Coriander is an extremely versatile herb plant. It is not only an excellent spice for numerous dishes, but also makes a good figure as a medicinal herb. The leaves and as well the seeds or fruits are used very differently in the kitchen. However, not everyone likes the smell or taste of the herb, which is sometimes known as (black) bugbane.
Profile of Coriander:
Scientific name: Coriandrum sativum
Plant family: umbellifer
other names: cilantro [Am.]
Sowing time / Planting time: March – April; April – June (see sowing)
Flowering period: June – August
Harvest time: before flowering or after flowering
Location: sunny to partially shaded, sheltered from the wind
Soil quality: rich in nutrients and loose soil
Use as a medicinal herb: loss of appetite, indigestion, irritable bowel, insomnia, rheumatism
Use as aromatic herb: asian dishes, meat, coconut soups, salads
Plant characteristics and classification of coriander
Origin and distribution of coriander
The exact area of origin of coriander is unknown. However, due to various plant characteristics as well as historical findings, it is believed that the popular herb comes from the Mediterranean area. Older records indicate that the plant originates from southeastern Europe, where it has commonly grown wild between crop plants.
Since cilantro is easy to cultivate and to multiply, today the plant can be found in markets of many continents. Large growing areas are among others in Central America, North Africa and southern Asia (including Thailand). Coriander can be found wild today in Armenia and Israel, but also in some parts of Thuringia, where it even has formed its own subspecies.
Systematic classification of Coriandrum sativum
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is a typical species from the large herb family of Umbelliferae (Apiaceae). Other known representatives of this plant family are for example dill, tarragon or wormwood. The genus Coriandrum contains only two species. In addition to the genuine coriander, there is the species Coriandrum tordylium, which occurs almost exclusively in some countries of Asia Minor.
As the plant is one of the most popular herbs worldwide, numerous varieties have evolved in cultivation. Known coriander cultivations are i.a.
- Caribe (fast-growing universal variety)
- Cilantro (aroma-rich leaf coriander)
- Jantar (sweet-tasting variety from Russia)
- Thuringian (grows slightly in the Central European climate)
Note: The Vietnamese cilantro (Persica odoratum) has no relationship with coriander, even if the aroma and scent are quite similar.
Characteristics of the coriander
Coriander is a typical annual herb that can reach heights of growth between 30 and 130 cm (12 and 51 inches) depending on the site conditions. The root of the plant has a light brown to almost whitish main root with only a few lateral roots. On closer look, the coriander root is reminiscent of the roots of parsley or wild carrots. The whole plant smells very noticeable due to the aromatic essential oils. Furthermore, a slight bug-like odor can be detected.
The leaves of coriander have a different shape depending on age. While the older coriander leaves are typically fragile and distinctly notched, the young leaves appear round and slightly stilted. They have a distinctly rich green to light green color. The bottom of the leaves is usually characterized by a wax-like layer. The hollow stem is slightly ribbed, stands upright and has a green color that can turn reddish-purple at the time of flowering. The stems usually form numerous side stems, so that the coriander looks very branched.
During flowering, which usually lasts from the beginning of June to the middle of August, the coriander produces typical umbellifers. Each individual flower contains five white to cream-colored petals, which contain about three to five pink to rarely white flower stigmas.
After flowering, the characteristic spherical light brown coriander fruits are produced, which usually have a diameter between 4 and 6 mm (0.15 to 0.24 inches). They also contain the yellow-brown to light-brown seeds, which have a rather citrus-like scent in contrast to the leaves.
Sowing and care of coriander
Coriander is a very popular spice and medicinal herb, which is now planted by many gardeners or herbal enthusiast. If you pay attention of all care instructions and peculiarities of the herb, the cultivation is not very difficult. Likewise it is considered a very robust and relatively tolerant plant.
Basically, coriander can be planted in many locations. Optimal are sunny and sheltered locations. However, coriander grows relatively well even in partially shaded spots, even if the plant usually does not bring up quite that many flavors. The plant prefers a nutrient-rich, rather loose soil with good storage capacity. Very sandy soils are therefore rather disadvantageous because only little moisture can be kept and the soil temperatures are usually too low. In this cases, the soil should be thoroughly mixed with compost and bentonite (clay powder) and some fine-grained vermiculite. For pot crops, herbal soil can be used, which may be chalked depending on the manufacturer (pH-value should be over 6). Even light sand (best pumice sand or lava sand) are beneficial.
The timing of sowing depends on the purpose. If you want to use the leaves of the coriander is desired, the plant can be sown between mid-April and mid-June. If you want to use the seeds of the plant as a spice, then the period from late March to late April is recommended. Surely if the coriander seeds are seeded too late, the seeds can not or not fully mature.
