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February’s Herb: Coriander – Cilantro

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae and is a member of the carrot family.

The fresh or dried leaves are referred to as the herb cilantro or Chinese parsley.  The brown seed from the same plant is known as the spice coriander.

A Brief History of Coriandrum sativum

Coriander grows wild in South East Europe and has been cultivated in Egypt, India and China for thousands of years.

The first archaeological evidence of coriander dates to 7500-6000 BC; fifteen desiccated mericarps were found in the Nahal Hemel Cave in Israel.

Cilantro is mentioned in the Medical Papyrus of Thebes written in 1552 BC and is one of the plants which grew in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. About half a liter of coriander mericarps were recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamun.

The ancient Hebrews originally used cilantro root as the bitter herb in the Passover meal. It is mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 16:31, where manna (an edible substance provided by God for the people of Israel in the wilderness) is described as “small round and white like coriander seed.”

The Romans used coriander with cumin and vinegar as a preservative. Romans and their conquests, introduced cilantro’s use and legend spread to Asia, where it appeared in recipes for potions used as aphrodisiacs in China during the Han dynasty (207 BC-200 AD).  The Chinese also used the herb in love potions believing it provided immortality.

The Arabian Nights tells a tale of a merchant who had been childless for 40 years and but was cured by a concoction that included coriander.

Coriander is believed to be named after “koris”, the Greek word for “bedbug” as it was said they both emitted a similar odor. A mature coriander plant does smell of bedbugs, but this passes (once the fruits fully ripen, their fragrance changes to one that is pleasantly citrus).  Coriander seems to have been cultivated in Greece since at least the second millennium BC, being used for the manufacture of perfumes, and for culinary purposes in two forms: as a spice for its seeds and as an herb for the flavor of its leaves.

Coriander was brought to the British colonies in North America in 1670 and was one of the first spices cultivated by early settlers.

An interesting note is that people of European descent frequently are reviled by the smell of cilantro. It has not gained in popularity in Europe as it has in many other parts of the world.  Some perceive an unpleasant “soapy” taste or a rank smell and avoid the leaves. Belief that this is genetically determined may arise from the known genetic variation in taste perception of the synthetic chemical phenylthiocarbamide; however, no specific link has been established between coriander and a bitter taste perception gene.

Culinary Uses of Coriander

All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are commonly used in cooking. Coriander is common in Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Mediterranean, Indian, South Asian, Mexican, Texan, Latin American, Chinese, African and Southeast Asian cuisine.


The leaves are variously referred to as coriander leaves or cilantro (in the Americas, from the Spanish for the plant).  The leaves have a different taste from the seeds.

The fresh leaves are an ingredient in many South Asian foods (particularly chutneys), in Chinese dishes and in Mexican salsas and guacamole. In the U.S., the number one use of cilantro is in salsa.  Chopped coriander leaves are a garnish on cooked dishes such as dal and curries. Cooking diminishes the flavor of the leaves quickly, so cilantro is often used raw or added to the dish immediately before serving. In Indian and Central Asian recipes, coriander leaves are used in large amounts and cooked until the flavor diminishes. The leaves spoil quickly when removed from the plant, and lose their aroma when dried or frozen.

Fresh coriander leaves, known as kinza in Russian, are often used in salads in Russia and other CIS countries.


The dry fruits are known as coriander seeds or coriandi seeds. The word coriander in food preparation may refer solely to these seeds (as a spice), rather than to the plant itself. The seeds have a lemony citrus flavour when crushed, due to terpenes linalool and pinene. It is described as warm, nutty, spicy, and orange-flavored.

It is commonly found both as whole dried seeds and in ground form. Seeds can be roasted or heated on a dry pan briefly before grinding to enhance and alter the aroma. Ground coriander seed loses flavor quickly in storage and is best ground fresh.

Coriander seed is a spice in garam masala and Indian curries, which often employ the ground fruits in generous amounts together with cumin.  It acts as a thickener. Roasted coriander seeds, called dhana dal, are eaten as a snack. It is the main ingredient of the two south Indian dishes: sambhar and rasam.

Outside of Asia, coriander seed is used for pickling vegetables, and making sausages in Germany and South Africa. In Russia and Central Europe coriander seed is an occasional ingredient in rye bread as an alternative to caraway.

Coriander seeds are used in brewing certain styles of beer, particularly some Belgian wheat beers. The coriander seeds are used with orange peel to add a citrus character.


Coriander roots have a deeper, more intense, nutty flavor than the leaves.  They are used in a variety of Asian cuisines, commonly in Thai dishes, including soups and curry pastes.

