Coriandrum sativum, also known as coriander, cilantro or dhania (depending on where in the world you find yourself and which part of the plant you’re using) is one of the top 5 culinary herbs worldwide and is used in a wide range of dishes from Thai to Indian and Mediterranean. It can even be found in our proudly Safrican boerewors and biltong!
With its lacy foliage and pretty white-mauve flowers, coriander is a very attractive addition to any vegetable garden, herb border or even ornamental garden.
Coriander can be grown prolifically and with ease by following a few simple rules.
- Most important to remember is that coriander is a cool weather, annual herb and prefers to be planted during the cooler seasons of autumn and spring. In very hot summer weather coriander tends to ‘bolt’. By that we don’t mean it will up and make a dash for the veggie border…bolting simply means the plant will flower prematurely and go to seed too soon instead of growing lush leaves.
- Because coriander is sensitive to shock and root disturbance, it’s best to sow it directly in the position where it is to grow. This should be in a full sun position, with morning sun preferable to the hot afternoon sun. Soil should be well-drained and rich in compost. Sow the seeds about 5cm apart and if you’re sowing in rows, the distance between rows should be about 35cm.
- Water the seeds daily and keep them moist during germination. If needed, thin out to 15 – 20cm apart when the seedlings have four true leaves. Don’t discard these young seedlings – they are packed with flavour and scrumptious if used fresh. Once the plants are well established, watering can be reduced, but the soil must never be allowed to dry out as this will also cause bolting. The plants must be kept moist, but not waterlogged.
- Coriander is also available in seedlings in the herb section at Lifestyle Home Garden. Choose smaller seedlings, rather than bigger plants. Be very gentle when transplanting and don’t harm or disturb the roots. Plant seedlings in the position where you want them to mature. Cilantro can also be grown successfully in pots, tubs and window boxes in a good quality potting soil, provided the containers are quite deep as the plants have long taproots. Plants in containers will need to be watered more regularly.
- Spread a layer of mulch around the plants to keep the soil cool and minimize root interference from weeds.
- Fertilise the coriander plants once a month with a nitrogen-rich, organic fertilizer or a seaweed based liquid fertiliser.
Because coriander is fast growing it is a good idea to sow a few seeds every fortnight to ensure a continuous supply.
Once the plants are strong and established (about 20cm high), coriander leaves can be snipped off as needed – the younger the leaf the tastier. The stems can also be cut down and the leaves can either be frozen (in freezer bags or ice cube trays) or dried. If cut back, the plant will keep producing fresh new growth until it grows a thick stalk and sets seed. Dry the leaves by hanging bunches of the herb in a warm, airy place. Once dry, the leaves can be crushed and stored in clean, waterproof containers. Coriander pesto is another wonderful way of preserving this stunning herb.
If you wish to harvest coriander seeds, leave them on the plant until the leaves start to brown. Pick a bunch and hang it up as for drying, but tie a paper bag around the seedheads. As the plant dries, the seeds will fall off into the bag from where they can be collected and stored.
If you leave some seeds on the plant it will self-sow and provide you with another crop – easy peasy!
Alternatively the whole plant can be pulled up and all parts, including the roots can be used. The roots (the tastiest part of the plant) can be scrubbed clean and used, like the rest, to add a wonderful, intense fragrance to your stews and curries.
Coriander is a good companion to most plants as the pretty mauve-white flowers attract bees and butterflies which, of course, are vital for pollination.
Because of its strong smell, especially that of the seeds, coriander is a great repellent of aphids and a good companion to sweetcorn, roses, dill, nasturtiums, spinach, squash, cabbages, carrots and tomatoes.
Avoid planting coriander with fennel as they tend to cross-pollinate.