Knowing How To Grow Coriander Is A Kitchen Essential For Masalas, Batters, Doughs, Marinades & Drinks In Asian & European Kitchens. Learn More Here.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) aka cilantro, Chinese parsley, dhania, is an edible herb grown for its leaves and seed. All parts are edible, though normally the leaves and seed are most commonly consumed, and it is widely used as a spice in Asian cuisines.
The flavour is unique. To me it has a spicy, slightly tart taste, sometimes with citrus overtones. However some people detect a soapy flavour and detest it!
What is clear is that supermarket bought fresh coriander, often sold in pots, has a weak flavour compared with the home grown varieties. This is due to the fact it is usually grown rapidly, in greenhouses or growing rooms, and has no time to develop the flavoursome oils that enhance the flavour. Slower grown plants, such as home grown plants, develop much more flavour.
I use fresh coriander in Asian dishes and in salads, where it provides a huge flavour boost. Once you’ve tasted home grown coriander you are unlikely to ever want to buy it from a supermarket again.
What Does Coriander Look Like?
The origins of coriander are disputed. Though widely used in Asian cuisines it might be that the plant has its origins in Portugal or Israel. What is sure is that it is now found wild across Southern Europe and Western Asia and I’ll be surprised if it isn’t soon wild in the UK.
Coriander is a small finely leafed plant, almost fern like in some senses; indeed it is often described as feathery in appearance.. As a vegetative plant it grows to 6-12 inches high at most, but in flower can be 2 foot or so in height. The fruit is globular and around 1-3mm in diameter.
How to Grow Coriander
One of the beauties of coriander is that it can be sown all year in some shape or form. Clearly it needs some warmth to germinate, but it can be grown in a pot on a windowsill in winter or in the garden in warmer months.
Under my unheated glasshouse I germinate coriander all year, provided the weather is mild. I just choose my time according to the weather forecast. But, to date, I’ve managed to get it to germinate every moth of the year.
Sow the seed a few millimetre deep in modules for transplanting; pots, or direct drilled. Germination takes 1-3 weeks depending on conditions (especially temperature). My advice if you want certainly is to bring modules or pots indoors to germinate during the colder months. Room temperature is sufficient to ensure germination, if its warm enough for you, the coriander will germinate!
Once germinated the plants want good light and need to be kept moist but not soaking.
In my experience bolting, (the plants attempting to go to seed) is aggravated by dry conditions. If I keep it moist enoughI find bolting doesn’t occur until after a few leaf harvests at the earliest.
As for feeding the plants I don’t. I find the plants do extremely well in No Dig conditions where the soil has been fed. In pots it seems OK provided the compost is reasonably fresh. Should I use very old compost, say after its grown tomatoes, I might add a small amount of organic fertiliser such as Vital Q4.
However, too much feed gives rapid soft growth that is weak in flavour.
Interestingly different websites give a range of advice on growing coriander. The RHS for example say to sow between March and October. I disagree and sow all year around without any problems.
Even more bizarre is the advice given on the Gardeners World website which suggests sowing June – September. Again I disagree. This is an easy crop to grow and can be sown and grown all year.
There are several varieties on the market, with some emphasis on bolt resistance. In my view there is no need for this if they are kept moist at the roots. Younger coriander plants only bolt in adverse conditions. Older ones bolt because that is what they are meant to do to survive. Without bolting we don’t get the seed for the next generation!
I get the impression that the different varieties, some bolt resistant, some more lemony, are rally designed to part gardeners from their cash!
Commercially we used to cut the while plant to ground level and then start with anew batch of seed. But in the garden the crop is more productive if grown as a cut and come again crop. I remove just a few leaves from each plant at each harvest. Cut high enough to leave the crown of the plant so it can keep producing more leaves. grown this way my winter crops, sown in autumn, can crop for 5-6 months.
I tend to have a few replacement module grown plants on hand though, should I decide to replace any plants that aren’t doing well. But they are rarely needed.
If grown for seed, which I rarely do, take a few light harvests of leaves from a well grown healthy and vigorous crop and then allow them to seed in their own time. You could speed this up by withholding water a bit if you want. Let the pollinators enjoy the white flowers and allow the seeds to form. Wait until they naturally dry and then harvest.
My way of doing this it to cut the whole plant low down and hang it from a beam above a sheet that can catch the seed as it sheds.
To speed this up put the dry heads in a sack and give it a good shake or beat it with a stick!
Coriander in History
The Egyptians mention coriander in a papyrus dated circa 1550 BC. Hippocrates mentioned it in 400BC and Diosicorides in 65AD.
But coriander goes back much further. Coriander was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. And in has been traced to Neolithic times. Fifteen mericarps (part of a seed head) were found in a cave near the Dead Sea, in the Judean desert, near Mt Sodom, in what is now Israel.
My own coriander history is much more recent .. though it dates back to the 1980s. I was brought a bag of coriander seed by a greengrocer of Asian descent. I’d never seen coriander before and didn’t recognise the seed. My first question was which part of it would we harvest, the leaves, roots, stems, flowers .. I didn’t have a clue.
But, on being told that if I grew it he would bring a tram to harvest it I sent about growing it. It grew well and in the hot summer sun the pungent oils drifted on the breeze. Neighbours asked what I was growing and I said dhania. For dhania is what my Asian greengrocer called it.
Interestingly, he had obtained the seed from the Indian subcontinent, English seed merchants didn’t stock it in those days, and the Indian varieties have a seed that is more oval than the more rounded (globular) types grown in Europe.
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