For recipes calling for coriander roots, the best source is to pull a cilantro plant from the garden, or cilantro stems can be substituted (use two stems for each root).

Medicinal Uses of Coriander

Coriander has four times more carotene than parsley, three times as much calcium, more protein and minerals, more riboflavin, and more vitamin B1 and niacin.

Coriander is considered an aid to the digestive system. The oil of coriander is used to treat nausea.  It is an appetite stimulant and aids in the secretion of gastric juices.

A poultice of Coriander seed can be applied externally to relieve painful joints and rheumatism. Once source (Herbs & Herb Gardening by Jessica Houdret) said the seeds can be mixed with violets for a remedy for a hangover.

The essential oils of the cilantro leaves contain antibacterial properties and can be used as a fungicide. Coriander seeds are considered to have cholesterol lowering properties.

Coriander seeds are boiled with water and drunk as indigenous medicine for colds.

Many health disorders, like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and fibromyalgia have been linked to high levels of heavy metals such as mercury and aluminum in the body. There are both scientific studies and anecdotal evidence to support cilantro’s reputation as a powerful depurative. Yoshiaki Omura, MD, director of medical research at the Heart Disease Foundation and president of the International College of Acupuncture in New York, reported that after finding he had been heavily exposed to mercury, he accidentally discovered that when cilantro is taken in a lightly cooked form it causes a massive excretion of mercury via the urine. Dr Omura found that fresh cilantro removes heavy metals from the body in less than two weeks.

Coriander Taxonomy and Characteristics

Coriander is a soft, hairless plant growing to 12-24” tall x 18” wide. The leaves are variable in shape, broadly lobed at the base of the plant, and slender and feathery higher on the flowering stems. Flower stalks are thickened stems that eventually produce flowers and seeds. The flowers are borne in small umbels, white or very pale pink, asymmetrical, with the petals pointing away from the centre of the umbel longer (5–6 mm) than those pointing towards it (only 1–3 mm long). The fruit is a globular dry schizocarp 3–5 mm diameter.

Species/Varieties of Coriander

Only one species, Coriandrum sativum, is cultivated.  A number of distinct cultivars have been developed. Some, with longer maturity times and resulting higher leaf yield, are grown for cilantro.  Look for seed varieties that are slower growing and thus take longer to bolt. (Bolting is when the plant prematurely produces flower stalks and begins to produce flowers and seed).  Cilantro prefers a cool, dry climate. Similar to lettuce, cilantro will bolt and become bitter as soon as temperatures begin to rise. “Santo” is an extra slow-bolting variety.

Culantro, Eryngium foetidum, is a different plant that is grown in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and Central America. Having a flavor similar to cilantro, it is also known as Puerto Rican coriander, Black Benny, Saw leaf herb, Mexican coriander, Saw tooth coriander, long coriander, Spiny coriander. It is used for the preparation of stews, salsa, sofrito, seasoning herb for meat, and is sold in cans or frozen in Latin America and Asian cuisine.

Growing Coriander in Tennessee

Seedlings do not transplant well because they bolt quickly, so it is best to direct sow seed in the garden or a generous sized container.  If using transplants, seeds should be planted in mid to late spring.  Plant in 2 -3 week intervals through summer for a season-long supply.  Place seeds 1” apart in rows 2’ apart.  Do not thin the plants.  Seeds germinate in 7-10 days.  Leaves can be harvested 50-55 days after planting; seeds are harvested in 90-105 days.

Recommended soil pH is 6.6, but the plant is not fussy about soil conditions.  Grow in full sun. The soil should be kept moist but well drained.   Do not overfertilize; too much nitrogen produces a less flavorful plant. Weeding or mulching is important early in the season.

Coriander is a good companion plant for anise, but it hinders the seed formation of fennel.  In blossom, it attracts useful insects like bees and other pollinators.Mites may appear.  If so, control them with an insecticidal soap and wash leaves before eating.

Harvesting Coriander

The entire plant including the leaves, the seeds and roots are all edible.  When harvesting fresh leaves, cut only the small, immature leaves for the best flavor. The leaves get a stronger and sometimes disagreeable flavor as they get older and larger.  Dried leaves store poorly.

Roots should be used in their fresh form, soon after pulling from the ground.

Harvest coriander promptly when the leaves and flowers have become brown, but before the seed has been able to scatter.  The odor of the plant should be changing at this time, so the task should not be unpleasant. Cut the whole plant, and allow it to dry, gathering the seeds as they start to fall. A paper bag can be tied over the flower clusters to catch the seeds as they mature and drop.  The seeds should be stored in stoppered jars.


