Saturday, October 17, 2009

Herb of the Week -- Cilantro

The herb of the week Is Cilantro. (Coriandrum sativum)

Cilantro is an herb that we have tried to grow twice, both times with limited success.

I think, in both cases, we transplanted it into the garden too late in the year and it was too hot, so as soon as we planted it, it bolted. But since I really like to cook with Cilantro, and after all (who can make fresh salsa without it?) We will probably keep trying.

We have really dedicated our garden to mostly perennials, since we have limited space, and then once we are happy with our perennials, we fill in the spaces with annuals. But I see garden expansion in our future, and I am pretty sure that we will find room for Cilantro next year.

The funny thing about Cilantro is that if you plant Coriander, Cilantro comes up instead.

Seriously though, the name Cilantro comes from the Spanish word for Coriander, a versatile plant. The leaves are used as an herb, the seeds as a spice, and the roots are used in some cultures to flavor foods as well.

So we are actually talking about two different things when we talk about Cilantro. Although the terms are often used interchangeably
to the point where it can be somewhat confusing. The entire plant is properly named Coriander, while the leaves alone are Cilantro. But generally, informally, the plant and leaves are referred to as Cilantro and only the seeds as Coriander. Just to liven things up, Cilantro is also referred to as Chinese parsley.
To avoid confusion, when I talk about them, I will use the term Cilantro, to refer to the leaves, and subsequently the plant, which have a light citrus flavor not unlike celery and lemon together, When I use the term Coriander I am referring to the seed, which has a nutty, peppery flavor with just a hint of citrus.

The name Coriander, is reported to come from the Greek word koris which means bedbug. Some say that the plant smells like bedbugs, (whatever bedbugs smell like) while others say that the seeds resemble bedbugs. Still others believe that the seeds, when ground and sprinkled on your sheets, will help prevent bedbugs.

Whichever the case, the name stuck, and has been around for a long time. One of the original seven wonders of the world was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Coriander/Cilantro was one of the plants generally believed to have been grown in those gardens.

It is one of few modern foods that are mentioned in the Old Testament and is mentioned in the Medical Papyrus of Thebes written in 1552 B. C. No one is quite sure where Cilantro originated, but the ancient Israelites were familiar with it, it has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs and it was even mentioned in Arabian Nights a book over 1000 years old. The Chinese have used Cilantro for centuries, believing it to be an aphrodisiac.

In the mid-1700s a liquor was made from the Coriander seeds, but this experiment proved unsuccessful
Today, Cilantro and Coriander are widely used worldwide. It is a favorite herb from the Southwest U.S. through Central and South America, as well as in India, China and Thailand.

Most of us think of Cilantro in terms of salsa and guacamole, however, Cilantro and Coriander are used all over the world in many other ways. Cilantro is used with meat, chicken, fish, sauces, marinades, chutneys, and Coriander is even used in baking.

The most important thing to remember when growing Cilantro is that it does not like hot weather. Cilantro growing in soil that reaches 75F will bolt and go to seed. This means that the ideal cilantro growing conditions are cool but sunny.

Even with ideal growing conditions, cilantro is a short lived herb. Taking the time to prune cilantro frequently will help delay bolting but no matter how much you prune cilantro it will still eventually bolt. Reseeding, every 3-6 weeks will help keep a steady supply throughout the growing season.

The Tasteful Garden suggests that “Cilantro needs to be grown in early spring/summer or even during the fall when the weather is cooler. It requires mostly sunshine about half a day and will be best grown in morning sun
and shade in the hot afternoon. Growing it in the ground with mulch on top of the roots helps keep the soil cooler longer. Filtered sunlight, as in under a tree with light coming through, is ideal. To harvest Cilantro, you can begin cutting as soon as the plant is about 6" tall by removing the outer leaves and leaving the growing point intact for the new leaves to grow from. Another method is to wait till the plant is almost completely grown and pull it up by its roots to use the whole bunch at once.”

(Photo courtesy of The Tasteful Garden, Used by permission)

Once you have it harvested, the next question is what to do with it.

