Coriandrum sativum (sometimes referred to as Chinese parsley)
If you don’t have a crop of cilantro right now, stop reading this and go to the nursery and get some seed NOW. That is, unless you are one of those people who are genetically predisposed to disliking cilantro. I had a girlfriend once who hated cilantro. I should have known it wouldn’t work out based on that one fact. I am a cilantro-phile. I try not to hold it against people who are cilantro haters. Even Julia Childs was a cilantro hater. But if you marry someone, or get serious about someone, my suggestion: make sure you both jive on this. You don’t want to deprive yourself of this wonderful herb.
Back to the point, if you love this old world herb, you should have it growing. It is easy to grow. Cilantro is a weed. It thrives in poor soils (though plants do better in soil that is ammended).
Plant from seed starting in about September or even August if you are impatient like me: plants grown from seed ALWAYS last longer and do better than plants set out from starts. I don’t know why but this is true with lots of plants, but particularly with cilantro. My experience is that plants from containers (6-packs, 4in pots, etc) always bolt so much sooner than seed-grown plants. It is a waste of time and money to purchase them this way. I almost always plant in full sun, but some shade is fine, and preferred when the season gets warmer. Cilantro likes moist but not soggy soils.
They can take 2-3 weeks to germinate and can pop up sporadically. Keep seeds moist. Plant out about 5 centimeter apart (you can plant slightly closer at first and thin as necessary). Replant crops in succession every few weeks so you always have plenty of plants to harvest. You can keep planting until April or May when it starts to get too hot and plants just go directly to seed.
Crowded plants also tend to bolt. If you plant in containers, make sure the pots are large and deep and the roots stay cool.
Bolting is when an annual plant (plants that only live usually for a season) goes to seed. This is generally not something you want. However, the seed of cilantro is known as coriander, and many people use this as a spice too. If you are growing for coriander, plant much thicker.
Heat will bring cilantro to seed because it is, in Tucson, a cool season annual. Keep this in mind when you grow cilantro and plan accordingly. Frost generally has no effect on cilantro where we live. So don’t worry about the cold.
Before the summer, if you really want to preserve cilantro, consider food processing cilantro and freezing it. Dried cilantro doesn’t make much sense to me, it looses a lot of it’s flavor this way. Some people make cilantro pesto, and this freezes well. Also, as said before, the seed is saved as coriander, and stores well. You can use the seed for cooking and replant whatever is left next fall.
There are a few varieties of cilantro. Some are bolt-resistant. There is one called confetti which looks like it is always about to bolt (leaves are finely divided). I don’t know why anyone would plant this variety, but if you feel experimental, have at it!
A Lebanese recipe for cilantro pesto.
Other species like Cilantro:
A tropical annual or short-lived perennial from Latin America, Culantro is also finding its way into Asian cuisine. Unlike Cilantro, Culantro retains its flavor when dried. The plants are a bit homely looking. The flowers and seed-heads are spiny.
Propagation: Seeds can take about a month to germinate so be patient. Plants are rarely available at nurseries, but are occasionally available. If seed-saving, let seed-heads develop and wait for them to dry.
Cultivation: Culantro likes a richer and moister soil than Cilantro. Plant in shadier spot to encourage larger leaves (and less seed production. Remove any floral development. Similar to Cilantro, Culantro will send out more seed in hot weather, but can last longer into the season. Be sure to save seed as plants are short-lived.
This is a tropical perennial from Asia with a slightly more spicy and minty flavor.
Propagation: Plants are grown from cuttings and divisions most often. Asian cilantro is occasionally available at nurseries.
Cultivation: This plant provides a fresh source of cilantro when it is too hot for the other two species mentioned above. A low-growing plant, it spreads quickly. Don’t let plants get too root-bound (divide frequently) or plant where it has lots of room to spread. Plants are very frost tender, so protect from frost or grow as an annual. Asian cilantro likes rich, moist soil but is otherwise trouble-free.
The least known of these exotic versions of cilantro, Bolivian cilantro is a much more arid-growing species and can grow to 5 – 6 feet tall in frost-free areas (though easily trimmed to smaller dimensions). It is native and naturalized from the southern United States to Mexico, Central America and South America (it is native where I live in Arizona). The flavor is strong, and said to resemble a cross between cilantro and arugula.
Propagation: Seeds are much like Zinnia seeds (of the same family) and are not too hard to obtain. Very rarely plants are available, usually at botanical garden sales here in Arizona. Maybe more common in places like Florida. Can be a troublesome weed in tropical climates.
Cultivation: This plant likes more sun, and less water (and is more subject to over-watering than the above species). It is otherwise not very picky. Plants are frost tender.