The seeds can be put directly in the field at a distance of at least 25 cm (19 inches) to each other. Even a culture in pots for cultivation is easily possible, so the coriander can grow on the balcony. The seeds germ in dark! Therefore, press the seeds at least 1.5 cm (0.6 inches) into the ground and cover with soil. Indeed the germination period is quite long and can take up to three weeks.
About two to three months later you can mix small amounts of compost under the ground. Also possible and recommended are pelleted organic fertilizers, which allow a slow but steady nutrient release, whereby here, too, about one teaspoon per plant is usually sufficient. However very nutrient-rich mineral fertilizers should be avoided as there is a risk of over-fertilization. If the coriander plant receives too much nutrients, less essential oils are produced. Pot cultures can be supplied with a good herbal fertilizer. If you want to collect the seeds, a phosphorus-rich fertilizer should be used, otherwise the herb produces insufficient flowers.
Coriander needs only a little water. Plants that are already relatively large or are about to be harvested should only be watered when a long time of intense heat has occurred. Younger plants, however, can be quietly poured a little more often, so that the soil is always slightly moist. Potted cultures, on the other hand, need to be watered a little more often because the roots can not develop properly into the depths. The soil should always be slightly moist at finger depth. Furthermore, short-term dry periods (2 to 3 days) are usually not a problem. Too frequent watering and excess moisture in the soil should always be avoided, as this limits the quality of the plant and promotes disease.
If the coriander grows in the garden bed, the soil should be loosened or weeded from time to time. Also in the herb garden, coriander should not be grown alongside other umbelliferae (eg parsley or chervil).
The leaves of the coriander can usually still be harvested in September, insofar as the sowing was done relatively late (from the end of April). Otherwise, the harvest should be done before, as the leaves lose their aroma after flowering as the plant puts all of its power for flowering and fruiting. Usually the seeds are harvested between the end of August and the beginning of September. The fruits are being harvested when they get a reddish brown shimmer. The seeds should then be dried for a few days in a place protected from wind and sun.
Since cilantro is an annual plant, no precautions need to be taken.
Coriander or v.a. Leaf coriander is best kept fresh if frozen after harvest. To freeze the following steps are necessary:
- Cutting fresh coriander stalks with leaves
- Wash the herbs and remove brown spots
- Dry dab of coriander with a kitchen towel
- Hackling the plant parts with a herb chopper
- Place the shredded leaf coriander in a suitable container (e.g., ice cube tray, plastic can)
- Fill the container with water
- Immediately place in the freezer
The shelf life of frozen coriander is several months to half a year.
Coriander and its use
In the kitchen
Coriander is one of the most versatile culinary herbs and is one of the most important herbs of Asian cuisine. The leaves of the herb, the fruits and occasionally the roots are an inherent part in the kitchen of South Asia and spice up numerous dishes. For example, coriander leaves are commonly found in Thai or Vietnamese dishes, whereas the seeds are more popular in Indian cuisine and also in the cuisine of some Arab countries.
The taste of coriander is quite unique and Europeans and Americans need getting used to. This applies especially to the leaves of the spice herb. In fact, the taste is best described as slightly bitter, spicy and sweetish. Some people even find the aroma soapy and disgusting, which may even be due to genetic factors. Cilantro fruits, on the other hand, have a more citrus-like scent and taste and contain significantly less of the soapy taste of the leaves.
When preparing food with coriander, some points should be noted. The leaves should always be added to the end of the respective dish, otherwise the essential oils evaporate too much and therefore give off only little aroma. Preferably, only fresh coriander leaves should be used. Dried coriander is almost worthless and does not come close to the fresh in terms of flavor.
Dishes and Meals
The leaves are great for Thai soups (such as Tom Yam Gun), rice noodle dishes (such as Phat Thai, Mi Krop), poultry and fish dishes, seafood or glass noodle salads. Also some Arabic foods, e.g. dishes with lentils, chickpeas or sesame paste can be rounded off very well with coriander leaves. For example, Baba Ghanoush, an Arabic specialty made from eggplant/aubergine and sesame paste, is refined with coriander. Also arabic potato dishes such as Batata harras (Lebanese cuisine) are good examples of the versatility of coriander. Many pastes or spreads are also often made with fresh leaves.
Coriander seeds or fruits, on the other hand, can be co-cooked or fried with the respective dish. Those who value quality, should take whole seeds and grind them just before cooking in a pepper mill. Especially if ground coriander is purchased, care should be taken to ensure that it has not been stored for a long time (see best-before date). Whole seeds are also used for the preparation of marinades, marinading or pickled root vegetables and cucumbers.
