Greta’s Herbs: Coriander
Coriandrum is the genus and sativum the species. It belongs to the Apiacea family which also includes Parsley and Celery and so is also referred to as Chinese Parsley. The latin word sativum means cultivated. There are lots of plants with this attachment to their name, often determining their edibility e.g. Crocus sativus (Saffron), Ribes sativus (Red currant) and the more controversial Cannabis sativa.
The entire Coriander plant may be utilized in cooking. The flavour is powerful and many people find it nauseating but I like it a lot, even in salads. It is important to make a distinction between the herb Coriander and the spice Coriander. The leaves are often called Cliantro but this is merely the Spanish translation for Coriander even though the variety I grow for its foliage is called ‘Cliantro’. The seeds when dried and crushed are the spice which is used worldwide especially in Indian cooking. I have collected and ground some in recent years however I am resigned to the fact that the Irish summer cannot give this spice that alluring Indian flair. In this damp climate the leaves are a more reliable source of flavour. It is also a vital herb in Mexican salsas and guacamole so has a wide spectrum of cuisine uses.
It is quite easy to grow from seed in a poly-tunnel or on your windowsill from Feb to end May. It is also much hardier than one would imagine and can be planted outside from April on, either in the ground or in containers but requires a sunny position. It will bolt too quickly if it does not get plenty of feeding and watering so lavish it with attention and you will be rewarded. Cut frequently to encourage more foliage and store leaves in a plastic container in your fridge just like parsley or freeze in ice cubes if you have large quantities.
Coriander, like many spices, contains antioxidants which can delay or prevent the spoilage of food seasoned with this spice. A study found both the leaves and seed to contain antioxidants, but the leaves were found to have a stronger effect. It has many medicinal qualities and has been used as a folk medicine for the relief of anxiety and insomnia in Iran. It can however produce an allergic reaction in some people, so if you feel repulsed by the flavour, take heed, you may be one of the unlucky ones!