How to Harvest Cilantro the Right Way! (w/o killing the plant!)
Love cilantro? We do! How about an endless supply?
Learning how to harvest cilantro without killing the plant will help you to enjoy this delicious fresh herb all throughout the spring and summer months. There are many techniques that will help you maintain a healthy crop of cilantro in your home garden, like:
- continued targeted harvesting of matured leaves,
- ensuring conditions are optimal to prevent bolting, and
- growing multipurpose crops to ensure longevity and more.
Welcome to today’s feature topic at the Garden Bench Top (and a personal favorite) – harvesting and growing techniques for cilantro.
We are truly excited about today’s topic, not just because it is gardening related, but because cilantro is one of our go-to herbs for freshening any salad or meal up. It is this love for this green herb that has made us seek out and experiment with harvesting and growing techniques for cilantro without killing the plant.
If you can’t tell, we’re really excited to share these techniques with you, so grab a coffee and let’s get into it.
What Kills Cilantro Plants?
Before we get into the harvesting techniques, we believe it would be helpful to give you context for ‘why’ we do what we do to keep our cilantro plants growing. It will provide you with a better understanding and appreciation of the cilantro plant. Which will ultimately make you a better home gardener – which coincidentally is our mission!
One of the main frustrations home gardeners experience with cilantro is when it ‘bolts’.
Bolting occurs when the cilantro plant feels threatened. In order to ensure the continuation of its species, it reverts its energy into the reproduction phase – which generally means it stops producing those tasty leaves we love. When this happens, cilantro plants will have a short growth spurt and produce flowers and seeds. You will also notice the leaves will begin to change in both shape, taste and color.
Many of our techniques revolve around preventing cilantro from bolting.
Disease and Pests
Somewhat related to the above, one of the key ways for keeping a productive cilantro plant is to protect it from pests and disease.
Pests will eat and sap the nutrients from your cilantro to the point that it will feel threatened (resulting in bolting).
While diseased cilantro plants can simply weaken and eventually wither away, leaving you with no more cilantro to eat.
Ultimately, the name of the game is protecting and caring for your plant, so that it can concentrate its energy into continually producing edible and tasty cilantro leaves.
How to Harvest Cilantro without Killing the Plant
Now let’s get into the fun stuff – harvesting that delicious cilantro the correct way.
When it comes to collecting and harvesting cilantro, there is a specific method we recommend following to ensure you don’t shock and kill your plant.
We like to call it target harvesting, which involves choosing the larger, mature leaves on the outer edge of the plant.
The reason we systematically work our way around the outer edges of the plant, is to protect the younger leaves and branches concentrated in the middle of the plant.
Continually removing the mature leaves keeps your cilantro plant in the production phase, and prevents it from moving into the reproductive seeding phase. Removing older leaves also helps to prevent disease from setting in when leaves begin to weaken and rot.
Harvest Your Cilantro Frequently (even when you don’t need it)
We also suggest harvesting your cilantro in small batches, more frequently.
By harvesting your cilantro in small amounts, you are less likely to shock the plant and leave it reeling from having all its leaves stripped away. We are also a big believer in leaving some leaves on the plant to allow it to photosynthesize sunlight during the day.
In addition, we recommend harvesting your cilantro every week during the height of the growing season. You may think this is too much for your cilantro, however it actually encourages more growth. The more you take, the more it gives. And by keeping it busy with new growth, it won’t have time to consider bolting.
However, this is conditional on the next tip for how to harvest cilantro without killing it.
Ensure Optimal Conditions
It is critical that you keep your cilantro watered and fed well.
Cilantro loves water. Cilantro loves water! No this is not a typo, we just thought it was important enough to say it twice.
We mentioned earlier that cilantro will bolt as soon as it feels threatened. Well, in our experience we have found cilantro to be particularly sensitive to heat and dry conditions. If you allow your cilantro to dry out in hot weather, it will bolt. To prevent this from happening, we like to ensure the plants are watered early in the morning, and again in the evening.
We also recommend ensuring the soil is high in organic matter with some slow release fertilizer, so your cilantro has enough nutrients to use. They are hungry plants that require a lot of food to fuel their active growth.
Purpose Built Batches of Cilantro
One final method of growing cilantro we highly recommend to avoid killing your plants while harvesting, is to maintain purpose built batches of cilantro. What does this mean exactly?
We like to grow four different batches of cilantro staggered a week apart. This allows you to continue to harvest cilantro each and every week without overwhelming your plants. The staggered planting method affords your plants a breather between harvests and allows them to regain their strength after each harvest.
Towards the end of the growing season, we’ll allow one of the cilantro batches to go to seed, to ensure we have a healthy batch of seeds to harvest. We’ll then store the seeds ready to be planted the next year! Just a little bit of succession planting.
Cilantro Harvesting Tips and Tricks
How to Harvest Cilantro
As tempting as it is to simply pinch the leaves off your cilantro plant, we do recommend using sterilized sharp scissors or garden secateurs. Pinching your cilantro often crushes the stems of the plant, making it vulnerable for disease to set in. Whereas, scissors will leave a clean cut that scabs over within a few hours.
Storing Fresh Cilantro
If you follow our methods of harvesting cilantro, you may begin to build up quite a harvest of fresh cilantro. Especially if you implemented our batch style of growing.
It is therefore important to know how to store fresh cilantro to prolong the shelf life.
Unfortunately, left on its own, it is unlikely that fresh cilantro will last more than a day, two at most. You can store it in the fridge, but that will only keep it fresh for another day or two.
We recommend following this process for keeping your cilantro fresh and ready to be consumed:
- soak your freshly cut cilantro in water for 30 minutes. Your cilantro will soak up as much water as it can and become plump.
- Thoroughly dry it out on some paper towel. It is important to pat it down completely dry, otherwise rot will set in quickly.
- In an airtight container, lay down a dry sheet of paper towel to line the bottom of the container. This is to soak up any excess moisture, and prevent your cilantro from rotting.
- On top of the paper towel, neatly lay your cilantro sprigs in a row, until you have a nice layer of cilantro.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have filled your container.
Another option for storing cilantro is to freeze it, ready to be used at a later stage.
To freeze your excess cilantro, you will need to cut the leaves from the stems and chop them into small pieces.
Then place them into an ice cube tray with water and freeze them.
You can choose to leave them in the ice tray, and simply pop them out as required. Or you can remove them from the tray and store them in a container or freezer bag.
Frequently Asked Questions
Cilantro vs Coriander – What is the difference?
You may have been scouring the corners of the internet and seen two different terms out there: cilantro and coriander. So, what is the difference?
We’ll save you some time and put your confusion to an end – they are the same thing, it is just two different names for the same herb.
Cilantro is a Spanish term, and it is used throughout most of Europe and the US. In the US, they actually refer to the plant (stem and leaves) as cilantro. And the dried seeds that are used in cooking are referred to as coriander.
While, the term Coriander is used more widely in Asian countries and other parts of the world to refer to both the plant and the dried seeds.
How to Harvest Cilantro Seeds
Harvesting seeds from cilantro plants is easy.
We find the best way is to allow the plant to flower and seed as it would normally. Once you see the plant begin to dry and turn yellow or brown, cut the flower head (which should contain mature seeds) from the plant.
Rather than trying to harvest the coriander seeds in the garden where you can lose them in the soil, we like to take the cuttings to your Garden Bench Top (you see what we did here right?). Rub the dried flower heads between your fingers over a container or piece of white paper.
You will feel the hard small round seeds between your fingers, at which point you can store them in an air tight container.