Helen Simpson, from the Mushroom Shed, tells you all you need to know about growing coriander. She has also written articles about growing basil, brassicas, chilli, cucurbits, garlic, ginger & turmeric, mint, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes and lesser known herbs.
Coriander, also known as cilantro, is one of the easiest and most delicious herbs to grow in abundance. It is an extremely versatile plant with the leaves, stems, roots and mature seeds all being flavoursome and aromatic. It suits many different cooking styles, from garnishing pumpkin soup or to use in an Asian style dish.
Coriander is an annual and, despite its delicate, feathery look, is best planted from mid to late Autumn through to early Spring. Depending on when you plant, it will reach full abundance in the cold of winter through to late Spring. Avoid planting in late Spring as, with the hotter weather, it will bolt and run to seed before it can be used.
Grown this way, your coriander plant should last from three to 6 months and reach up to 75cm tall. It can be cut several times and will re-grow. Normally I would cut the plant back by half to use when it has reached about 40 cm, and leave it to grow again, then repeat the process maybe twice more. Other people prefer to harvest the whole plant, as the stems and roots have the strongest flavour.
Eventually the plant will ‘run to seed’ that is, grow a thick stalk, flower and produce seed. The seed can be harvested and used as a condiment; however, wait until the seed has dried, rather than use the green, unripe seed.
Seed or seedling?
Coriander is easily grown from seed, with the seed taking around 2 weeks to sprout above the ground. It can be direct sown, about 6mm deep (watch for slugs and snails mowing it down before you see it) or started in punnets then transplanted in 4-5 weeks.
If you prefer to purchase seedlings, these can be successfully transplanted; however, try not to disturb the roots too much when doing so, as this can set the plant back.
Coriander is best grown in a clump, so the plants provide support for each other.
Aspect and soil
Grow in a sunny position over Autumn, Winter and early Spring. If grown in warm weather, it will need some shade.
Prepare the soil as for other types of herbs (i.e. friable, well drained and fertilised) or, if growing in a pot, use a good quality potting mix and liquid fertilise every month or so.
Leaves can be snipped off as required, normally when the plant has reached at least 15cm. Alternatively, harvest the whole plant, or grow the plant to full maturity and wait for the seed to form and dry. Growing lots of coriander will give you all these options!
Dried seed can be kept for many years. Store in a tightly closed container in a dark cupboard.
Leaves/stems, once picked, can be kept in a jar full of water for about a week. A plastic bag over the top will prolong their freshness. Alternatively, coriander can be stored in a plastic bag for around 2 weeks in the fridge.
Coriander leaves can be frozen in freezer bags, however may be mushy once thawed. There are numerous ways of freezer storage, including in ice cubes and separating and laying each leaf flat prior. For those interested, internet research gives informative pictorials and methods.
And finally …
Look out for ‘slow bolting’ coriander – a variety with less propensity to go to seed early.