Learn how to harvest cilantro from your garden, dehydrate or air dry it, then cure your herbs for long term storage! Proper handling can mean the difference between a flavor packed, long lasting spice and a tasteless, unpleasant dish.
I just love growing cilantro in my garden. I keep it in a 4ft by 6 ft raised bed and let a few plants go to seed each year (the seeds can be harvested as well for coriander). The next spring I have a huge supply of fresh cilantro that planted itself! All I have to do is weed and harvest.
Be sure to plant an heirloom variety of cilantro such as slow bolt if you plan on letting it reproduce naturally.
Cilantro makes a delicious addition to salads and soups as well as being a staple in Asian and Mexican cuisine. Coriander seeds are used for medicinal purposes as well as in cooking. They are typically ground into a powder and used in curry, meat dishes or homemade pickles.
How to Harvest
Cilantro is a fast growing hardy annual herb that is one of the first to emerge in early spring. It is usually ready for it’s first harvest by Memorial Day in northern climates but can begin producing as early as February in the south. It can also be grown in the fall when temperatures start to drop.
Because cilantro is a “cut and come again” crop, I usually give it a haircut every 3-4 weeks. Pruning shears or kitchen scissors work just fine to cut cilantro’s thin stems. Cilantro will grow to heights of around 18” but can be harvested when it’s at least 6” tall. Do not allow your cilantro to go to seed right away (as it will want bolt in the heat of summer). Keep cutting it and it will keep producing.
It is best to harvest herbs in the morning, before the dew has evaporated. Plants contain essential oils that are most concentrated and potent at this time of day. A morning harvest will ensure your dried herbs are as flavorful as possible.
If you get to the point where you’ve harvested enough for your household needs, you can treat cilantro as a “chop and drop” crop, also known as “green manure”. Simply cut it and let it fall to the ground, creating a mulch that will leech nutrients back into the soil while retaining moisture and suppressing weeds.
How to Dry Cilantro
Begin prepping the cilantro by washing it in batches using a colander. Remove moisture with a salad spinner or by gently patting with a kitchen towel. You do not need to remove the leaves from the stem, as both are edible and full of flavor! Be sure to keep an eye out for any weeds that may have been hiding amongst your plants and pick them out as you prep the herbs.
Always use freshly harvested herbs for drying. Plants begin to decompose the moment they are harvested which causes them to lose flavor. Avoid refrigerating your cilantro prior to drying.
There are two methods used to dry cilantro (these work for just about any herb). The first method I’ll discuss is the quickest and is my personal favorite: dehydrating!
I will start out by saying that the dehydrator you use makes a huge impact on the final product. When I finally acquired my commercial grade dehydrator, it was a total game changer. You need to be able to adjust the temperature to a lower setting for herbs.
Lay the cilantro out on your dehydrator trays in a single layer for adequate air flow. It’s ok to have a bit of overlap, but avoid creating piles, as this will cause uneven drying.
The ideal temperature range for drying cilantro is between 95-115 degrees Fahrenheit. I dry my cilantro at 110 degrees Fahrenheit for about 4 hours with a full dehydrator . However, it can take 2-6 hours depending on the conditions. Keep an eye on it throughout the day to prevent over-drying, which can cause a loss of flavor.
The second method you can use to dry your cilantro requires no equipment, but is more time consuming. To air dry cilantro, arrange it into small bunches and tie the cut stem ends together with a string or kitchen twine.
It is optional to tie a brown paper bag around the herbs. This prevents dust from accumulating on the plants and blocks out light which can cause degradation and flavor loss. Punch small holes in the bag to allow for ventilation and air flow.
Check the cilantro everyday from day 6-14. When it crumbles to the touch, it is ready for processing. If the outer layers of cilantro are more dry and the stems still feel a bit moist, it’s alright. This will be corrected during the curing process. It’s better to have a bit of moisture at this stage than to over-dry the herb and lose flavor.
When my herbs are mostly dry, I place them in my vita-mix blender and pulse for 30-90 seconds or until they are ground to the desired consistency. You can also use a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle to grind your herbs, but these can be cumbersome when working with large quantities.
Troubleshooting: If you find that the cilantro is still very moist after you process it in the blender, you can spread the ground herb out on a piece of parchment paper or dehydrator tray liner and return it to the dehydrator for an additional 30-90 minutes or until it reaches the desired level of dryness.
Often, the stems of cilantro are tougher than the leaves and are more difficult to grind. To achieve a uniform size, lay a piece of parchment paper or work over a cookie sheet and pass the herb through a fine mesh sieve. Continue to grind the larger pieces until they can fit through the strainer.
Curing the Dried Herbs
This is a step that is often ignored, but it is the most important! When herbs are dried using either method above, there will be inconsistencies in moisture levels throughout the plant material. This can cause mold to develop or reduce shelf life during storage. The curing process will take 7-14 days.
Seal the dried ground cilantro in a glass spice container or mason jar. (It is helpful to use a funnel when transferring herbs to their container.) While the herbs are sealed inside the jar, moisture will be pulled from deep within the plant tissue to rehydrate the outer layers.
Shake the jar and remove the lid once daily to allow an exchange of fresh air. If you feel any moisture, keep the lid off for an hour before sealing the jars back up. Do this everyday for a week. If you still feel moisture after a week, continue the process until the herbs feel completely dry.
Do not mix uncured and cured cilantro together. The uncured herb will add moisture to the already cured herb, damaging its integrity. Once the herb is fully cured, you can add it to a larger storage jar with other batches of dried/cured cilantro.
How Does it Compare?
After growing and drying your own garden cilantro, the difference is clear to see. Homegrown dried cilantro is superior in aroma, color and flavor when compared to store bought. In fact, commercially processed herbs are almost inedible after you’ve tried the farm fresh variety.