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This herb packs a two-fer punch / May 16, 2013
Coriander, Coriandrum sativum, is considered both an herb and a spice. The leaves are commonly referred to as the herb cilantro and the dried seeds as the spice coriander. It was known as gad in Hebrew and kusbara in Arabic. Its name comes from the Greek word koris, meaning a stinky bug. This is no doubt a reference to the strong aroma given off by the cilantro plant leaves when they are bruised.

“Behold – I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of the Earth” God speaks in Genesis 1:29. Coriander is mentioned twice in the scriptures and both times it refers to how the seeds resemble the manna that the Israelites ate in the wilderness. “And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey”. Exodus 16:31. “Now the manna was like coriander seed and its appearance like that of bdellium”. Numbers 11:7.

Coriander is one of the oldest herbs and spices on record. Coriander seeds have been found among the funeral offerings in ancient Egyptian tombs dating back to 3000 BC. Sprigs of the plant were thought to protect the souls on future journeys.

The Hebrews of biblical times used cilantro leaves as the bitter herb in the Passover meal. Roman soldiers, under the reign of Julius Caesar, took coriander with them using it in vinegar as a meat preservative and to flavor food. Coriander was widely used in English cookery until the Renaissance, when new exotic spices began to appear in markets. Coriander was introduced in the Americas around 1670 and was one of the first herbs grown by the colonists. Spanish conquistadors introduced it to Mexico where it is widely used today.

Coriander is considered a carminative herb, which prevents the formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby relieving intestinal gas pains and reducing flatulence. It stimulates the stomach in aiding digestion, restoring appetite, and relieving nausea. Studies have shown that coriander extracts present blood pressure lowering activity and lower blood cholesterol levels.

Coriander’s essential oil is strongly antibacterial and its uses include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antifungal, antispasmodic and sedative properties. Other key nutrients include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C and a ton of vitamin K. Today the only medicinal use of coriander is as a flavoring agent to mask the taste and odor of certain prescription medicines.

Coriander has lacy, feathery foliage similar to caraway and dill. Its leaves have a strong aroma. The mauve tinted white flowers appear in summer followed by fruit (seeds). The unripened soft, green seeds have an even stronger scent than the foliage but, when allowed to harden and ripen to a pale fawn color, are one of the most deliciously fragrant of all spices used in cooking.

Coriander is a quick growing annual which likes a sunny location with rich, well drained fine, crumbly soil and plenty of moisture. It grows best in cool weather as the heat of midsummer will force young plants to bloom and go to seed before they have a chance to develop of good crop of foliage. Coriander seeds, in packets, are readily available in garden centers but are almost always referred to as the herb cilantro. The seeds remain fertile for 5 to 7 years and should be sown outside (dislikes transplanting) in the fall. Plant the seeds 1/2 inch deep, 12 inches apart. Cover and tap the soil down well and keep moist until the seedlings appear. The plant grows 18 – 24” tall and may need staking in windy areas. It starts out as a 6 – 9” tall mound of thin green leaves shaped like flat leaf parsley. After a month or so, when ready to flower, it sends up stems with thinner lacier leaves about 2’ tall, topped with clusters of tiny white flowers. The flowers turn into bright green seeds. At this stage of ripening, you can smell them from fifty feet away. The plant then begins to turn yellow and the seeds turn brown and their flavor mellows. Harvest coriander seeds promptly when the leaves and flowers have become brown, but before the seeds have a chance to scatter. Cut the whole plant and hang it to dry, gathering the seeds as they fall or by threshing. The seeds must be completely dry before using. Pack them in an airtight container. Dried coriander seeds have a spicy, citrus flavor and they become more fragrant with age. In Southside the plants will start to grow right after seeding, die back in the coldest weather and flush out fresh leaves in the spring. Blooms will appear in May and seedpods by June. Our members say that allowing some seeds to fall to the ground will assure new plants in September as the weather cools. Planting in the spring rarely gives the plant enough time to mature.

For the best flavor, cilantro leaves should be cut and used fresh when they are small. The leaves can be dried in a warm airy place till crisp and crumbly. Store the dried leaves in airtight containers.

The leaves of the coriander plant, cilantro, imparts a strong sage flavor with sharp citrus overtones. Mince the fresh leaves and add them to stew, gazpacho, guacamole and pasta salads. The flavor is powerful when raw, but the leaves lose their potency when exposed to high heat, so add the leaves at the very end of cooking or just before serving sprinkled on top. It is not recommended to pair cilantro with robust herbs such as rosemary, oregano, thyme and savory because the flavors clash with each other.

Coriander seed should be ground in a spice mill or blender shortly before using. Ground seeds are the basis for curry powders, used extensively to flavor fish, poultry and meat dishes. There is a long tradition of spicing gingerbread, pastries, biscuits and breads with ground coriander. It gives pastries a warm flavor and seems to intensify their butteriness. One teaspoon to one tablespoon of freshly ground seed is enough for most average recipes. Sprinkle the ground seed over apples, pears and peaches while baking. A pinch enhances the flavor of eggplant, zucchini and peppers. A versatile spice – it should be a staple in every kitchen.

Special Thought: “Pounding fragrant things … is a tremendous antidote to depression … juniper berries, coriander seeds and the grilled fruits of the chili pepper. Pounding these things produces an alteration in one’s being – from sighing with fatigue to inhaling with pleasure.” Patience Gray

Black (or Pinto) Beans with Fresh Coriander (Cilantro)

1 lb. black or pinto beans, washed, picked over and soaked overnight

1 Tbsp safflower oil

1 large minced onion

4 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed

6 cups water

3 – 4 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander

Sea salt to taste

1. Soak beans overnight, or for several hours and drain.

2. Heat safflower oil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot. Sauté onion with half the garlic until onion is tender. Add beans and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 1 hour.

3. Add remaining garlic and coriander. Add salt to taste and continue to cook another hour or until beans are tender and broth is thick and savory. You may wish to add more garlic or salt.

4. Serve with rice, tortillas, cornbread or other whole grain bread. This can be frozen and will keep up to 3 days in the refrigerator

The Southside Virginia Herb Society is a group of local enthusiasts interested in learning and sharing knowledge of gardening, crafting and cooking with herbs. Members come from Halifax, Mecklenburg, Lunenburg and Charlotte Counties. We meet on the third Saturday of the month. For more information contact Kathy at 434-454-4208 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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