coriander leavesNote: This is the first of a series of articles on how to grow and use different food plants. It’s one of a number produced recently by particpants in a ‘Grow Your Own’ course I’ve been running in the village of Foulsham, Norfolk. I thought the work deserved a wider audience and hope that you find it useful. I’ll post other articles in coming weeks.

Guest blog by Jacqui Carr

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. It is native to regions spanning from southern Europe and North Africa to southwestern Asia. It is a soft plant growing to 50 cm (20 in) tall. The leaves are variable in shape, broadly lobed at the base of the plant, and slender and feathery higher on the flowering stems. The flowers are borne in small umbels, white or very pale pink, asymmetrical, with the petals pointing away from the centre of the umbel longer (5–6 mm) than those pointing toward it (only 1–3 mm long). The seeds are often used as a spice or an added ingredient in other foods.

How to Grow Coriander

Coriander enjoys a sunny position but appreciates a little shade during the hottest part of the day. Coriander has a tendency to run to seed if stressed. This is fine if the plant is grown for its seeds, but not if it is grown for its leaves.

Coriander is best grown from seed directly into the soil. This is because it is quite a sensitive plant; transplanting young plants can shock them and cause them to bolt (run to seed). Prepare the soil thoroughly by digging it over, removing any weeds and incorporating organic matter, such as well-rotted manure or compost. Rake the soil so it’s level and sow seeds 4cm apart in drills 1cm deep.

Germination of coriander takes up to 3 weeks. Young plants should be thinned to 20cm apart to allow them to grow to their full size. The soil should never dry out. If flowers develop they should be removed immediately to ensure the plants focus their energy on growing new leaves. Coriander should be re-sown every three weeks to ensure a continual supply during the summer. It is not normally necessary to feed coriander if the soil is well nourished. However, if the plants appear to be suffering they can be given a liquid organic feed to perk them up.

Coriander does well in containers and can be grown on a sunny windowsill or balcony. The container must be quite deep as coriander has a long taproot. Scatter seeds on the surface of the compost and cover with soil, watering well. They may need more frequent watering as pots dry quickly.

Coriandrum sativum from the Medizinal Pflanzen

Coriandrum sativum from the Medizinal Pflanzen

Harvesting Coriander

Harvest the leaves when the plant is big and robust enough to cope. Pluck or cut each leaf off the stem or snip whole stems if necessary. Both the leaves and the stalks can be used.

If grown for its seeds, wait until the flowers have died off before harvesting. Cut the stems and place the heads of the coriander in a paper bag, with the stems slicking out. Tie the stems and the bag together in a bunch and hang upside down in a cool, dry place. Wait for three weeks and then shake the bag. The dry seeds will fall out from the flowers and be ready in the bottom of the bag. Keep them in a dry place and re-sow the following spring.

Coriander pests and diseases

Coriander can suffer from root rot.  Coriander doesn’t like its roots to be too wet so make sure the soil is well draining and don’t over water the plants.  Water during the day and avoid watering in the evening. Coriander is a very aromatic plant, and as such it is usually free from pests, although slugs may have a chomp at the seedlings. In the UK, there are no serious diseases affecting coriander.

Storing

The best way of storing coriander leaves is to freeze them.  Freeze the tender stalks as well as the leaves.  Try not to wash the coriander before freezing. .  If you do wash it, then dry it as much as possible before freezing.  Freeze only healthy green leaves – remove any that are yellow.  Put the leaves and stalks in a plastic bag, seal it and put it in the freezer.  When you want to use it, just take out as much as you need, and chop whilst still frozen.  Then add it to your cooking. A slightly more labour-intensive method is to freeze the coriander in ice cube trays.  Chop the coriander, and pack it into ice cube trays.  Add a little water to just cover the coriander, and then freeze.  Once it’s frozen, remove from the trays and seal in a plastic bag.  Use the cubes straight from frozen.

Cooking with Coriander

Coriander is a delicious and versatile herb, used in a variety of dishes including Indian and Thai dishes and salsas and salads. Both the leaves and the seeds are commonly used and have distinct flavours and uses. The leaves are best eaten fresh and the seeds are best eaten dried, toasted and ground into a fine powder to use as a spice.

Recipe: Tomato, Cucumber and Coriander Salad

Ingredients:

·         6 ripe vine tomatoes, deseeded and chopped

·         1 small cucumber, diced

·         1 red onion, very finely chopped

·         6 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

Method: mix together the tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and chopped coriander, but don’t season until just before serving.

Coriander Seeds

Coriander Seeds

Summary

  • Sow seed every 2-3 weeks to have a constant supply of leaves

  • Do not transplant the seedlings – coriander doesn’t like to be moved

  • Keep the soil moist, but do not over water

  • Don’t water in the evening – coriander doesn’t like to “go to bed with wet feet”

  • Pick leaves regularly once they are 10cm (4in) high

  • Use the stems as well as the leaves, and allow some plants to flower so you can collect the seed

  • Freeze any excess coriander in a plastic bag, and use from frozen

  • Don’t grow in a confined space indoors as the plant has an unpleasant smell

  • Avoid planting near fennel, as they just don’t like one another!

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