How To Grow And Use Coriander

Coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant and is easy to grow in an herb garden. Learn how to plant and care for it, cook with it and use it for medicinal purposes.

Coriander is the name given to the seeds of an herbaceous plant (Coriandrum sativum) more commonly known as cilantro. Coriander seeds are small, ribbed, and nearly round, usually less than 1/8 inch in diameter. They have a distinct aroma when crushed and a sweet, peppery flavor with a hint of orange when eaten. The seeds are considered to be spices, while the leaves fall under the category of herbs. Both the seeds and leaves are used in cooking but taste completely different.

The cilantro plant grows to a height of approximately 24 inches and has two distinct types of leaves. The lower leaves are entire and toothed; while the upper leaves are somewhat lacy in appearance. The leaves resemble Italian parsley, but the smell gives the cilantro plant away. The white, pinkish, or pale purple flowers resemble Queen Anne's Lace. In fact, they are members of the same plant family, the Umbelliferae. Parsley and carrots are also members of this plant family.

Coriander is relatively easy to grow. To cultivate coriander seeds, plant them in early spring, about 3 inches deep, in moist well-drained soil. The plant prefers a warm and somewhat dry climate and thrives in full sun, but will do well in partial shade. Although it is an annual, it frequently reseeds itself in the garden, which makes it seem like a perennial. If not carefully watched, it can become a weedy pest.

The seeds are ready for harvesting when they are dried, yellowish-brown in color, and crunch when pinched between two fingers. Cut off the top stems containing the seeds and place them in a paper bag. Shake the bag vigorously or thump it against the side of the house to remove the seeds from the plant. Rinse the seeds with water and allow them to thoroughly dry to prevent rotting or mildew. Store the seeds in a glass jar with a lid out of direct sunlight.

Native to the Middle East and possibly to the Mediterranean, coriander seeds are used in cooking many Indian, Middle Eastern, Thai, and Indonesian dishes. Coriander seeds are often made into a powder or coarsely ground with a mortar and pestle and mixed with cumin to create curries. They are also used to season grilled meats such as pork, beef, lamb, and goat. Typically they are toasted to increase the flavor before being used. Coriander seeds are also used as a pickling spice, as an ingredient in pastries, as a flavoring for liqueurs, and sometimes as a substitute for cardamom.

Coriander seeds add fiber to the diet, and are a good source of iron and magnesium. They also contain flavonoids, powerful antioxidants found in plant pigments that minimize damage at the cellular level caused by free radicals.

Coriander seeds also have some medicinal properties as well. Essential oil of coriander is distilled from the seeds and contains a compound called dodecenal. It is one of several anti-microbial compounds found in coriander that helps fight off food-borne illnesses such as salmonella. Coriander is also thought to alleviate flatulence, stimulate the digestive system, and is sometimes used to mask unpleasant flavors of medicines.

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