How to Grow Salsa in Pots – Cilantro or Coriander Seed
Cilantro, or coriander, (Coriandrun sativum) is a popular herb cultivated for its leaves, seeds, and roots. It is a member of the Parsley family. Usually, “cilantro” refers to the leaves of a cool season herb, and “coriander” refers to seed. The coriander seed develops into the cilantro plant.
You can use either the fresh cilantro or coriander seeds in salsa. To have all of the ingredients for your salsa ready at the same time, count back the number of days until maturity and plant seeds in time for them to be ready. Temperatures have an influence on the maturation date, so you may want to sow cilantro seeds a week apart for a few weeks to make sure you have cilantro ready for your salsa.
Both cilantro and coriander seeds are extremely nutritious, and contain many antioxidants. Cilantro, or coriander leaves, may also be referred to as Chinese parsley or fresh coriander. The leaves have a flavor that people either like or avoid. People who do not like cilantro say the leaves taste metallic. The leaves taste different than they smell.
Cilantro is used in many Mexican dishes including guacamole, gazpacho, and burritos, and to season seafood and herb butter. Traditional fresh Mexican salsa has fresh cilantro which is added just before serving. In Asian dishes, the leaves are used in salads, chutneys, or cooked. Indian dishes, including dal, use cilantro as a garnish. Cilantro loses its flavor when it is cooked, so if you want to preserve the flavor, add it toward the end of cooking.
Coriander seeds taste different than the leaves, and have a lemony or orange-y flavor with a nutty, spicy overtone. Coriander seeds are used in curry and for curry powder, especially in garam masala, and as a pickling spice, and sugared candy.
How to Grow Cilantro
Cilantro is a fast-maturing herb which bolts at maturity, and bolting is sped up when it gets hot out. The time window for harvesting cilantro is short. Unlike other herbs, cutting it back does little to keep it from sending up a flower stem, but cutting out the flower stem close to the plant as soon as it forms can slow down bolting by a few days. After cilantro bolts, it is usually considered too tough and bitter to eat.
Cilantro benefits from rich, moist soil that is well draining. Cilantro is not picky about soil pH, but will do best in a range of 6.5 to 7.5. A steady supply of moisture is important, since stressing the plants will cause them to bolt sooner.
Cilantro does not transplant well, so it is best to plant it in containers where it is to be grown or start it directly in the soil. Germination takes 1 to 2 weeks and seedlings should be thinned to 12 inches apart. To keep a fresh supply, sow coriander seeds every 3 to 4 weeks during the growing season.
Sow coriander seeds once all danger of frost has passed. Frost free zones can from fall to early spring. Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep and water in to firm soil.
Not many pests bother cilantro, and it is a good companion plant. Its strong odor helps to deter harmful insects, and some beneficial insects are drawn to its flowers.
How to Grow Cilantro in Pots
Cilantro develops a deep taproot, so should be grown in a container that is at least 12 inches deep and 10 inches wide. Growing cilantro in a light colored pot with a layer of light colored mulch will help keep the soil cool, especially when the weather heats up.
If you are growing cilantro for leaves, you can place it in somewhat shady place, with at least 4 to 6 hours of sun, preferably in the morning. This will also help to keep it from bolting so soon. Cilantro grown for coriander seed should be sown in full sun, with at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.
How to Grow Cilantro in Pots Indoors
Cilantro can be grown indoors in a south facing window or under bright grow lights positioned 2 to 4 inches above the tops of the plants. Compact fluorescent lights and HID lights should be placed from one to four feet above the plants, depending on the wattage. An oscillating fan helps to develop a more robust, shorter plant. If you want coriander seeds, they are best produced outside in full sun.
How to Harvest Cilantro and Coriander
Harvest fresh cilantro leaves as you need them when they have reached at least 5 inches high. Harvest either the entire plant by cutting it a the soil line (at which point it will likely stop growing), or harvest just the outer leaves or no more than a third of the plant at a time, so the inner leaves can continue to grow.
Cilantro does not tend to preserve its flavor when dried, so it is better to use it fresh. To keep cilantro fresh in the refrigerator for a few days, arrange it in a glass of water similar to a bouquet and cover it with plastic, or store fresh leaves loosely in a plastic bag. You can extend your harvest season by planting a few seeds every 3 to 4 weeks.
The best way to preserve fresh cilantro leaves is to chop them up and put them in an ice cube tray to half the height of the ice cube sections. Fill the ice cube tray with enough water to mostly cover the herbs and then freeze for a few hours. Fill the remaining space, and completely freeze the cubes. Transfer to a plastic bag and store for a few months in the freezer. To use in recipes, simply add them to recipes as you would fresh cilantro, although the texture will not be the same.
Coriander seed can be harvested once the seeds begin to turn from green to grayish brown. Ground coriander loses its flavor quickly, so grind them as you need them in a re-purposed coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Store whole seeds in a cool, dry place in sealed containers.
Varieties of Cilantro to Grow in Containers
Organic Cilantro is organically grown, so it is better for the environment. It matures in 60 to 90 days at 18 to 24 inches tall.
Confetti Cilantro has a more subtle flavor than other cilantro varieties, and has unique, finely cut leaves that look unlike other cilantro. It matures much more quickly than other varieties, in 28 to 35 days, and at a height of 18 to 24 inches.
Calypso Cilantro is a slow bolting variety of cilantro that is used as a cut and come again variety. Calypso helps to extend your cilantro season by producing abundantly over a long period. It matures in 50 to 55 days at 12 to 18 inches tall.