Cilantro leaves play a starring role in Mexican and Asian cuisine. Not everybody likes the flavor of the leaves, but lots of people do. The seeds of the plant can be dried and used as a different seasoning called coriander. Even the root of the plant gets used; recipes usually refer to it as “coriander root”.
Plant cilantro seeds directly into the garden after the last frost. The plants quickly develop a tap root so they are not suitable for transplanting. It might take a couple of weeks for the seeds to germinate if the soil is cool, but once the weather warms up, the plants grow fast. Don’t give cilantro any fertilizer, but amend the soil with compost before planting. Like any leafy plant, cilantro will tolerate a little shade, but prefers full sun.
Pinch the stems back and begin using the leaves as soon as possible. This will help keep the plants from going to flower too quickly. Cilantro typically goes from seed to flower in about 60 days – even sooner if the weather is hot. Once the plant begins to flower, the flavor of the leaves changes and becomes bitter. If you use a lot of cilantro, you might want to harvest the entire plant when it gets to be about 8 inches tall and then simply replant. Sow a pinch of cilantro seeds every three weeks during the season to maintain a continuous supply of tender leaves. Look for “bold-resistant” cilantro varieties, which are more heat tolerant.
Cilantro is easy to grow and self-sows freely. Plant it once, let a few of the plants go to seed, and it will be back the following year. Unlike most herbs, cilantro leaves lose their distinctive flavor when dried. They’re best enjoyed fresh, though the leaves can also be chopped and frozen in a freezer bag.
To harvest coriander, let the plants flower and set seed, which takes about 12 weeks. When ripe, the seeds are brown and will quickly start falling off the plants. Using a pair of scissors, cut off the entire plant and place it upside down in a paper bag. Shake it and the seeds will fall off into the bag.