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The Dual Purpose Herb You Should Be Growing

DawnIt's a fresh herb, a salad inclusion, a meat accompaniment, a drink garnish and a salsa requirement. But wait, a few months later and it becomes not only the start to new life to repurpose the entire cycle again but also a second culinary delight that brings to mind exotic dishes from faraway lands. What is this magical plant that I am referring to? Coriandrum sativum, better known to most as cilantro or coriander.

Cilantro ... mmmm. I am aware that this is one of those herbs that creates a strong reaction in people, they love it or they hate it, not too many in between. My love for it probably came from the time I spent living in Mexico and drowning in fabulous cuisine peppered with this culinary delight. Regardless, you should be growing this herb because the little-known fact of the matter is, it is the only one I am aware of that is a dual purpose herb.

Cilantro leaves

What do I mean by "dual-purpose"? This herb is one that is a 2 in 1 delight. When the plant first emerges and begins its journey into true leaf existence it is called cilantro. Pungent and flavorful it is a member of the parsley family but is called different things depending on the point in the life cycle you harvest it. It becomes coriander later in the cycle, another well-known culinary delight. In addition cooks in Thailand favor the roots of the coriander plant for use in making some of the finest curries.

It is originally native to the Mediterranean; you will also find it in Thai and Chinese cuisine as well as Hispanic and Indian dishes. Interestingly enough, this herb is so well known that it is even mentioned in the Bible. Ancient Romans used the herb to preserve meat and it can also be steeped as a tea. Cilantro is said to have stomach soothing properties that when consumed in large quantities, offers a significant source of Vitamins A and C.

Okay, so back to the dual purpose idea, when the plant is new and relatively low to the ground (6-8 inches in height) it is the delicious cilantro. However, what happens is that it will "bolt" in the heat of the summer. This means that it goes to flower as the plant prepares to change to its seed form, a self-propagating wonder. Once the stalks rise well above 12-18 inches the plant leaves change to a more carrot top looking spindly type and they begin to flower.

Cilantro beginning to bolt

From this point on the cilantro begins to take on a very bitter taste and is not, at least in my book, edible any longer. The plant will continue to dry out and the little flower buds will change to hard, round, brown seeds. This is coriander, a spice used in cooking as well, either whole or ground. The beauty of it all is that you can either harvest the coriander for your culinary use or save it for planting again next year.


NOTE: Wherever you plant this herb it is likely to perform like a perennial, meaning because it self seeds it will come back year after year. Even the most diligent gardener is usually unable to harvest EVERY seed that drops to the ground so you again have the dual purpose advantage of a re-seeding plant as well as a second herb to use, coriander.

Want to learn more about natural living, herbs, gardening and the like? Stop on by and say hello on my blog Incidental Farmgirl. I look forward to a visit real soon!

- Incidental Farmgirl