Cilantro is the leafy, upper portion of the plant known as Coriandrum sativum. The coriandrum sativum plant also produces a well-known spice, coriander, from its seed. Because the plant is harvested for either the herb or spice, it is alternatively referred to as either cilantro or coriander plant within horticultural literature. Dried coriander and raw or cooked cilantro are most commonly used to flavor cooking. Cilantro is an annual herb. Like all annuals, it completes its life cycle and dies within one growing season.
Annuals Versus Perennials
Annual herbs, such as cilantro, basil and dill, will only live one year. Perennial herbs, including mint, rosemary and thyme, usually live between 3 to 5 years. Both types of herbs are commonly grown in the ground, though annual herbs are slightly more likely to be found growing in container pots. Annuals are mostly propagated by seed. Perennials often begin life as a cutting.
By definition, a herb is any plant used entirely or in part as an ingredient for medicine, fragrance or to enhance cooking flavor. The entire cilantro plant is considered edible. The flavor of leaves and stems is reminiscent of citrus-infused parsley. It is used to flavor soups, stews and sauces. Coriander, with its zesty citrus overtones, is used to flavor sauces, cakes, drinks or meats. It is also used as a potpourri scent. Medicinally, parts of the cilantro plant are thought to help digestive problems, such as flatulence and diarrhea.
Cilantro plants grow in full sun to partial shade. They prefer light sandy and medium loamy soils with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5. Proper soil drainage is a critical component of herb-growing success. All herbs require well-drained soil. Cilantro can be grown indoor or outdoors, in a container or planted in the ground. Cilantro grows well under growing lights. For best results, use high-output fluorescent, high-intensity discharge or compact fluorescent growing lights.
Cilantro is best seeded in early spring following any final spring frosts. Cilantro plants produce small clusters of white, purple-tinged, flowers during June through July. The flowers will form green seeds that turn brown and aromatic when mature. Wait until plants are 4 to 6 inches tall before harvesting any cilantro. Sparingly gather leaves as needed. Harvest seeds as they become ripe, during August or September.