Grow Your Own: Cilantro

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December 14, 2015

Scrumptious salsas, south of the border dishes, along with a variety of Asian and Indian delicacies give anyone numerous reasons to grow your own cilantro. Lots of recipes just aren’t the same without the unique zip of different parts of the cilantro plant. Admittedly, there isn’t any middle ground with this herb when it comes to taste buds. You either love it, or hate it. If you enjoy the flavor, you can’t beat the just-picked vivaciousness it adds to cuisine. While it is available dried, cilantro is at its divine 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 on a lot. It’s simple to keep a never ending supply on hand at home.

CROP BIOGRAPHY

1880s Coriander Botanical DrawingFor many people, cilantro is excitingly new and trendy. Actually, this wildly popular ingredient is as old as the hills, and used in many foods and confections we’ve been enjoying forever. Properly identified as Coriandrumsativum, this name comes from the Greek word ‘koris’ and means ‘stinky bug’. Coriander is its common name in English and many other languages, but today generally refers to the seed. The leaves are known as ‘cilantro’ in Spanish, which is how the plant got to Mexico, and why the leaves are so commonly used in Mexican food and the cuisine of other South American countries.

This is one of the few plants that all parts are edible, as well as being classed as 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 classed as an herb, and together with the roots are used in cuisines from around the world. Which plant part is favored most often, depends on what culture created the recipe.

For those who aren’t aware of it, there is a defining difference between an herb and a spice, though we use these words interchangeably today. Spices are fragrant, or aromatic parts plants that are also edible. Herbs have healing properties used for medicine, beneficial properties used in cosmetics and food preservation, along with adding great flavor to food or drink.

BENEFICIAL ELEMENTS

The earliest record of health benefits from the coriander or cilantro plant is in ancient Egypt, where it was brewed into tea as a cure for urinary tract infections, as well as made into salves and poultices. You know there is something truly special about a plant when its seeds are buried with King Tut to use in his afterlife. Cilantro tea is still used in holistic medicine today, and for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to treat disorders of the stomach. The Greeks also used the essential oils from the foliage and stems for making perfumes.

It is known to be high in antioxidants, and has antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, and has shown excellent results in treating diabetes where it lowers the blood sugar.

Cilantro is also used in the U.S. today for fighting cholesterol, and research shows it is twice as effective at killing Salmonella as gentamicin.

SEED VARIETIES & CROP PLANNING

For those who try to time outdoor garden harvest of tomatoes, jalapenos, and cilantro for the most heavenly of salsas, the heat required to finish of the peppers and tomatoes makes the plants
quickly bolt and turn into coriander. As soon as the plant begins to form flowering stems, the sought after flavor of cilantro is ruined, as the leaves become bitter tasting. This makes indoor
growing of cilantro even more valuable year around.

Coriander, like all other cultivars, has been paid great attention to by hybridizers. You will find seed varieties available that are sold as having improved flavor, and slower seed setting. Still, this annual performs best for prolonged cilantro harvest at 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 continual harvest, it is better to start new seeds about every 4-5 weeks to ensure that you have a continual supply of fresh cilantro for whipping up your favorite dishes.

All varieties of cilantro/coriander mature to about 60 cm (2 ft) tall at flowering, so be sure to have ample height for lighting adjustment as they grow.

SOWING & GROWING INFO

Crop Needs: Growing Hydroponic CilantroCilantro 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. In a greenhouse it is difficult to maintain the climate for this crop and it is prone to fungal infections. Days that are too short cause the plants to quickly thin, wither and die off, so don’t cheat your plants out of any of the required sunshine hours.

This member of the carrot family does not transplant well, so you will want to start and finish it in the same medium. The best mediums for hydroponic growing of cilantro 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. The feathery leaves are bitter, and of no value.

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 in the face of your impatience for culinary ingredients. At the same time, trimming helps to stall bolting. If you’re after both seed and leaf, plan your crop and harvest accordingly.

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 will be ‘grow’ solutions that are high in nitrogen for increasing leaves and roots as opposed to flower and fruit. If your interest in growing fresh cilantro is more business-orientated, plan on the full 6 weeks for your first crop harvest. You’ll find a good market for this fast growing herb in super fresh condition almost anywhere, especially when organically grown, which will bring the highest wholesale crop income.

[alert type=white ]This article is republished from Issue 1 of Garden Culture Magazine where it appeared under the same title. It was written by me! 🙂 [/alert]

 

Tammy Clayton

Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.
Tammy Clayton

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