Coriander / Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) - Annual


Coriander is a delicate annual herb with several branches and lacy leaves with jagged edges belonging to the carrot family. Native to South Europe and Asia, this aromatic beautiful herb is found in many parts of the world. Coriander's leaves called cilantro is used as seasoning in curry's, salads and soup and its dried ripe spherical seeds mostly in powder form is slightly roasted and used as curry powder in dishes, to flavour cakes, cookies, alcoholic beverages such as gin etc. This fragrant spice also has its own medicinal properties. Oil of Coriander seeds is a valuable ingredient in perfumes.

Coriander plant grows fast to a height of 1 to 3 feet with a spread of 9 inches. It has branched pale green shoots with fan shaped bright, green leaves with jagged edges. The flowers are small and pinkish- white, formed in clusters that will ripen into coriander seeds. The aromatic seeds are round yellowish brown in colour when ripe. The strongly flavoured leaves, the seeds and shoot are all edible.

Propagation and Planting
The propagation of coriander is through seeds. Seeds can be sown directly in the garden or in a container or pot.  Plant the seeds 1/2" to 1" deep, 2-3 feet apart in rows and rows should be 15" apart. Coriander traditionally germinates very slowly and can take as long as 21days to emerge. Ensure regular watering and that the soil is warm enough for speedy germination.

The plant prefers well drained loamy soils rich in organic matter with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Soil should not be too rich with organic matter as too much nitrogen lessens the flavour. The plant requires partial shade but fairly high temperature and sufficient water. The plant can be kept in full sun but must be shaded during the heat of day to protect against sunscald. Too much heat can damage the fruit. They need a long season to ripen, so choose an early variety. 

Coriander leaves can be picked when the plant is immature i.e. only a few inches tall. Fresh tender leaves have better flavour. But seeds ripen only after a long season say about 2 1/2 months before they are ready to be picked. Harvest seeds when fruits turn brown and before they shatter. Mature or ripe fruits have a distinct spicy aroma. Leave the seed heads in a dry airy place for 2-3days. Shake off the seeds and store for later use.

Problems and Care
Several commonly occurring root diseases, such as damping off and seedling rot, can infect coriander seedlings. Symptoms include yellowing and death of newly emerged seedlings. Seeds chosen must be clean and healthy. The best protection against diseases is to choose resistant healthy varieties and to rotate crops as much as possible. It is important to use clean seed to reduce the risk of seedling diseases. Crop rotations will help to prevent the build up of diseases.

Weed build up is another problem which limits coriander production. Spray three to four times per season to control weeds. Grasshoppers are an insect pest in coriander as their heads and other body parts can contaminate the grain sample and cause downgrading or rejection. Leaf hoppers also can spread aster yellows disease which can make the plants sterile. Attempts should be made to prevent the spread of leaf hoppers into the crop area. Stems of coriander are weak and the plant may require staking.