The seeds go perfectly well with chicken and game dishes, beef, rice dishes, bean and chili dishes or curries and fish. Well-known dishes prepared with coriander seeds are among others the Massaman curry (Thai cuisine) or Pho Ba Tai Nam (Vietnamese rice noodle soup with beef). Otherwise, the ground seeds are also suitable for the preparation of pasta such as breads or sweet pastries. For example, breads baked with ground coriander seeds and cumin will have a pleasant oriental note.
Coriander as a medicinal herb
In naturopathy coriander is known as a medicinal herb, even if it is rarely used today. The reason is simply that better medicinal plants are available for most complaints.
Coriander has been widely used as a medicinal herb in the past. In medieval herbal books (eg P. A. Matthioli) the plant was recommended as a stomach tonic, for deworming, to increase fertility or against menstrual disorders. Externally, the herb was used for wound treatment or body aches. However, it was never used fresh or the seeds, but mostly in vinegar or wine boiled.
In most naturopathic-oriented herbal books you will find little evidence of the use of coriander. However, the herb plays a major role in the traditional medicine of India and Iran, where it is mostly used for complaints in the gastrointestinal tract and insomnia.
In fact, the plant contains many medically interesting ingredients that may justify its use as a medicinal herb and may even be a solution to the more severe diseases. The seeds and leaves in particular contain numerous essential oils (mainly linalool, pinene and in smaller amounts camphor and geraniol) as well as coumarins, phenolic acids and sterols.
These secondary plant ingredients may have the following effects or healing effects on our organism:
- immune system stimulant
- flatulent (carminative)
- calming (carminative)
In naturopathy coriander is among others used for the following diseases and complaints:
- irritable bowel
- Prevention of seizures
- Joint and muscle pain
- swollen joints
Coriander plays a notably role in Ayurvedic medicine, where it was mainly used for headache, local swelling, circulatory disorders, swelling of the lymph node or stomach pain.
Some studies discuss the effectiveness of coriander in the prevention and concomitant treatment of diabetes. Responsible for this are probably the containing carotenoids, which among others ensure that insulin concentration in the blood increases and overall oxidative stress decreases. The seeds or extracts thereof are said to be medically effective.
The oil contained in the coriander shows a strong antibacterial effect against numerous bacteria. As can be seen in laboratory tests with coriander oil it was noticed that the cell membrane of the bacteria is damaged by the essential oil, which ultimately leads to cell death. Coriander seed extracts were effective in combating Salmonella bacteria in addition to bacteria such as Klebsiella and Staphylococcus aureus.
Currently, the synergistic use of colloidal silver with extracts of coriander leaves is discussed, which may possibly help against acne, dandruff and even certain breast tumor cells. In short the main focus here is on the flavonoids contained in the leaves. It is pointed out, however, that there is currently little evidence from the medical community that colloidal silver actually has any medical benefit.
Coriander is usually given in the form of teas, extracts or oils, more rarely in ointments or powders. For medicinal purposes, although the seeds or fruits are usually used because they have higher levels of the active ingredients. In principle, however, the leaves can also be used, which usually have a slightly milder effect. For the preparation of a coriander tea about 2 grams (0.07 oz) of coriander seeds are crushed and doused with 200 ml (6.8 US fl.oz) of scalding-hot water. The tea should last at least 10 minutes before being drunk in small sips. If the tea is to be taken for gastrointestinal problems, it is advisable to take the drink during or after meals.
Buy Coriander – What to pay attention to?
The coriander is very popular with many people, which is reflected in the market by numerous coriander products. For the cultivation of the plant in the garden or on the balcony many seed manufacturers offer many different varieties. Depending on whether coriander leaves or seeds are the aim of the cultivation, you should pay close attention to the variety and cultivation conditions (especially sowing time).
In supermarkets, hardware stores and plant centers, it is quite common to buy fresh leaf coriander. Highly-bred discount products are often inferior in terms of quality and are only suitable for rapid use. Poor quality is often shown by light green coloration, slightly yellowed leaves or not so good looking plants. Mostly, the coriander plants are not suitable for repotting. However, some plant markets as well as numerous online retailers offer quite healthy and good-looking plants that can easily be brought to flowering.
Anyone looking for the healing power of the coriander can purchase finished products in pharmacies or online. Most coriander products are over-the-counter and therefore are not subject to any special or simplified regulations. For gastrointestinal complaints, some manufacturers offer drops or extracts that are taken directly. Also tablets and tea blends are sometimes offered.
When buying coriander seeds, which are used for seasoning or preparing teas, it is advisable to buy those that are flavor-packed and lightproof.