Say “cilantro” here in the Old Pueblo, and folks think of salsa. And while cilantro can get along with the heat of chilies in salsa, it quickly dies with the heat of a summer day. Therefore you need to grow this herb in the cool winter months. In fact, this Labor Day weekend is a great time to plant it.
Hate the taste of cilantro? You are not alone. Scientists agree that there appears to be a genetic component to cilantro taste preference. Those that like the herb find it pungent and tangy, those that don’t often say it tastes soapy. It’s your genes, and both experiences are equally valid. Incidentally, it is not just Mexican recipes that call for coriander, so do many Asian dishes, but it is less evident as a flavor in Asian cooking it is often hidden by the flavors of curry and other ingredients.
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) has been used for millennia as a culinary and medicinal herb. An infusion (tea) of coriander seed is said to soothe upset stomach and aid indigestion. It also is reputed to be an aphrodisiac, but mostly it was prized as an ingredient in herbal vinegar used to preserve meat.
A member of the Carrot Family, cilantro is a little bit fussy about growing conditions.
Soil. All carrot kin grow best in a well drained, sandy, slightly acidic soil, rich in organic matter. That makes them easy to grow in containers. Use a pot one and a half feet deep. Potting soil with some added sand makes a good growing media.
Light. Six or more hours of winter sun is needed to do well.
Plant. Cilantro can be bought as a seedling from a nursery or grown from seed. One or two plants are usually enough for most families so seedlings might be a better option.
Water. Keep the soil relatively moist during establishment. You can let cilantro dry a little more between water once the plants get larger. Some people believe this makes their flavors stronger.
Fertilizer. Cilantro gets very lush and full with some fertilizer. However, if you amended your soil at the start you don’t need to purchase fertilizer. Plus, avoid fertilizing anything when frosts are a possibility. Come late February you could apply a half-strength general purpose fertilizer.
Harvest and Storage. Cilantro leaves tastes great when fresh but lose much flavor when dried. Freezing the leaves retains more flavor. Select healthy leaves, rinse, pat dry but leave some moisture. Chop into roughly quarter inch squares and freeze in a labeled plastic bag or recycled yogurt container. This can be used directly from the freezer.
As always – enjoy!
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and more. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).
Text of this “Cilantro” post is copyright © 2015, Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on my site.