Cilantro, also known as Chinese parsley, is a small, delicate, annual herb grown for both its pungent leaves and flavorful seeds (which we know as coriander). Fresh leaves and dried, ground seeds are often used in Latin American and Asian dishes. A polarizing plant, some people find the taste of the fresh leaves to be soapy and unpleasant, while others can’t get enough. If you haven’t been a fan before, try cilantro in a pesto recipe for a mild treat; when crushed, leaves release enzymes which convert the most aromatic compounds and reduce their scent. Cilantro prefers cool weather and will quickly go to seed if planted too late in the spring.
Santo cilantro is a fast-growing variety that will reach 2′ tall. The leaves are ready to harvest after only a month. It’s slow to bolt, but you should still start new plantings every few weeks for continuous harvests. Seeds are harvested after a few months, so when you’re done with picking leaves, let the plant go to flower for a nice batch of coriander.
Seed Depth: 1/2″
Space Between Plants: 2–4″
Space Between Rows: 8–18″
Germination Soil Temperature: 55–75°F, optimal 65°F
Days for Germination: 10–15
Sow Indoors: Not recommended; does not transplant well.
Sow Outdoors: 1 to 2 weeks before average last frost. Successive sowings every 3 weeks until 4 weeks before first fall frost. Sow in fall for winter harvest in USDA Zones 8 and warmer.
Grows best in milder climates with cool weather. Time plantings to harvest in the fall or winter in hotter climates and in early summer in cooler climates. Will grow best in Zones 3–7 in the spring and Zones 8–11 when planted in the fall.
Natural: If you are located in a cooler climate, plant cilantro in an area with full sun. If you are located in a hot location or expecting hot weather, plant cilantro in a location with partial shade.
Artificial: Grows well under metal halide lamps. Place 6″ from the top of plants for 12 hours each day, raising the lights as plants grow to prevent burning.
Soil: Prefers well-drained loamy soil. A pH between 6.0 and 7.5 with an ideal range of 6.5 to 6.8 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Germinate seeds in a soilless mix.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in a hydroponic media system using clay beads or rockwool.
Aeroponics: Will thrive in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water. Aim for about 1″ of water per week.
Nutrients: Requires low levels of nutrients once the plant has begun growing. Fertilizer may be added when preparing the soil. If growing outside, apply 1/4 cup of fertilizer for every 25 foot row.
Foliar: If desired, apply diluted liquid fertilizers such as fish emulsion to promote growth.
Mulching: Use mulch to suppress weeds and maintain soil moisture.
Companions: Grows well with almost all other plants as it acts as a food source for many beneficial insects and is non-competitive.
Harvest: Leaves may be harvested at any point (including the seedlings that have been “thinned”). Once a plant has reached maturity, harvest the larger leaves near the bottom of the plant. Once a plant begins to flower, it will stop producing leaves, so cutting the flowers off as they appear will help keep the plant producing leaves longer. After flowering, the seeds will begin to form. This part of the plant is commonly called coriander. You can pick them when still green and fresh, for a unique and strong flavor. Or allow them to turn brown and begin to dry on the plant, then pick stalks and fully dry the seeds hanging upside down in a paper bag. Cilantro also has a taproot that is nutritious and hearty which can be accessed by pulling up the entire plant.
Storage: Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week in a plastic bag. Optionally, place the cut ends in a jar of water (which should be changed every two days) with a plastic bag over the leaves. Store fresh green seeds in the refrigerator for 1–2 weeks. Dried seeds will keep best in an airtight container in a dry, dark, cool place. For best taste, grind as you need it.
Fun Fact: Cilantro seeds that may be around 8,000 years old have been found in caves in Israel.
Preserve: May be dried by placing stem up in a paper bag and storing in a dark, dry place. Dried cilantro loses much of its flavor. Cilantro may also be preserved by chopping or pureeing the leaves and then freezing them in either water or oil. Seeds can be used in pickling recipes as a flavoring agent.
Prepare: Commonly utilized in dishes from China, South Asia, Mexico, Indonesia, and more. To prepare, rinse the leaves to rid them of dirt and sand and gently pat dry. Can be used as a garnish or cooked within a dish. Seeds are commonly used dried and ground and have a very different flavor from the leaves.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin(s) A, C and K. The seeds have been found to contain calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese and dietary fiber.
Medicinal: Rich in antioxidants and also possesses anti-bacterial proprieties. Its oil has been cited as being effective in reducing aches and pains when applied to the skin.
Warnings: Can increase skin-sensitivity to sunlight.
Don’t be frustrated when your cilantro bolts and goes to seed. Make this Coconut Lemon Coriander Ice Cream to celebrate!