranging from 50-85 degrees F. with germination usually occurring in 7-10 days. When plants emerge thin them to 3-4 inches apart.
Tip: Make successive sowings every 2-4 weeks for continuous summer supplies.
Pinch fresh leaves as needed when plants are growing vigorously. As with most culinary herbs, cilantro is best picked early in the morning just as the dew evaporates. Do not wash the leaves or aromatic oils will be lost. Leaves store poorly unless preserved in something like salsa, but even then its flavor can fade.
Insects and Disease:
Cilantro rarely has serious problems with insects or diseases. Keep a close watch for powdery mildew and if symptoms appear, apply copper or sulfur sprays to prevent further infection.
Seed Saving Instructions:
To harvest seed, cut plants and tie upside down in a dry, dark place for several weeks until the seed turns brown. When dry, place flower heads in a paper bag and thresh until all seeds are removed. Sift out seed from chaff. Make sure seeds are completely dry before storing.