Cuisines around the world use coriander and cilantro, but the distinction between the two can be confusing. In the U.S., cilantro is a plant with leaves used as an herb. Coriander refers to the seeds of the cilantro, which are dried and used as a spice.
Coriander seeds have a warm, spicy citrus flavor, and are often used in Indian, Asian, Middle-Eastern, and Mediterranean dishes. Humans used coriander as long ago as 7,000 years; seeds were even found in ancient Egyptian tombs.
Growing Conditions for Coriander
The cilantro plant grows best in cool climates and needs full sun with partial afternoon shade. Cilantro also grows well in a container placed in a sunny spot. The soil should be loamy to ensure proper drainage. Cilantro grows well next to basil, mint, potatoes, and caraway.
Plant seeds or transfer seedlings two weeks after the last frost. Sow seeds a half inch deep in rows eight to 12 inches apart. Seeds will germinate best in temperatures of 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. When seedlings are well established, thin the plants out to 12 inches apart.
Caring for Coriander
Mulch around cilantro plants to keep the soil moist and discourage weeds from growing. Cilantro usually doesn’t need fertilizing, but a liquid fertilizer can be used on young plants. While waiting for the plant to bloom, take advantage of having fresh cilantro. It is rare for cilantro plants to have pest or disease problems.
Harvesting Coriander Seeds
When the cilantro plant blooms, it will grow a tall central stalk—this is called bolting. Two or three weeks after flowering, the cilantro leaves will start to brown. When they do, cut off the stalk and hang it upside down in a cool, dark, warm place until the plant has completely dried. If the seeds do not fall off when dried completely, put the plant in a paper bag and shake it to separate the seeds. Sift out the seeds and store in an airtight container. Seeds can also be removed from the stems and dried in an oven at 100 degrees until they are light brown. Some recipes call for whole seeds, while others call for ground seeds. Grind seeds right before using them for the best flavor.
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Writer Megan Smith Mauk grew up in Texas, where she developed a reverence for all forms of life. In college, she became co-chair of the environmental coalition. She now lives with her husband, and their dog and cat, in Virginia.