Herb of the Week: Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum

Cilantro is an annual herb with wide lacy green leaves and a pungent flavor. The seed is known as coriander. Cilantro is a cool weather, short lived herb.

The plant prefers evenly moist soil in morning or filtered sun. Cilantro tends to bolt when soil temperature reaches 75 degrees F. Harvest the leaves as soon as the plant reaches 6 inches, using the outer leaves and leaving the center growing point intact. Cilantro is best used when fresh as it loses flavor when dried or frozen.

Coriander has been discovered in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs who believed it would prevent indigestion in the afterlife. It was cultivated in Greece since at least the second millennium BC. The Chinese have been using coriander for centuries as an aphrodisiac.

Cilantro is rich in vitamin C, an aid to digestion, appetite stimulant, and stomach soother. It contains natural herbal antibiotics having the chemical called dodecenal used to prevent infection in wounds. The essential oil has antibacterial properties and can be used as a fungicide. Coriander is also thought to reduce LDL. Ancient Romans would use coriander to preserve food, it contains an antioxidant that helps prevent animal fats from going rancid with substances that kill meat-spoiling fungi/bacteria. Modern medicine only uses the herb to flavor some medicine.

All parts of the cilantro plant are edible. Cilantro is versatile and used worldwide particularly in Mexican, Asian and Thai cuisine. The roots have a deeper, more intense flavor. Coriander seeds impart a lemony citrus flavor when crushed. When ground they are great for dry rubs. The coriander seed is best ground fresh as it loses its flavor quickly.

Herbed Butter
1stick butter
4 T chopped fresh cilantro
1 T fresh lemon juice
Add cilantro and lemon juice to softened butter. Can be pressed into molds.

Shrimp and cilantro
20 large shrimp peeled and deveined
6 lemons zested
2 cups chopped fresh cilantro
Salt to taste
1 lemon juiced
Ground pepper to taste

In a bowl, toss shrimp with lemon zest and cilantro to coat
Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle oil with salt, stir in shrimp mixture. Cook 5 minutes or until shrimp are opaque. Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle with pan juices. Squeeze lemon juice over shrimp and season with pepper. Serve alone, on top of a baby green salad, or over pasta.