Grow Your Own: Cilantro
December 14, 2015
Need a reason to grow your own cilantro? How about scrumptious salsas, south of the border dishes, and a variety of Asian and Indian delicacies? Many recipes aren’t the same without the unique flavor cilantro provides.
While it is available dried, cilantro tastes best freshly snipped from the plant. Within hours of being cut, fresh cilantro loses a great deal of flavor, so if you’re purchasing it by the bunch in the produce aisle, you’re already missing out. It’s simple to keep a never-ending supply on hand at home.
All parts of this plant are edible and it is considered to be both an herb and a spice.
Dried coriander seeds are a spice derived from the sweetly fragrant, lacy flower heads that are used ground or whole in cooking, baking, and preserving.
The pungent leaves and stems are an herb, and together with the roots, are used in cuisines from around the world.
Cilantro was first used as a medicine in ancient Egypt, where it was brewed into tea as a cure for urinary tract infections. It was also made into salves and poultices.
Its seeds are even buried with King Tut to use in his afterlife!
Traditional Chinese medicine used it to treat disorders of the stomach. The Greeks also used the essential oils from the foliage and stem for making perfumes.
High in antioxidants, cilantro also has antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, and has shown excellent results in treating diabetes because it lowers the blood sugar.
SEED VARIETIES & CROP PLANNING
Growing cilantro outdoors can be challenging, as intense heat causes the plant to bolt and turn into coriander. As soon as the plant begins to form flowering stems, the flavor of cilantro is ruined, as the leaves become bitter tasting.
Growing cilantro indoors is the perfect solution!
Some coriander seed varieties claim to have improved flavor and slower seed-setting. But this annual performs best in cooler temperatures, so be sure to make note of this inherent trait.
Pinching back flower stems buys you a little more foliage harvest time, but not much. For a continual harvest, it is better to start new seeds every 4-5 weeks.
All varieties of cilantro/coriander mature to about 60 cm (2 ft) tall at flowering. Be sure to have ample height for lighting adjustment as they grow.
SOWING & GROWING INFO
Cilantro is a great candidate for indoor gardening with its hardy constitution, minimal light requirements, and preference for lower ambient temperatures.
With good grow lighting, you can enjoy great success in potting soil, but it is also a simple crop for hydroponic containers, and Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) or drip irrigation systems.
This member of the carrot family does not transplant well, so start and finish it in the same medium. The best mediums for growing cilantro hydroponically are high quality free-draining soilless mixes or sterile media.
Seeds start best at 20°C – 24°C (68°F-75°F) and will germinate in 5-7 days. Cilantro is best started misting the medium twice a day, and keeping the container in a covered germinating tray, or sealed plastic bag.
Maintain full sun lighting for 12-14 hours each day. Plants are ready for your drip irrigation, or NFT hydroponic system when the seedlings are 2-3 inches tall. The plant’s preferred daytime temperature is 24°C (68°F), and 15.5°C (60°F) at night with no more than 75% humidity and a minimum of 11 hours of sunlight a day.
Higher grow room temperature brings bolting rapidly. You want only the immature parsley-like leaves for cooking. Once the feathery leaves that precede bolting appear, you might as well allow it to produce seed.
Controlling the heat that causes cilantro to quickly bolt into the seed setting process is much easier to accomplish with lighting versus outdoor summer temperatures. This plant does very well under standard fluorescent or high output fluorescent lights and High-Intensity Discharge (HID) grow lights.
With the thin leaf structure and hot HID lights, you will need a fan with the power to circulate air rapidly enough to prevent over-heating of your crop. The last thing you want after successfully producing great plants is to burn the uppermost foliage.
Nutrients for cilantro are ‘grow’ solutions high in nitrogen for increasing leaves and roots as opposed to flower and fruit.
You can expect good harvesting in 4-6 weeks. If you can’t wait that long to whip up some salsa, you can begin cutting as early as you have about 6 inches of leaf and stem available. The plants will continue to generate new stems. Just don’t expect them to grow thick and full. At the same time, trimming helps to stall bolting. If you’re after both seed and leaf, plan your crop and harvest accordingly.
Last updated by Catherine Sherriffs on 04/30/2020.
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