Coriander, an easy to grow, pungent herb, is one of the most popular culinary herbs throughout the world. The first leaves of the plant look much like flat parsley, and is known as cilantro, but as it matures, the stalks rise high above the roots and become lacy, dark green leaves just before forming seed heads. If you let a few of the seed heads mature, chances are good that the coriander will reseed and will be one of the first herbs to show signs of life in the Spring. I bought seeds the first season and have had volunteer cilantro sprout all over the garden plot in the next growing season. The sprouts dislike being transplanted, but if you dig them up with plenty of soil around each sprout as early as you notice them, transplanting can be successful. Try not to crowd the plants. Giving coriander plenty of room to grow assures a bountiful harvest throughout the growing season.
The word Coriander is thought to have been derived from the Greek word "Koris", which means "bug", which is believed to have been used because the seeds, apparently, smell like bed bugs!
Coriander is known by several other names...Chinese Parsley, Cilantro and Pak Chee, among others. It is believed to be one of the first cultivated spices and has been used as a spice and for medicinal purposes for over 3000 years!
The Egyptians used Coriander to wine to increase intoxication and was found in the tomb of King Tut dating from 1323 B.C.
The Romans are credited for bringing Coriander to Northern Europe, where is was used in combination with cumin and vinegar to rub onto meat as a preservative.
In the Middle Ages Coriander was added to love potions and was reputed as an aphrodisiac, even being mentioned in the classic "The Arabian Nights".
Coriander is truly an international herb, being an important ingredient in the cuisines of China, South Asia, India, North Africa, Indonesia, Mexico and Spain. It is used to flavor curries, chutneys, breads, cakes, pickles, salsas, soups, salads and liqueurs.
Coriander helps digestion by stimulating the secretion of gastric juices, which in turn eases colic and flatulence. It is the primary ingredient in "Gripe Water" a tea made from the seeds used to treat babies and small children for colic. The crushed seeds, when used externally, make a great poultice to apply to sore, achy joints or rheumatic pains.
The seeds, which have a sweet, fresh aroma, especially compared to the odor of the crushed leaves, are used to distill the essential oil of Coriander. Because of the stimulating nature of this spice, it is used increase appetite which is useful in treating anorexia nervosa.
The essential oil, when mixed with sweet almond oil, makes a great massage oil for the relief of rheumatic pain due to the warming effects the oil has on the skin.
The essential oils are used commercially to flavor liqueurs such as Benedictine and Chartreuse and some gin varieties. Its primary use today is to scent soaps, toiletries and perfume.
Coriander can be harvested throughout the growing season, but care must be taken to not harvest too much from each plant. When the flowers start to set seeds, watch carefully, and snip the blossoms early as the seeds set fast and will broadcast over a much larger area than you would expect.