Coriander is a hardy annual herb of the natural order Umbellifer. The popular name is derived from the generic, which comes from the ancient Greek Koris, a kind of bug, in allusion to the disagreeable odor of the foliage and other green parts.
Coriander has been cultivated from such ancient times that its land of nativity is unknown, though it is said to be a native of southern Europe and of China.
History of Coriander
Coriander has been used in cookery and in medicine. According to ancient reasoning, anything with so pronounced and unpleasant an odor must necessarily possess powerful curative or preventive attributes!
As an old herb, it has run the gamut of having been thought to have medicinal properties. It is known as a culinary herb and is also considered a weed in some parts of the globe.
Here are some interesting facts about corinander:
- In many temperate and tropical countries it has become a frequent weed in cultivated fields.
- Its seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs of the 21st dynasty. Many centuries later Pliny wrote that the best quality of seed still came to Italy from Egypt.
- Prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066, the plant was well known in Great Britain, probably having been taken there by the early Roman conquerors.
- Sometime before 1670 it was introduced into Massachusetts. During this long period of cultivation there seems to be no record or even indication of varieties.
Description of Coriander
From a cluster of slightly divided radical leaves branching stems rise to heights of two to two-and-a-half feet. Toward their summits they bear much divided leaves, with linear segments and umbels of small whitish flowers, followed by pairs of united, hemispherical, brownish-yellow, deeply furrowed “seeds,” about the size of a sweet pea seed. These retain their vitality for five or six years.
The seeds do not have the unpleasant odor of the plant, but have a rather agreeable smell and a moderately warm, pungent taste.
Coriander is an herb that does best in a light, warm, friable soil. It is often sown with caraway, which, being a biennial and producing only a rosette of leaves at the surface of the ground, is not injured when the annual coriander is cut.
With most plants, there are guidelines in the growing and cultivating of coriander.
- The seed is often sown in the autumn, though spring sowing is the most common.
- The rows are made about 15 inches apart, the seeds dropped one inch apart and 1/2 inch deep and the plantlets thinned to six or eight inches.
- Since the plants run to seed quickly, they must be watched and cut early to prevent loss and consequent seeding of the ground.
- After curing in the shade the seed is threshed (only if the seed is of commercial use).
Cooking with Coriander
The seed of coriander is what has the most uses as a culinary herb:
- Coriander is used by distillers for flavoring various kinds of liquors and is used in medicine to disguise the taste of disagreeable drugs.
- Coriander is used largely in the making of confectioneries and for adding to bread.
- In the East, it is used as an ingredient in curry powder and other condiments.
- One of the more popular uses of it today is in the seasoning of corned beef and other meats.
- The young leaves of the plant are often used in salads and soups.
Kains, M.G. (1912). Culinary Herbs: Their Cultivation, Harvesting, Curing and Uses. Retrieved April 3, 2008, from the Project Gutenberg Web site: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21414/21414-h/21414-h.htm#Page_59.