by Stephanie Wrightson, Sonoma County Master Gardener
Coriander is a tender annual herb. In the United States, the Spanish word “cilantro” refers to the culinary leaves, while “coriander” is the dried spice derived from the seeds. Coriander plants require a little more tending than most
Coriander is not frost-tolerant and the hot Sonoma County summer causes it to bolt. Coriander does not transplant well and should be direct-seeded in well draining soil 1/4- to 1/2-inch deep when all danger of frost passes (officially, April 15 in Sonoma County; but many of us conservatively use May 1). I like to plant it in a hanging basket near my kitchen, so that I see it daily and can tend it regularly. Sow seeds in full sun or, if you have a particularly hot microclimate, light shade. Sunset’s Western Garden Edibles recommends thinning seedlings to 3-4 inches and, when they touch, to 9 inches apart. In a community garden plot, I use the random scatter method as I can use cilantro faster than the plant can mature (although, for most small families, a couple plants will suffice). If you plant again in the fall, you will need at least 60 days for leaves and 100 days for seeds to mature before the first frost date (officially, November 15, but it can be as early as mid-October).
A regular water schedule is required; irregular watering will result in coriander
When harvesting cilantro, choose bright, evenly-colored green leaves. Leaves showing signs of yellowing or wilting should be thrown on the compost pile. If you must refrigerate the leaves, do not wash them. Place the stems in water and cover loosely with a plastic bag. Snip off leaves and wash them as you need them. Change the water every 2-3 days; cilantro will last up to one week in the refrigerator under ideal conditions. To dry or freeze the leaves or seeds, refer to our guide. In my opinion, fresh cilantro leaves are much preferred to dried leaves in cooking. But, seed saving for spring or fall planting or for using as a spice is easy and worth the effort.
Cilantro and coriander are not interchangeable – they have completely different flavors and textures. Fresh cilantro is almost always called for in recipes such as salsa. When added to a hot dish, leaves are added at the last minute. “Chinese parsley,” when called for in a recipe, is the same as cilantro. Coriander seed is almost always dried, ground and toasted to bring out its flavor for such recipes as Indian curries. Even the crushed or minced root of the coriander plant may be used as a replacement for garlic.