This is a dainty annual that looks somewhat like parsley and goes by several names: Chinese parsley, cilantro, and coriander. It grows 1' — 2' tall and has young leaves that are oval and toothed, while the mature leaves are feathery. The leaves are pungent, combining the flavors of sage and citrus. The small pinkish-white flowers occur in flat, umbrella-like clusters at the stem ends. The foliage of this herb is referred to as cilantro. The fully ripened seeds have a pleasant citrus scent and are referred to as coriander. Seed that is not dry will have a bitter flavor.
Coriander prefers full sun and a rich, well-drained soil. Sow the seed 1⁄2" deep in the spring after all danger of frost is past. The seed germinates quickly; thin the seedlings to 6 inches apart. Because the plants flower and set seeds in only 9 weeks, make successive plantings every 2 — 3 weeks to ensure a continuous supply.
Coriander will reseed itself if the seeds aren’t harvested before they drop. It is helpful to stake the stems to prevent them from falling over. If the leaves are to be used, harvest only the younger ones. To harvest the seed, wait until the fruits turn light brown. Then cut off the entire plant, place in a paper bag, and hang to dry in a warm, dark place. To remove the inner hearts of the seeds, rub the fruit between the palms of your hands. The pods will split in half and release the seeds.
This herb is used in several international cuisines. The fresh leaves (cilantro) are used in many Mexican, Mediterranean, and Chinese dishes. It is used to flavor salsa, chutneys, and curries. The inner heart of the seed is steeped in water, strained out, and the water used for cooking-primarily in pastries, sausage, cooked fruit, ground meat, and breads. The ground-seed powder is an ingredient of curry. The seeds, whole or crushed, can be added to sachets and potpourris.
Since the flavor of the leaves is entirely different from that of the seeds, the two are not interchangeable in recipes.
Cilantro is mentioned in the Medical Papyrus of Thebes written in 1552 B.C. and is one of the plants which grew in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Ancient Hebrews added Cilantro to an herb mixture used in the ritual of Passover. Greek and Roman physicians hailed its medicinal powers. The Coriandum sativum herb is believed to have been one of the earliest plantings in North America - dating back to 1670 in Massachusetts - and it soon appeared in Latin America where the Cilantro leaves, rather than the seed, became most popular.