Cilantro can be dried, but will lose a lot of its’ flavor. If you have so much extra that it will go bad by all means dry some, but it will never be as good as fresh cilantro. Frozen Cilantro doesn’t seem to fare much better, with a great deal of the flavor disappearing, however, once again, weak flavored frozen cilantro seems better to me than cilantro flavored compost, so before you just throw the extra away, feel free to play a bit.

Burpee suggests an herbed butter, using one 1 stick of Butter, 4 Tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro and 1 Tablespoon of Lemon Juice. I have been meaning to play with herbed butters for several years now, and need to put it on my “next year for sure” list. The butter acts as a preservative, as well as a suspension for the herb flavor..

Next year, I intend to get some candy molds, either flower shaped or something else simple and make herbed butters from all of the different herbs we grow. Then, sometime in the fall, around this time of year, when it gets all cold and wet and rainy, we can invite the family over for a bread and butter party, where I can bake a couple of different types of bread, bring out a tray of different butters, and tell people if the want anything besides bread and butter, they should bring enough to go around.

If anyone has made herbed butters before and wants to share any tips, I’d love to hear about them.

But back to Cilantro. It seems that the best way to use it is fresh.

Try adding cilantro to crab cakes or shrimp salad. Or chop cilantro and garlic, add a little olive oil and spread this on poultry or fish. Skip the oil to save calories. For a creamy low fat dressing mix equal parts of buttermilk and plain yogurt with salt, pepper, and a generous amount of chopped cilantro.

Ground coriander is a great addition to dry rubs. It pairs particularly well with cumin, curry, paprika, garlic, and chili powder.

Here’s a recipe you may try:

Recipe Courtesy of Chef James at used by permission

6 poblano peppers, roasted, skins & seeds removed
¼ cup cilantro
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ cup of water
Cayenne powder, salt, and pepper to taste
4 pork chops
olive oil, as needed
onion, 8 ounces, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped

1) Puree two of the roasted poblano peppers, cilantro, cumin, coriander, vinegar, water, salt and pepper in a blender. Add additional water if necessary.
2) Brush the chops with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and cayenne powder.
3) Sear the chops on each side in the oil. Do not fully cook the chops. Remove them as soon as each side is seared and set aside.
4) Roughly chop the remaining poblano peppers and sauté with the onion in the same pan you sautéed the chops until the onions start to soften. Add extra oil if necessary.
5) Add garlic and sauté one minute more.
6) Return the chops to the pan and add the sauce. Simmer until the chops are cooked. About 3-5 minutes for half inch chops.

And here’s one that is bouncing around on the Internet. I’m not sure of the original source but it sounds like one Bobby Flay may use:

Lime-Chipotle Sauce

Blend in food processor.
1/2 C honey
2 T minced canned chipotle chilies
3 T stone ground mustard
½ C lime juice
1 ½ T minced garlic
1 t ground cumin
½ t ground allspice
½ C chopped fresh cilantro
1 ½ t ground white pepper
sea salt to taste

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Use as a dip for tortilla chips, pita bread, or sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, and zucchini.
As a marinade for fish or chicken, or on a simple salad of mixed greens.
Add some to your egg yolks when you make deviled eggs, or to your chicken salad.

NOTE : This can be canned in a boiling water bath for 15 min. (20 min. at 1001-6000 ft. and 25 min. above 6000 ft).

One batch makes less than a pint, so I would multiply by at least 4 and can in half pints if I were doing it.

Medicinally, Cilantro doesn’t seem to have quite as many applications as a lot of herbs, Rich in vitamin C.Cilantro is considered an aid to the digestive system. It is an appetite stimulant and aids in the secretion of gastric juices.

The essential oils of the cilantro leaves contain antibacterial properties and can be used as a fungicide. Coriander seeds is said by some to have cholesterol lowering properties, but I haven’t seen the research, so I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

In Egypt, the seeds have been found in pharaohs' tombs, presumably to prevent indigestion in the afterlife. While no one has been able to attest to its post-mortem healing properties, recent studies have supported its use as a stomach soother for both adults and colicky babies.

