Growing fresh cilantro is a great way to add flavor to a number of meals, and it's easy to do in your own backyard. Cilantro, also known as coriander, is a popular herb frequently seen in Mexican, Thai, and Middle Eastern foods. When the leaves are used, it is called cilantro. The seeds are called coriander, and do not taste anything like the leaves.
Fresh cilantro (Coriandrum sativam) is an annual, so it will not survive after one growing season. However, the plant propagates well from seed. Use potting soil and egg cartons or small containers to germinate the seeds if starting your plants indoors. Once the seedlings are about three inches high, you can transplant outside.
If you begin planting in an outdoor garden, place the seeds about 1/4 of an inch deep in rich soil that drains well. Be sure the threat of frost has passed before planting; otherwise cilantro will freeze and die. Cilantro prefers full sun but can tolerate a bit of shade, if necessary. Unlike some herbs, cilantro needs good nutrients in the soil to survive. Fertilizers are not necessary; just add mulch or a layer of potting soil to your garden. Be careful about placing the seeds too close to each other; about six inches apart is ideal. You'll see mature plants within a few weeks.
Cilantro's life cycle is short. The leaves are ready for harvesting within three weeks of planting and the plant goes to seed within six weeks. When harvesting cilantro leaves, pinch the stem off just above the ground. Alternatively, you can pull the plant up, roots and all. Be careful not to disturb neighboring plants that are not ready for harvest.
Allow some plants to go to seed. Cilantro easily spreads and will propagate on its own. You can, however, harvest seeds. Wait until the seed head forms after blooming. Pluck the head as it turns brown or harvest the entire plant to dry. If you hang the plants to dry, be sure to wrap a plastic bag, poked full of holes, around the plant's base so you can catch the ripe seeds as they fall.
Keep the soil moist; this herb loves daily watering. Make sure your soil drains well and has a sandy base. If cilantro becomes water-logged it will die. You'll know if this is happening because the plant's leaves turn yellow and look sickly. Because of cilantro's short growing cycle, be sure to replant new seeds as you harvest mature plants.
There's nothing like fresh cilantro to spice up your food. This tasty herb is responsible for adding the extra zing to salsa, Pad Thai, curries, and bean soups. Like other fresh herbs, such as chives or parsley, cilantro should not be heated. Add chopped or whole leaves as the final garnish before serving your dish.
Cilantro's flavors are best kept by freezing. If you wish to preserve the herb, wash it, pat dry with paper towels and store in plastic baggies in your freezer. Cilantro will last for about four months when frozen, and about one week in the refrigerator.