Coriander is the king, the queen and everything in-between of root-to-bloom plants, as it is edible in every sense. Polarising and prolific, every part of this plant can be used… and no, back off haters, we’re not using it as hand-soap. From the foliage to the pungent green seeds that signal its imminent decline, no part of coriander needs to go to waste. Even if you’re frustrated due to the lack of foliage success, a simple shift in perspective will broaden your culinary horizons. From palpable mild stems, to intense roots and seasonal flowers, this plants is a one-stop shop for ingredients. It’s crowning glory though, has to be its sweet green seeds which when dried, become one of the world’s most popular spices.
Coriander can sometimes feel like a tumultuous relationship that you keep going back to. But have you ever considered that maybe coriander is not the difficult partner we make it out to be, rather it always seems to be dating absolute duds? That’s right, we need to stop trying to change coriander, and rather try to understand it better.
The first part in getting to know coriander is understanding when to plant it. Despite some marketing attempts to promote ‘slow bolting’ varieties, the fact is that when you plant it in summer and the warmer parts of spring, all varieties will want to bolt to seed. Planting just before, or even in, the cool of early winter is a time suited to this herb. Make sure that if you're planting when conditions are cold, some overnight protection from frost. Even a plastic bottle sitting over the top of a young seedling will be of great help. Once the soil heats up and the plant is deprived of moisture, it is quick to bolt to seed, producing pungent flower heads and, later, it’s sought after green seeds.
Most people in the patch grow coriander for its leaf foliage, where nitrogen is most in demand. Compost with some cow manure integrated into a free draining soil (or simply good quality potting mix if planting in pots) will meet its initial needs, but for sustained foliage growth we recommend monthly feeds with fish fertilizer to keep the good times rolling.
Water is important in maintaining a stable relationship, so keep the soil moist. We have found that coriander is perfectly suited to wicking beds that draw from a reservoir of water below to moisten the soil and keep it that way. Lack of water will stress it out, and yep.....regardless of whether this is a slow bolting variety, it will bolt to seed.
Temperatures will dictate how quickly the plant will grow, but approximately a month in and you should have a thin green blanket of coriander. Two months in and it should be time to harvest. Coriander leaves are very delicate and have a particularly short shelf life once harvested. It is best to pick from the ground, leaving the roots intact, and store in a cup of fresh water in the refrigerator. If you are just picking the leaves, remember to leave enough foliage on the plant to help keep production rolling. Coriander isn’t a plant that will burst into a glut stage and inundate you with produce - like parsley so often does - so if your demand is high you will need to consider growing multiple plants.
The herb will continue to produce for another couple of months, before it reaches its final form, SEEDS INCOMING! As an annual plant it will only last a season, but this is yet another opportunity to appreciate the plant rather than become frustrated with it. As the plant bolts to seed, flower heads will inevitably develop. To the discerning cook this presents an exciting opportunity as coriander flowers are more pungently flavoured than the foliage. As you pick the flowers, it will encourage more along, but a month down the track - and with your plant a leggy mess - it is time to give set your eyes on the next stage of production: the seed.
By this stage your plant may have given into aphids - its preferred pest - but this won’t affect the development of seeds. Allow the pods to semi-dry on the plant (the rest done in a cool, dry place post picking) before adding them to your spice rack. Seeds are most pungent and flavourful when fresh and green, however dried seeds will store better for up to 1 year. As the flavours quickly diminishes once crushed, it is best to use whole seeds or grind just before using.
To us, it doesn’t matter what side of the coriander fence you sit on. You’ll either love the plant for all it has to offer from root to bloom, or be looking through the fence in envy mumbling to yourself, “damn that plant has so much to offer.”