Ancient Romans used cilantro to preserve food, as well as to mask the flavor of meat that was going bad. (It’s a wonder anyone survived past their twenties back then) although they couldn’t have known it then, cilantro contains an antioxidant that helps prevent animal fats from turning rancid. It also contains substances that kill meat-spoiling bacteria and fungi. These same substances can also prevent infection in wounds.

In Modern medicine, the only current use of cilantro or coriander is as a flavoring for less pleasant tasting medicines.

However, there are those who advocate its’ use for, besides a digestive aid, treating infection and arthritis pain.

As with most herbs, there are those who swear by them, and those who say they have no effect whatsoever. Maybe it’s like regular medicine. Some things I can take and they work wonders, but don’t do a bit of good for my wife, and likewise, some things help her, and may as well be chalk tablets for me. I guess it kind of depends on your own body chemistry as well.

But to use it to treat digestion, colic, infection and arthritic pain, it is suggested that you drink it in tea form. To make a medicinal tea, use 1 teaspoon of dried leaves or crushed seeds (or ½ teaspoon of powdered seeds) per cup of boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes. Drink up to three cups a day before or after meals.

The worst that can happen is that you drink a bunch of stuff you don’t like. There are no known side affects of drinking too much.

In magic, Cilantro can be burned as an incense or as an oil in spells or rituals that deal with aggression, courage,, exorcism, healing after surgery, hex-breaking, lust, physical strength, politics, protection, sexual energy, sexual potency, and strength.

In Kitchen magic, the main use of cilantro seems to be in love spells and potions, Simmered in your favorite wine, sweetened with honey, strained and served warm, it is reputed to be a powerful aphrodisiac.

Finally, I want to finish by making mention of a very similar plant, Culantro (also known as Thai Parsley) similar to Cilantro in flavor Culantro is used by many South American countries as well as in Asia even more frequently than Cilantro. It seems to have a longer growing season, a higher tolerance for heat, and be almost interchangeable for cilantro in most recipes, so those in warmer climates may want to give this one a try instead.
(Photo courtesy of The Tasteful Garden, Used by permission)

I’m thinking some of each may be fun.

The following sites were particularly helpful in my research this week:
In Depth Info (Thanks Chef James)
The Tasteful Garden (Thanks Cindy)


  1. Troy,
    A lot of research that you did! Sounds like you would just have to be on top of things if you grew Cilantro. But it would be worth the effort.

  2. I have to admit I don't know much about cilantro, (until now that is). I do know that it has become very popular as of lately. Maybe next year, I'll grow a pot next to the kitchen door so I can keep an eye on it.


  3. I love cilantro. I sowed it last spring, but it went to seed. Now I know why, it is way too hot for it here in CA. But you gave me the idea of trying to sow it now (it's not that hot anymore, yet we still have a lot of sun).

    Also fresh cilantro goes well with lentils. The famous Moroccan lentil salad uses cilantro.

    Great article as always. Thanks

  4. I found your blog as I browsed through "Porch Days". Your title intrigued me. That is the mantra of my company...and we have grown more than double since last year! The American (and human) spirit is incredible! We can overcome and continue.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your "tutorials" on herbs. And I love cilantro. I use it frequently in my salsas and salads. When we lived in PA, we had a fabulous herb garden. Now, here in FL, I am having difficulty with the bugs and the heat...herbs do fairly well in fall and spring.

    Look forward to reading more of your musings...
    Jane (Artfully Graced)

  5. Your post reminded me I forgot to say in my garden update that I have cilantro seedlings coming up from some plants that went to seed this summer. I learned some things from your post, but skipped the last section on the lore stuff.

  6. Sue, I must admit, I don't hold much stock in magical properties of herbs myself, but I find it fascinating to see what relationship, if any, exists between the alleged magical properties, and the purported medicinal properties.

    Most of the modern medicines we know today have their foundation in herbs, and the people who once dispensed those herbs were also the ones who dispensed herbs for love potions and spells.

    I find it interesting to ponder where the original basis for the magical claims may have come from, and if they bear any relation to the medicinal uses.