Coriander Corriandrum Sativum is an annual herb and a native of Southern Europe and the Middle East. Corriander is the name given to the seeds of the plant whilst the leaves are known as Cilantro. Coriander is from the carrot family. It leaves are either tiny white or tiny purplish and are in clusters.
Most of the commercially produced corriander is grown in Morocco, Romania and Egypt. Although supplies can come from India and China and Coriander is often referred to as Chinese Parsley. I tend to use the seeds far more than the leaves in cooking as they have a strong spicy taste that can liven up many dishes. The word coriander comes from the Greek word Koris meaning stinky bug, possibly a reference to the strong smell given off when the plant is bruised.
The oldest coriander fruits were discovered in the Nahal Hemar cave in Israel. They are considered to be over 8,000 years old. Some Sanskrit (Sand script) texts talk of coriander’s cultivation in ancient India nearly 7,000 years ago although there are but a few plant fossils exist to back up the literature.
The Chinese believe that the seeds of a coriander plant have the power to bestow immortality. The peruvians used the seeds and the leaves to flavour food and the ancient Egyptians used just the leaves in soup. In fact seeds have been found in the tombs from the 21st Egyptian Dynasty.
There are even biblical references to coriander, the Old Testament says,”When the children of Israel were returning from slavery in Egypt, they ate manna in the wilderness and the manna tasted like coriander seeds.”
The wacky Romans introduced coriander to Britain, where it has become semi naturalised in some areas. They used to use it along with vinegar and cumin to preserve meat and legions would march carrying it so they had something to flavour their bread with. In Roman Britain it was seen as a high status food as it was considered fairly exotic.
Coriander grows the best in light well drained soil in a sunny position and in a dry atmosphere. It does not really respond to well to high humidity or damp, so be careful not to over water.
Plant seeds directly in the soil in spring time after the risk of frost has passed, they should be thinly sown in shallow drills then covered with compost. If you are growing the plants for seed then they should be about 23cm (9 in)apart, if you are growing for the leaves then 5cm (2 in) will be sufficient.
You can pick the young leaves whenever you like they should be about 10cm in height and bright green.
Drying the seeds
The seeds can be dried for use in cooking. Cut the flower stems once the seeds have full formed and place upside down in a paper bag. Dry thoroughly before storing in a bag or air tight container.
For seed saving take from plants that have bolted (gone to seed) late in the season or you will be selecting for this trait.
The size of your container is pretty important it should be 20-30cm (8-12 in) wide and about 15cm (6 in) deep. I would recommend growing it in a window box as I have successfully grown this along with dill, chives and rosemary in the same box.
Plant the seeds straight into the container in groups of 3 to 8 at 10cm (4in) apart the best time will be in the spring. Thin them when they are large enough to handle. Feed them with a bit of liquid feed about once a fortnight from the time the flowering stem is half grown until the time when the flowers fade. To maintain a good crop keep picking the mature leaves and ensure good drainage with plenty of broken crockery bits, bark or chipping’s. Do not over water the plant in the evening as coriander does not like wet ‘feet’.
Coriander seeds are often used in curries and have a totaly different taste to the leaves. The leaves can also be used in curries and are nice in salads too.
Here is a really simple recipe for you to try that uses the leaves and the seed.
1 lb carrots, sliced
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp ground coriander seed
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup water
Chopped fresh corriander leaves (Cilantro)
Sauté carrots in the oil until they are golden.
Reports suggest coriander can reduce flatulence also good for increasing the appetite. The seed can be used externally as a poultice and is thought to relieve rheumatism and painful joints.