Today, June 20, Monday, is the beginning of National Pollinator Week. To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, each day of the week I will post a short article about a culinary herb in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators. Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of flowering plants. It is especially vital for gardeners who are growing fruit and vegetables. There are many plants that attract pollinators but it is also important to reduce or eliminate pesticides, provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season, create large pollinator targets of native or non-invasive plants, and situate the plants in sunny areas with wind breaks. Culinary herbs are often harvested for the foliage but if left to flower they can attract beneficial insects and pollinators. Plant several of one type of herb so you can harvest some to use in the kitchen while letting a few flower. Or, plant perennial or shrub herbs in your landscape to add flowers to your garden.
To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife Federation, U.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.
Monday, June 20: Cilantro
I love cilantro and I plant it every spring even though I am the only one in my family who likes it. It is a love it or leave it herb but it is used extensively in Asian, Mexican, Indian, African, Latin American, and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Cilantro is a member of the carrot family. Because of its tap root, it is best to sow seeds directly in the garden bed or in a container in late March/early April. Often called Chinese parsley, the leaves do look like parsley but if you rub them you will smell a citrusy/woodsy scent. Cilantro is a cool weather annual; it will “bolt” or flower as the days get hotter, often in May or June. Mine are in morning sun and afternoon shade which tends to cool them down and delay bolting. The flowers, which are white and tiny, attract beneficial insects and pollinators but when the plant is in this stage, the leaves have become too bitter to be useful in the kitchen. However, the flowers soon become seeds, which are known as coriander and are used for baking.
I like to harvest the leaves on a regular basis from April through June for fried rice, pad thai, stir fry chicken, salsa, Mexican dishes, and any type of fish or shrimp. The trick is that you have to either add the leaves toward the end of cooking because they cannot take a lot of heat or use the leaves raw. Always use fresh cilantro leaves, don’t dry the leaves.