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Cilantro, It

Cilantro, It's More Than Just A Taco Topping

Throughout the Americas, cilantro is known primarily for its use in Mexican cooking — those green chopped-up leaves on your tacos or mixed in with a really good guacamole.

But the herb Coriandrum Sativum, better known in other parts of the world as coriander, is a popular ingredient in dishes from the Mediterranean to Central Asia to India. Coriander is happy to grow in any hot area and can cross into many culinary styles in your kitchen.

A Little History

Coriander is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region, and archaeologists have found evidence of its use in Israel as early as the Neolithic Period (10000 to 2000 BC). Greeks and Romans both commonly used the herb in their dishes, and the Romans likely introduced coriander to Northwestern Europe, including Britain.

Now, coriander or cilantro is grown all over the world, from Russia to the Middle East to China to the United States. Most of the product you find in your supermarket in the U.S. of A. will say it was grown in Mexico. But that doesn't mean you can't grow your own in your garden or in pots on your deck.

Growing Coriander/Cilantro

Coriander is an annual herb that grows from seeds. The plants develop solid stems with broader lobed leaves at the base and feathery leaves at the top. As a member of the Apiaceae family, coriander is related to carrots, so those feathery leaves will look familiar when they emerge.

Coriander should be planted in loamy soil that drains well. The plants can reach a height of 3 feet and spread, so the growing directions normally suggest planting the seeds about 12 inches apart. However, if you want to use the young, delicate leaves for cooking, you can plant them closer together and keep them trimmed.

Although we said earlier that coriander loves hot weather, how you plan on using the herb will determine how hot it likes the weather. When using the leaves, for cilantro in Mexican dishes, say, then it doesn't like the really hot weather as much. Cilantro begins to flower and produce seeds when the temperature gets pretty consistently over 75 degrees, so leaf production drops off at that point. In warmer regions, you'll want to plant it in a shady area to continue leaf production as long as possible. In cooler regions, you want to choose an area that gets at least 4 hours of sun per day.

If you wish to use coriander seeds for cooking, then let the plants flower, produce fruit and dry before extracting the seeds.

Culinary Uses

If you favor Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine, you're well familiar with the use of cilantro as a garnish or in salsas and guacamole. The leaves also can be used with cooking meats and other dishes. However, the cilantro leaf loses its flavor as cooked, so it should be added in the late stages of the cooking process.

The leaves also are used in many Chinese dishes, leading to its other nickname as Chinese parsley. In fact, you can substitute cilantro for parsley in sauce recipes, such as pesto, green sauce, parsley sauce, chimichurri, etc., for a slightly different taste.

Coriander seeds will give you a much different flavor than the leaves. Seeds carry a more earthy, peppery flavor and frequently are toasted before grinding to bring out the flavor and aroma. Coriander pairs well with curry and cumin, so it's often used in Indian cuisine.

Medicinal Value

Coriander is considered an appetite stimulant as it aids in the secretion of digestive juices. Used as a tea, it is suggested for improving appetite and relieving nausea, diarrhea, flatulence and indigestion.

Coriander also has pain-relieving properties and is suggested for headaches, muscle pain, stiffness and arthritis. Coriander seeds also can be used in a poultice for direct pain relief.

Coriander is rich in phytonutrients, flavonoids and phenolic compounds. It is a great source of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, E and K, calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. Additional Information on nutrients and vitamins can be found here.

If you're ready to give this ancient herb a spot in your garden and your diet, order your seeds today.

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