One of the most surprising herbs known today is coriander. Coriander was named after the bedbug, because it emits the same unpleasant odor as its namesake. This herb is long in history, having been cultivated for over 3,000 years. Just knowing about its smell is enough to make you want to not use this fine herb, but consider this - coriander is used in perfumes and cosmetics. Knowing this makes us a bit more trusting of this interesting herb. Here, we offer up the history of coriander, it's medicinal and culinary uses, how it is grown, and how it is harvested and stored.
History of Coriander
The history of coriander goes back to ancient Egyptian times, where seeds of coriander have been found in Egyptian tombs. It is one of the first herbs mentioned in ancient scripts. Sanskrit writings dating from about 1500 BC spoke of coriander. In the Old Testament book of Exodus of the Bible, it describes manna as "being white like coriander." From Egypt, it is though that the ancient Hebrews took this herb and made it one of the bitter herbs of the ritual of Passover. There has been mention of coriander by Greek and Roman physicians, especially Hippocrates, who made medicines from the herb. Coriander was also prized as use in a Roman vinegar used to preserve meat.
The Romans spread coriander all through Europe, and it is one of the first spices to reach America.
Medicinal Uses of Coriander
Coriander is used for acid indigestion or upset stomach. The U.S. Dispensary describes it as "a rather feeble aromatic and carminative." Poultices are made from the crushed seed to relieve pain of rheumatism and arthritis. It is used in traditional Indian medicine as a diuretic. In holistic and traditional folk medicine, it is used to relieve cramps of the stomach. Today, coriander is used to mask the taste of bitter compounds in certain medications, and is used to calm the stomach from after-effects of medications.
Culinary Uses of Coriander
All parts of the coriander plant can be used in cookery. It imparts a bold sage and tangy citrus effect to many dishes in ethnic cookery. It is common in Arabic cuisine and also of great use in India, where it is used to make the spice blend garam masala. In Egypt, it is used in a traditional appetizer called dukka. In Thai cooking, the root is used to add spice to salads and relishes.
The flavor of coriander works well with beets, onions, clams and oysters, sausage and potatoes. Either whole or ground seeds are used to round out marinades and pickling brines. It gives character to eggs, cheeses, chili sauces and guacamole. Use the leaf, root or seed in marinades, tomato salads soups, stews and curries.
Coriander is available commercially both whole and ground. It is preferable in whole seed form.
How to Grow Coriander
Coriander is an annual that grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet. The stem is finely grooved and shiny. Leaves are finely divided in upper leaf and roundish and lobed in lower leaf. Depending on time of sowing, it flowers in either early spring or mid to late summer. Coriander likes a rich, light, well drained soil with a pH balance of 6.6. It does best in full sun, but grows well in partial shade.
It is best grown from seed. Sow in spring after all danger of frost in furrows 1/2 inch deep and rows 5 to 9 inches apart. The seed can be planted in the fall, and is very slow to germinate. Keep seedlings well weeded until established. Don't over fertilize - too much nitrogen produces seed that are less flavorful.
Harvesting and Storage
Harvest when leaves and flowers have turned brown, but before the seed sets. By this time, the unpleasant odor will be disappearing. Cut the whole plant and hang to dry, placing a paper or tray under the sheaves to catch the falling seed. Be sure seeds are well dried before use to avoid a bitter taste. The small immature leaves have the best flavor. Coriander leaves store poorly, but the seed stores well in airtight jars.
Tips For the Chef
Make an excellent marinade for fish by combining 1/2 teaspoon of coriander seed with 2 ground allspice berries, the juice of a lemon and some olive oil. Marinate the fish for 30 minutes and grill. Add 1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander seed to the batter of gingerbread or banana bread. Use the leaves in a relish for poultry or lamb.
Coriander is a good herb to grow in any herb garden. It is fairly easy to grow, needs little care outside of weeding, and is very useful in the kitchen. Plan on planting coriander in your herb garden this spring.
Alden Smith is an award winning author and regular contributor to DoItYourself.com. He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.