Plant Description

Coriandrum sativum

Coriandrum sativum

This cold-hardy Mediterranean annual herb (ht 50 cm), called coriander (or cilantro in North America) has very distinctive aromatic foliage and belongs to the Apiaceae family of plants. Its lush green leaves are rather fern-like and decorative. The leaves are widely used in a variety of cuisines, including Indian, Moroccan, Thai and Mexican dishes. However, not everyone appreciates the musty, curry-like taste of this herb! To some people the leaves taste uncannily like soap - and it is possible that there is a genetic underpinning to this reaction.

If allowed to flower, coriander produces umbels of dainty white flowers, followed by spherical seeds, which are used in cooking. The flowers attract beneficial insects to the garden, so it can be a good idea to let a few plants fulfil their strong desire to bloom, and they are rather attractive: like miniature Queen Anne's lace flowers! Though the leaves on the flowering stems are smaller than on the rest of the plant, they still taste the same and can be eaten. In some recipes, the fleshy tap-like root is used as well. Fresh coriander seeds also have a pleasant taste, apparently; though they are generally harvested when they start to change colour, and dried completely on a rack before storing.

In the Sydney climate, coriander is best grown through the cooler months, as it does tend to bolt too quickly to seed in the warmer seasons, though this can be slowed down to some extent by growing it in part-shade in summer. It is best to sow the seed directly into the ground in late summer. The herb grows best in light, fertile, well-drained soil in a fairly sunny spot. It needs sufficient water to stop it running to seed too quickly. It can be a lot cheaper to buy the seeds in bulk from a supermarket (in the spice aisle) rather than from small packets sold in a nursery! It is possible to carefully transplant seedlings from a punnet, though the plants probably will never be as robust as those grown from seed planted straight into the ground. Planting a few crops several weeks apart will ensure a plentiful supply. It can be grown successfully in a tub, and can also be tried as a microgreen crop. There is a plant known as Mexican coriander (Eryngium foetidum), said to be perennial and having a stronger taste than the annual coriander. I have yet to have any luck propagating this one.

This plant is grown from seed.


Coriandrum sativum
Flowers in November.
Plant Family: Apiaceae