Cilantro, also known as coriander or Chinese parsley, is a uniquely pungent herb used in many Latin and Asian dishes. Though most people use the leaves, every part of the plant - leaf, stem and root - can be eaten. Medicinally, it is used for a variety of gastrointestinal dysfunctions: indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, lack of appetite and as an antiflatulent. It is also used as a chelating agent to remove mercury in the body. It's commonly seen in many natural detoxification protocols but few clinical studies are available to support this use. Coriander has been found to have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic properties in laboratory and animal studies and has been used to prevent food poisoning. A study from Berkeley California found that the fresh leaves possessed bacteriacidal activity against Salmonella. No wonder it's a common addition to cuisines of many third world countries. These are all important considerations given last year’s salmonella outbreak leading the the temporary unavailability of tomatoes and jalapenos. In addition, it is a rich source of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Use this this herb liberally!
A lot of people have difficulty growing cilantro. The summer heat often leads to bolting and the ideal growing conditions are sunny but cool days. Finding an area that gets early morning or late afternoon sun, but shaded during the hottest part of the day, may help. You can also as try seeding more closely together so that the leaves provide some shade to keep the soil cooler. If, in the end, you only get bolted cilantro, there are various applications for its use.
The lacy flowers attract beneficial insects to the garden. This is an especially important consideration when growing food organically. We use a variety of different “beneficials” flowers to do what pesticides do - get rid of damaging insects. Cilantro attracts hoverflies which prey on aphids and mealybugs. If you leave the flower to seed, the seed can be used as a culinary spice. The flowers are also beautiful in flower arrangements.
Most people discard the stems and roots of the plant. Don't throw it away! Commonly in Thai cooking, the roots are used in soups and curry pastes. What I do is clean and dry the roots and freeze them. Over time, I’ve amassed a nice amount of coriander root to use in my cooking throughout the year. No need to defrost the roots when you need them, they can be chopped and pounded while still frozen.
Peppercorn-Coriander Root Flavor Paste
Use this as a marinade for fish, chicken or pork. I’ve used this with grilled chicken. Let the marinade sit for 3 hours.
2 tsp black peppercorns
5-6 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped (about 2 Tbs)
3 Tbs coarsely chopped coriander roots
Pinch of salt
1 tsp Thai fish sauce
Place peppercorns and garlic in a mortar and pound to make a paste. Add coriander roots and salt and continue pounding to make a paste. You can use a small blender or food grinder instead. Stir in fish sauce. Makes 2-3 tablespoons of paste. Can be stored in a well-sealed jar for up to 4 days.
Adapted from the book Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Farmer Pam, MD