Monday, April 28, 2014

Cilantro.... or is it Coriander?

Cilantro is a cool season plant. It flourishes during cool nights and moderate, sunny days as in the spring and fall. But it will bolt at the first sign of hot weather. In tropical regions like the islands of Hawaii, cooler, mountainous areas would perhaps give cilantro the longest season, provided there is adequate sunshine. Cilantro, however, is a true annual and even under the best conditions, it will send up flowers and eventually die within the year.  In order to minimize the bolting effect, cilantro should not be grown during the warmer, summer months. The best time for planting would be after the summer heat from September or October until perhaps March.

Bolting is the premature flower formation initiated by hormones within the plant system in response to high temperatures, as well as drought and starvation.  This unwelcome occurrence in leafy vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce and cilantro,  takes the plant out of its leaf producing mode and switches over to flower and seed production. In many regions, it is a common occurrence with cilantro.
There are some slow-bolting varieties, Calypso is one, that can extend cilantro’s productivity perhaps a month. Snipping off the first newly emerging flower buds may also extend the leafy period, but only slightly.

Most cooks are familiar with the seasoning called coriander. Coriander is actually the small, dried fruit, often referred to as the seeds of the cilantro plant. In fact, the scientific name for cilantro is coriandrum sativum, or coriander, also known as Chinese parsley. All parts of the plant are edible. The fresh leaves and the small dried fruit are the parts most traditionally used in cooking.

                                                      seed capsules
The fresh leaves are often used in South Asian and Chinese cooking as well as in Mexican cooking, particularly in salsa and guacamole.  Since heat will diminish the flavor, leaves are frequently used raw or added just before serving. They will lose their aroma when dried or frozen.

Coriander seed is a main ingredient in garam masala, an Indian spice, and in curries. Although the ingredients in garam masala can vary, it commonly includes coriander, black pepper, cumin, cardamom and cinnamon.  In India, roasted coriander seeds, called dhana dal, are eaten as a snack.

Coriander is used for pickling vegetables and for making sausages in Germany and South Africa. In Russia and Central Europe, the seeds are used as an alternative to caraway seeds. Even in brewing certain types of beer, particularly some Belgian wheat beers, coriander is an added flavor.

Like many plants, coriander may contain properties useful in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol.  Research is presently investigating these claims and other medicinal attributes of coriander.  

Photos by Forest and Kim Starr

Monday, April 7, 2014

Stink Bug

 A wide range of fruit and vegetables, as well as leaves and flowers, are susceptible to the Southern Green Stink bug, nezara viridula. In some countries it is called the green vegetable bug.  

Damage is achieved by inserting their needle-like mouth part into the plant tissue and sucking out the plant juices. Some stink bugs can cause wart-like growths as the plant reacts to the piercing. Although the green color of the pests blends with the foliage making them difficult to find, bugs can be visible feeding in the garden on beans, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, okra or in the trees on such fruit as mangoes and macadamia nuts. The adults are active fliers, and when disturbed, will fly away or fall towards the ground.

Control is sometimes difficult. Horticultural oils, including Neem oil, work well, but the solution needs to contact the insect. (Read more about Neem on this website.) To spray when the insect is not there will do no good. Oil, as well as soap, is a contact insecticide. Harsher chemicals like Sevin and Orthene will also control this pest. Yet in many areas biological control is effective, and chemical control is seldom necessary. 

In Hawaii, introduced parasites (good guys) are well established and are generally effective. Predators include spiders and the big headed ant. The ants prey upon the eggs and immature stages of the stink bug, taking them back to their nests. The stink bug is so named because of the strong odor emitted from scent glands when disturbed.