How to harvest coriander seeds for continuous supply

Coriander – or cilantro as it is also called – is a herb you either hate or love. But for those who love it, learning to harvest coriander seeds will ensure you have a continuous supply in your kitchen.

For many, this nutty, zingy flavor with just a hint of citrus is a must in Indian, Thai, Mexican, and Mediterranean cooking. Coriander is almost a herb, and a spice rolled into one, making it a versatile addition to your cooking.

While fresh coriander pairs brilliantly with garlic, lemon, chilies, and onions in toppings, salsas, soups, and pasta, harvesting coriander seeds from your coriander plant means you can toast and grind the seeds and keep them stored indefinitely for a fantastic array of different dishes any time you please. 

Learn how to harvest coriander seeds, and you can have coriander continuously throughout the year.

How to harvest coriander seeds in 7 easy steps

  1. Let your coriander (or cilantro) plant bolt and set flowers
  2. Allow flowers to turn into seeds
  3. Cut the stem a few inches below the seed heads when the seeds turn from green to brown.
  4. Place the cut stems upside down in a brown paper bag
  5. Use a piece of string to tie the bag shut around the cut-off stems
  6. Place the bag in a dry and cool area with good ventilation
  7. Seeds will drop off into the bag as they mature

You say Cilantro, and I say Coriander

We harvest coriander seeds for taste and collect seeds for our herb garden.

But there is a bit of confusion about coriander vs. cilantro. Which is right, and which should be used?

The answer is that both are right. And it does refer to the same herb.

In the United States, the leafy herb is called cilantro, whereas the seeds are called coriander.

When I lived in the US, my friends used to refer to the leafy green variety as cilantro leaves or fresh coriander. 

One theory is that the word cilantro stems from the Spanish word for coriander. Here the close culinary link to Mexico has made its mark.

In the UK, we say coriander – for both the seeds and the fresh leafy variety.

When to harvest coriander seeds

When the coriander plant bolts, it sets delicate white flowers. 

Coriander (cilantro) plant blooms with small white flowers
Coriander (cilantro) plant with its delicate white flowers

The flowers only live for a short while. A couple of weeks later, we can see green berry-looking bulbs forming.

As the green bulbs mature, they turn into mature and ready-to-harvest coriander seeds. 

We harvest the coriander seeds when the seeds turn from green to brown.

Clean the coriander seeds

When we harvest the coriander seeds, we invariably get other plant matter with the seeds.

Some people rinse their seeds in water, but I recommend simply picking them clean using your fingers.

Dry the coriander seeds

Before we can store seeds, we need to ensure they are dry. 

If the seeds are not dry, we risk mold or fungus forming when we store our seeds for later use. 

This is also why I do not recommend rinsing your seeds in water. 

Drying the seeds is easy. Place them on a piece of cloth or paper and leave them at room temperature. Avoid direct sunlight and extreme temperatures and allow a week or so for the seeds to dry properly.

Seeds and fresh leaves – we harvest and use both

You will soon have plenty of coriander seeds when you learn to harvest coriander properly. You will have enough for planting new plants and to use for cooking.

I was first introduced to coriander seeds as a spice when I started to grow coriander from seeds. One of my plants bolted in mid-July (as they do), and I decided not to fight it.

The result was lots of seeds – both green and brown. And I found uses for it all. 

Use fresh coriander leaves as a garnish and in fresh salads with and without bulgur or couscous. The taste is fresh with a hint of citrus or lemon.

The brown coriander seeds offer a much richer, fuller, warmer, and spicy taste and are perfect in curries, soups, stews, and dry rubs. The brown coriander seeds should be saved whole and ground just before use.

What to do with green coriander seeds

Green coriander seeds – or green cilantro seeds if you prefer – are a true delicacy, and as far as I know, you cannot buy them.

You need to learn how to harvest coriander seeds if you want green seeds.

Green coriander seeds forming on coriander plant
Green coriander seeds forming.

Harvest the green seeds when the color is clear and vibrant green. Use them within a day or two, or they start to mature and turn brown. 

Green coriander seeds offer a citrusy tang with nutty undertones. 

Crush the green seeds to release the flavor and add them to a mix with oil and other spices. Store the mix in cubes in the freezer for instant access to a burst of flavor on tap.

Or add them to a bulgur or couscous salad for a new taste dimension. This is a favorite way to use them in our household.

So the next time your coriander plant bolts, do not fight it. See it as the next step in this beautiful herb’s plan to deliver wonderful flavors.

How to dry green coriander seeds

When coriander bolts, the flowers will soon be replaced with green seeds.

The green seeds will turn brown on the plant, but sometimes we do not want to wait. 

The easiest way to dry green seeds is to cut off the stems below the crown.

Leave enough stems to place the crowns in a brown paper bag and tie the bag shut around the stems with a piece of string.

Hang the paper bag in a cool and dry place with good ventilation. When the seeds turn brown and mature, they will fall off and collect at the bottom of your paper bag.

Collect the seeds and store them in an airtight container. You should always store coriander seeds whole. Place the container in a dry, dark, and cool location. 

Harvesting coriander seeds for continued harvest

When you let a plant or two bolt and flower, you will have lots of seeds to harvest. 

And there will be plenty left over, even if you use some brown coriander seeds for spices and green seeds for flavor and salads.

But this is a good thing. For two reasons:

  1. Succession plant coriander for continuous harvest
  2. Harvest plants aggressively, knowing that more is coming soon.

Succession planting coriander

Succession planting is a fancy word for not planting all your coriander seeds at once.

Plant seeds every 7-10 days and let the plants develop.

This way, you will have several new plants at different stages of development.

And when you are running low on seeds, let a plant or two bolt and set seeds. 

Should you end up with too many plants, you can easily make friends by giving away pots to friends and family.

Harvest your coriander plants aggressively

When you grow coriander, it is important to harvest the plant regularly.

Harvesting the plant regularly and aggressively will result in the plant growing back bushier and more robust.

When I say aggressively, I mean harvesting as much as ⅓ of a mature and healthy plant.

This aggressive harvesting will delay the plant bolting if all you want is fresh green coriander leaves.

Coriander plants that are harvested weekly will give good harvests for several weeks. 

When you harvest your coriander plant, you start from the outer stems and work your way in. Do not just grab a third of the plant and cut.

Use sharp scissors when you harvest unless you harvest leaf by leaf. When you harvest individual leaves, it is easier to pin them off.

How to grow coriander during winter

Coriander may look like a delicate herb, but the plant prefers cool to hot.

The plant thrives when planted in fall and will grow throughout winter, even here where I live (hardiness zone 7 / USDA hardiness zone 7). 

We rarely have lots of snow, but as we grow coriander in pots and containers, we move the pots inside a few weeks before the weather turns cold at night.

But it is possible to grow coriander outdoors throughout the year.

It is easier to manage the coriander plant during cooler times of the year. 

During the hotter summer months, the plant will almost go from leaf to seed too quickly to make good use of the herb.

I succession-plant coriander every 5-7 days from August. 

I freeze fresh leaves we do not use and store them for later.

So go ahead and start extending the life of your coriander plants by learning to harvest coriander seeds for a continuous supply year-round. 

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants, and garden vegetables. For the past two years, he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.