Spicy herb or an herbal spice?

Story and Photos by A.J. Heinsz-Bailey

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) starts life as a green rosette of fragrant, tasty leaves and with the arrival of warm weather, sends up slender, two-foot-tall stems with tiny white flowers that produce tasty seeds that we know as the spice called coriander. Cilantro is an ancient herb – coriander was mentioned in the Bible and was used by early Egyptians, Romans, and Chinese. 

To grow your own cilantro, and coriander, select a site that receives six to eight hours of sunlight and has adequate drainage – this plant does not like wet feet. This cool-season annual should be planted in the spring when the soil temperature is around 65 F. The seeds should be planted into organic-rich soil to a depth of ½ inch. Germination will occur in six to 11 days. Cilantro does best when direct seeded because it has a taproot. If transplants are used, be careful to avoid disturbing the roots. The plants should be spaced 11-13 inches apart. Cilantro can be grown in spring and late fall. Successive sowings every two to three weeks during cool weather will provide a regular supply of tasty leaves. Leaves are ready to harvest in 35 to 45 days and the seed is ready in 55 to 70 days, depending on the variety. If you leave a couple of plants in the garden they will reseed.

Spice or herb? Both! Cilantro leaves are considered an herb and the seeds are the spice coriander. Cilantro is a member of the parsley family. Cilantro is a cool-season annual that will reseed itself.

Once the seedlings are growing, make sure the soil remains moist. Avoid overwatering, which causes the leaves to yellow, and keep the foliage dry to prevent foliar diseases. Mulch to suppress weeds. The green rosettes do not like competition for nutrients.

Fertilize at least once during the growing season with 8-8-8 or 13-13-13 formulation – 1 tablespoon around the outer edges of the plant is all that is needed. Too much nitrogen will result in less-flavorful leaves.

Few insects or diseases bother cilantro. Leaf spot and powdery mildew can be prevented with proper cultural practices. Excess moisture and poor air circulation are usually the source of problems. Plants grown in a well-drained soil with good air circulation usually do not develop foliar diseases. 

Harvesting and storing cilantro is simple. Cilantro leaves can be cut at any time during their growth period, but waiting until the plant is about 6 inches tall is preferred for the health of the plant. Cut the leaf stems near the ground and leave the crown for new growth. The leaves are best used fresh because they lose most of their flavor when dried. Coriander is harvested when the seed heads begin to turn brown and crack when pressed between your fingers. Harvest on a dry day. If you wait too long, the seeds will drop into the garden. Place the cut seedpods in a paper bag to catch the seeds. Finish the ripening process by placing in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area for a few weeks. Pods can be shaken or rolled around in your hands to release the seed, which is then ready for use.

What can you make with cilantro? Salsa, pesto, curries, sauces, soups, and salads are the most common uses of the tender green leaves. Many Mexican, Asian, and Indian recipes call for the use of fresh cilantro.

When crushed, coriander seeds have a citrus-like flavor. They have been used in the making of gin and other distilled spirits. Whole, ground, or crushed seeds are used in Thai and Indian curries. The most common usage of whole coriander is in pickling spices.

Cilantro is rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, E, and K. An herb and a spice with one plant and all in 45-60 days – it’s worth a try in your garden or in a large pot.




‘Long Standing’ – great for cilantro leaves. Slow to bolt when the weather warms.
‘Sabor’ – For both foliage and coriander.
‘Caribe’ – Very vigorous and slow to bolt. Good for indoor growing.
‘Santo’ – Fast growing and great upright form for easy harvesting. Slow to bolt.
‘Slo-Bolt’ – Great dual purpose variety for home gardeners.
‘Large Leaf’ – Bred to produce foliage and slow to bolt. Growing season is longer than other varieties.



Cilantro pesto is a tasty way to utilize the lush, green leaves.


2 cups (packed) fresh cilantro leaves
½ cup pine nuts 
3 large garlic cloves, minced 
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese 
1/3 cup olive oil 
¼ teaspoon salt

In a food processor, combine cilantro, garlic, and pine nuts and puree until smooth. Add the Parmesan, oil, and salt and puree to a smooth paste. Place over hot spaghetti and serve.

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