Yarb Tales - Cilantro Leaf and Coriander Seed
July 4, 2016

The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.

Cilantro leaf and coriander seed are produced by the cool season annual, Coriandrum sativum. Just last week, in the Kitchen Garden, there were large stands of it in shades of gold and brown, just ripening its seed. To the uneducated eye, it looked like the garden was in need of weeding, but in fact, a very important process was coming to fruition.

Cilantro, like lettuce and spinach, is a cold season crop. When hot weather sets these annuals bolt—they stop growing large, tender leaves—becoming a bit pungent and less aromatic. The plants bolt upward towards the sun, producing fine foliage on waist-high stalks, then burst into delicate, white, lacy,  flat-topped, blooms. Pollinators and beneficial predators visit the blossoms for sweet nectar; every breeze shakes the unmistakable scent of cilantro into the garden. When pollination is complete the flowers form clusters of plump green seeds. Both flowers and green seeds are edible with the inimitable flavor of the cilantro leaf and hints of citrus. Use green cilantro seeds the same way that you would use the leaves, only mash or chop the seeds before putting them in salsa, beans or sauce.
Botanically speaking, the pods are non-fleshy fruits correctly called schizocarps. There are two mericarps in each schizocarp. Each mericarp contains a seed. The schizocarps are the spice known as coriander. The seeds take their time to cure and ripen. When the schizocarps are brittle, dry and have turned tan, they are ready for harvest.
On a dry, sunny day cut the flower stalks into a paper bag or clean 5-gallon plastic bucket. The fruits can then be rubbed off of the stems. Pick out insects and foreign material before storing the seeds at room temperature in a closed, labeled container. Be sure to include the date and all pertinent information on the label. The coriander seeds can be used in the kitchen, ground and added to everything from beans and grains to salsas, bread, muffins and cakes. The flavor is enhanced by lightly toasting the seeds in an iron skillet before crushing and adding to dishes.
Those of us who are eating fresh tomatoes and chiles from the garden want cilantro leaves now, during the heat of the summer. This can be accomplished by sowing cilantro in the shade of tomato plants every two-to four weeks. When the young plants appear, quickly cut and use them as they will want to bolt right away. Repeated plantings will provide enough tasty leaves for fresh use and canning. Plant a large patch of the seeds in August to have cilantro for the chile harvest and through most of the winter and as a seed crop next summer. If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture!