Cilantro to Coriander: Growing an Herb I Once Despised

cilantro

I want to love cilantro. I really do. Growing herbs is a huge passion of mine. My garden is full of herbs that I use for cooking, for creating herbal tea blends, for supporting pollinators, and for adding fragrance and beauty to my garden. It’s rare that I meet an herb I don’t adore, but cilantro is the exception. 

Many people I know love the taste of cilantro and pile it on their tacos or add tons of it to their salsa. But I cannot stand it! Even walking by it in the garden, I detest the smell it puts off. I learned several years ago that there is a scientific reason for this hatred of cilantro.  

Studies have revealed there may be a gene that is responsible for a person’s sensitivity to a chemical called aldehyde which gives cilantro its distinct flavor.  Last year while working on a family geneology project, that was confirmed by Ancestry.com in my DNA profile!

I also learned that there are other haters out there.  It’s not just me.  There’s even an “IHateCilantro.com Github site dedicated to how awful it is.  Even Julia Child hated cilantro and said in an interview once, “I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor.” 

Despite my aversion to the flavor, I do grow this herb for other reasons and include it every year in my herb garden.  Here’s why.

Cilantro flowering
Cilantro bolts quickly and goes to seed fast in warm weather.

Remember: Seeds Transform into Spices

Note: In many cultures, the word “coriander” refers to the entire plant, but in North America many refer to the plant as “cilantro” and the seeds as “coriander.” Cilantro is the Spanish word for coriander.  So for the purposes of this article, I will refer to the leaf as cilantro and the seed as coriander.

One of the reasons I continue to grow cilantro is that it bolts and goes to seed fast in my hot zone 7 garden. Fast bolting is not an advantage you often think of when growing an edible plant.  But with cilantro, those seeds are the delicious spice we know as coriander.  

And while the flavor and scent of cilantro leaves makes me gag, the flavor of crushed coriander is different. The seeds have this unique warm, spicy citrus flavor that’s hard to describe, but anytime I taste coriander in a dish, I instantly recognize it.  I use this seed to cook with, to make spice blends, and as a part of my pickling spice. 

Coriander seed in spice jar
I collect and save coriander seed from my cilantro plants. They taste much better than cilantro leaf especially when toasted and ground up with other spices like cumin.

Cilantro Seeds - AKA Coriander

The seeds are easy to harvest.  After the plant bolts, flowers will appear.  A short time later, the flowers will start to form small, round green pods.  These pods are the seeds.  Once my cilantro plants form seeds and the seeds turn brown, I collect them by shaking them into a paper bag or large bowl or by stripping the seeds off the stems with my fingers.  

I pick out as many stems as possible, sift the seeds in a handheld sifter to knock off dirt and debris, then collect the seeds to store whole in jars until I am ready to crush them for spice. 

When I am ready to use the seeds, I toast them whole in a warm, dry pan and then crush them with a mortar and pestle. Grinding them into a powder using a spice or coffee grinder also works well.  They don’t have to be toasted to be delicious but it does give it more depth of flavor.  

Coriander is wonderful for Asian, Indian, and Mexican food recipes as well as on roasted vegetables, grilled meat, and in soup.  The whole seeds are also part of my pickling spice I use in my homemade pickles.  Of course, I always save some of the seeds to replant cilantro in late summer for a fall crop or to plant the next spring.  Simply harvesting the seeds will also drop enough on the ground that I usually have plants sprout on their own without any effort on my part. 

cilantro seed
Harvest your own cilantro seeds for the aromatic coriander spice, a delightful addition to your homegrown spice collection

Cilantro Flowers

Another reason I love to have cilantro growing in the garden is for its flowers.  Cilantro is a cool season herb, so it does bolt fast in warm climates.  But before it goes to seed, it makes these gorgeous umbels of small, delicate white flowers.  

Cilantro flowers not only add beauty to the herb and vegetable garden, but they also attract and support many pollinators.  If you want to attract bees to your garden, try flowering herbs.  Some of the smallest little bees I have ever seen were visiting the cilantro flowers in my garden.  On a warm sunny day, a flowering cilantro plant is buzzing with bees, flies, and other tiny pollinators.  

The flowers also look great in a cut flower bouquet.  When I go out to the garden to harvest fresh flowers to display in my home or office, I always include herbs as part of the bouquet.  Herb leaves add interesting foliage, and if the herb is flowering, that’s a bonus! This is especially true with flowering cilantro.  The small white flowers of a blooming cilantro plant add a great filler to a cut flower bouquet. It reminds me of the baby’s breath that flower shops use in their bouquets.  

Cilantro flower up close
Cilantro makes small white flowers reminiscent of baby's breath. Small pollinators are drawn to them.

Well, that sums up my love-hate relationship with the herb cilantro. Of course, there is the advantage of growing something in your garden simply because others in your family love it.  My husband is a huge fan, so that’s why I started growing it in the first place.  

Discovering the other aspects of this plant was a bonus.  And while I will admit to picking it out of my food at restaurants and putting it on my husband’s plate, I may or may not have also thrown it on the floor a time or two.  Julia may have had the right idea about that! 

A jar of harvested coriander seed

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Cultivating Nature's Wisdom

I’m a nature photographer and gardener sharing how I created an ecological garden in a small suburban backyard. I also share a few tips for growing and using herbs to craft your own homegrown spice blends.

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