Cilantro-Lime Granita

Serves 4


3 cups water
2 cups
1 bunch Cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup Fresh lime juice
2 tbl Lime zest finely grated
4 cups crushed ice cubes
GARNISH Cilantro sprigs, Red raspberries, melon balls, etc.

How to cook:
Combine the water, sugar, cilantro, lime juice, and zest in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and let cool. Drain the liquid and reserve, discarding the solids. Pour the liquid into a non-reactive container and cover. Place the covered container in the freezer and leave for 24 hours. The mixture will not freeze solid but will appear slushy. Remove the slush from the freezer and spoon into a blender jar.
Process at medium speed, adding crushed ice 1 cup at a time, until mixture is icy and all cubes are finely crushed. Portion into four tall parfait glasses and garnish.

Serve immediately.

Make up this recipe at least 24 hours in advance.

Chili Paste for soup below

6 shallots, peeled- I used 3 green onions (mostly the whites)
1 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper
2 Serrano chilis
3 Thai bird chilis
6 cloves garlic
2 stalks lemon grass, finely chopped, white part only
2 tablespoons fresh minced ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 limes, juiced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Canola oil- I did not need any


In a food processor, combine all ingredients. Add just enough oil so the paste mixes well, but remains thick. Check for seasoning.

Carrot Chili and Cilantro Soup

Serves 5


1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoon crushed garlic
2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
5 teaspoon chili paste
2 onion, chopped
1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
10 cups vegetable broth


Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Heat garlic, cilantro and chili paste. Sauté onion until tender. Stir in carrots and potato; cook 5 minutes and then pour in vegetable broth.

Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are soft. Blend until smooth. Top with more freshly chopped coriander leaves or a drizzle of cream.

North African Coriander Bread

Makes 2 loaves
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup honey
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 cup very warm water
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar or honey
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
7 cups unbleached white flour

Heat milk, butter and honey until butter just melts. Cool to lukewarm, add eggs.

Sprinkle yeast over warm water mixed with sugar or honey. Let stand 10 minutes until bubbly.

In large bowl, mix salt and up to 5 cups flour. Stir milk mixture into yeast; then stir both into flour-spice mixture. Beat 200 strokes. Add additional flour until dough holds together and pulls away from side of bowl. Knead dough 5-6 minutes on a floured surface until dough is soft, yet elastic. Place in lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise 1 hour.

Punch dough down, knead lightly and divide into 2 loaves. Place in bread pans or form smooth, round balls on floured cookie tin. Let rise 1 hour until almost doubled. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when tapped.

Lamb Meatballs with Lemon Cumin Yogurt

Total: 30 mins
Active: 15 mins
Makes: 30 meatballs


For the meatballs:

1 pound ground lamb
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
“1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint ”
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the yogurt:
7 ounces whole-milk Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Zest of 1 medium lemon, minced


1. Heat the oven to 375°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
2. Combine all meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands.
3. Form into 30 balls (about 2 teaspoons each) and place on a baking sheet.
4. Bake until meatballs are no longer pink in the middle, about 15 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, combine all yogurt ingredients in a small bowl and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix well. Serve with the meatballs.

SOURCE: http://www.chow.com/recipes/13432

Pickled Carrots

Total: 50 mins
Active: 10 mins
Makes: 1 quart


1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 medium carrots, sliced paper thin
1 medium shallot, sliced paper thin


1. Toast mustard seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns in a medium saucepan over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add vinegar, water, salt, and sugar and bring to a rapid simmer. Meanwhile, place carrots and shallot in a 1-quart heatproof container with a tightfitting lid.
2. Once the vinegar mixture simmers, pour over vegetables, making sure to cover them completely. Allow mixture to come to room temperature, about 1 hour, then cover. Store in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours before using.

SOURCE: http://www.chow.com/recipes/27765

Research Materials Used


Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening.  Louise Rotte.

Gourmet Sleuth: http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/Articles/Exotic-Herbs-Spices-and-Salts-639/cilantro.aspx


Herbs, Fruits & Vegetables for Tennessee.  James A. Fizell, Walter Reeves, Felder Rushing.

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs.  Claire Kowalchik and William H. Hylton, Editors


Wikipedia: wikipedia.org/wiki/Coriander

Vegetables, Herbs & Fruit – An Illustrated Encyclopedia.  Matthew Biggs, Jekka McVicar, Bob Flowerdew.

The Complete Book of Herbs & Spices.  Sarah Garland.

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