What is Cilantro?

One of the most widely used and loved herbs and spices in the world are derived from the same plant, Coriandrum sativum. The leaves of this plant are frequently referred to as cilantro, while the seeds are most commonly called coriander. Depending on the cuisine, the entire plant is used for the various flavours and aromas that are present in each constituent part. Loved by many and abhorred by some, this common plant is an essential ingredient in many cuisines around the world.

Originally grown around present day Greece, cilantro has been used as a culinary herb since at least 5,000 B.C. It is mentioned in Sanskrit text and the Bible. Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) used the name Coriandrum after “coris”, the Greek word for “bedbug” as it was said they both emitted a similar odour. Coriander is one of the herbs thought to have aphrodisiac qualities; the Chinese used it in love potions and in The Thousand and One Nights a man who had been childless for 40 years is cured with a coriander concotion. Spanish conquistadors introduced it to Mexico and Peru where it now commonly pairs with chilies in the local cuisine. Cilantro leaves have pungent smell described by some as “soapy” The stems also have a strong odour and flavour. Leaves and stems pair well with piquant foods, such as in the cuisines of the US Southwest, Latin America, Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, and in parts of northern Africa. Flavours are used to “lift” other flavours; they enhance and promote other pronounced flavours. Coriander roots are used often used fresh as a base flavour for Asian soups.

Cooking with Cilantro

The leaves are always used fresh. They feature in Spanish, Middle Eastern, Indian, Oriental and South American cookery. They are often sprinkled like parsley on cooked dishes, minced or puréed in sauces, soups and curries. In Thailand the root of the coriander plant is used to flavour meats, curries and soups. In Mexico and the Southwestern U.S. it is used in everything from salsas and salads to burritos or meat dishes.

Attributed Medicinal Properties

Cilantro is considered an aid to the digestive system. It is an appetite stimulant and aids in the secretion of gastric juices. The essential oils of the cilantro leaves contain antibacterial properties and can be used as a fungicide. Rich in vitamin C.

Growing Cilantro

Cilantro, is a fast growing annual reaching 12 – 24 inches tall. The entire plant including the leaves, the seeds and roots are all edible. Coriander can easily be grown in pots. Simply pick or trim fresh leaves or whole stalks as required. The leaves get a stronger and sometimes disagreeable flavour as they get older and larger. Grow in full sun. The soil should be kept moist but well drained.

Other Names

Coriander leaves (Europe, Middle East, Indian sub-continent) Cilantro (Latin America, United States) Koriandron (Greek) Yuen Sei, Yan Shi, and Fan Yan Su (China) Chinese Parsley (Asia) Dhania (Hindi) Persil arabe (French)

Scientific Name

Coriandrum sativum
Fam: Umbelliferae