Coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.) is an annual herb with
branching stems and small white, pinkish flowers that grows to a
height of about 90cm. It is a member of the same family as carrots
and parsley (Umbelliferae) and is native to the Mediterranean and
Middle East. Coriander, which is also known as Chinese parsley
and cilantro, is grown for its seeds and leaves, both of which are
used in a range of dishes. Coriander requires well drained soils and
plenty of warmth and sunshine. It is grown as a crop in India,
Russia, Brazil, South America, North America and Holland.
The seeds are tiny globes, about the same size as peppercorns,
which are a pale creamy brown colour. The seeds from Indian
coriander tend to be elongated while the seeds from European
coriander are more round in shape (see figure 1). They are dried
and ground and included in curry powder and garam masala powder
in Indian cooking. Quite frequently ground coriander and cumin
are used in the same dish.
The leaves are used as a fresh green vegetable or salad leaf.
Coriander seed oil is used for a range of medicinal applications. It
has antibacterial properties and is used in treatments for colic,
neuralgia and rheumatism. It has industrial applications in
pharmaceutical applications and tobacco where it is used to
counteract unpleasant odours.
Figure 1: Fresh coriander
Photo: Practical Action / Neil
Harvesting at the correct stage of ripeness is
essential for the coriander seed to have a full
aroma. Under-ripe coriander seeds have an
unpleasant flavour and lack the distinctive
spicy aroma and over-ripe seeds (after about
90 days from planting) tend to shatter which
reduces the yield. Since ripening is
progressive on the plant, harvesting should
take place when between half and two thirds
of the seeds are ripe. To minimise breakage,
the plants should be cut during the early
morning while the dew is on the plant or in
the late evening. After harvest the seed is
dried and stored for later use.
Figure 2: Coriander seed
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