I started growing coriander because of my food waste aversion. As I cook a lot of Vietnamese and Thai dishes, the leaves of a coriander plant (or cilantro in American), is often needed but not in a substantial quality. The fragile foliage doesn’t keep well in the fridge, though. After three or four days, coriander leaves might not have gone black and mushy but are likely to lose their signature smell.
One day a few years ago, after throwing away so many half-used, supermarket-packed coriander bunches, I decided it was enough.
The first transition was to buy coriander pots from the supermarket. They did last a bit longer but hardly over a week. Ian told me that those containers were designed to give shoppers the maximum leaves in the smallest areas. They look like they offer good value for your money, but that’s all. You often can’t keep grow those plants. It’s a good job I married a country boy, right?
My problem was left half-solved.
One day, on the spur of the moment, I bought a big plastic pot and some soil from my local florist and repotted a supermarket pot. Somehow, the plants flourished. Perhaps it’s my beginner’s luck as later when I started to read all the gardening guides, they often say corianders don’t take repotting well and usually bolt to flowering.
I put the repotted pot out on our balcony, watered it and untangled the fragile branches after each windy day. They grew taller, thicker and so fragrant that I decided coriander was my new black.
I went back to the florist, got some more soil and cheap plastic pots. The seeds I bought from the supermarket, nothing’s fancy. That’s how it all started.
My corianders aren’t always strong and healthy. Many died before reaching 20 cm high. Some didn’t exactly give me as many leaves as I hope for, but all in all, growing coriander gives me so much joy and allows me to be more spontaneous with cooking and more generous with garnishing my stir-fries, noodles, salads and so on.
Care for Pot Corianders
Most plants need sunlight and water, but the specific details depend on where you live and how much space you have. I’m growing coriander in the temperate area of Northern Europe. It means a sunny and fairly warm summer, a wet and cold autumn but little snow over the winter. I put my coriander plants in medium-sized, plastic pots so that I can move them indoors when the weather is too cold, wet and windy, which is not uncommon in this seaside town.
Coriander likes the sun, but it can bolt and start flowering if it’s too hot. Some shade in the afternoon is good if you want bigger foliage.
Most coriander seed packages would tell you to space the seeds out every 12-15 cm. I don’t do that really. I feel like the coriander plants are too small and fragile and they would be lonely being so far from each other. I usually spare 5-8 cm in between each seed.
This term sounds dreadful, but all it means is that you should cut off the top of a plant when the leaves grow smaller and flower buds appear. People do this to prevent seeding and prolong the leave harvesting period.
In my experience, when a plant starts to show the sign of wanting to flower, it’s not much you can do to stop it. My plants do this randomly as well, not depending on how old they are or the conditions they are in.
I found it’s more efficient sowing the seeds every couple of weeks instead of deadheading. If some plants start to flower too early, I just let them and harvest the seeds instead. For the leaves, I always seem to have a backup by growing new pots regularly.
I treat untangling coriander leaves like therapy. It clears my mind. I have a feeling that it helps my plants but never really did an experiment to prove it or read anything claiming the benefits of untangling.
The Use of Coriander
I use coriander leaves for salads, noodle soups, salsa and guacamole.
The seeds can be used to grow the next batch of coriander or in Indian curries. I do the former, and my husband does the latter.
The use of coriander roots is a recent discovery to me. Lately, as my eating has become a bit picky, I tried to cook the most known dish in Vietnamese cuisine: Pho.
Most Vietnamese eat pho in a market stall or in a restaurant. My family never cooked it at home, and I didn’t know anyone who did when I lived there. Since I am away from home, the options are a lot more limited, but the idea of not cooking pho at home is so ingrained that I only set out to try to prepare pho myself in the 8th years I lived abroad. And the discovery: coriander roots make the Pho taste. Man, I have eaten and loved the dish my whole life, and now I know 😀
Pho is another reason for me to love coriander.
I haven’t tested this practice yet, but I read about it from my favourite garden blog Vertical Veg. Mark wrote that coriander doesn’t bolt in the winter and would come out with a much stronger flavour in spring. You need to sow the seeds before mid-September and don’t do any cutting until spring. Don’t be tempted by the fragrant leaves. Keep them out of the wind and cover up if there are snow and frost.
Here is one of my winter coriander pots, which I keep indoors to admire on a daily basis. The rest is currently outside suffering constant November rain. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
Before I go, I just have to share the tango between coriander and mushroom. This is not why I grow coriander but I treasure the spectacle all the same: