Growing Cilantro for its Flowers

Reader Contribution by William Rubel
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Packets of seeds for cilantro often boast that they are “slow bolt.” Cilantro is one of those cool season crops that bolts when the weather gets hot. If planting cilantro for its leaves then bolting is clearly not desirable. But the leaves are only one of cilantro’s gifts. What I want to talk to you about today are its flowers. 

Bolting cilantro can easily reach four feet. Each plant becomes a tower of asymmetrical white flowers. They are white white — blinding in the afternoon sun. Utterly gorgeous in the garden. They attract pollinators to your property, including native bees. I will also say that really enjoy working in my vegetable garden when the bees, hover flies, and other pollinators are flying around. It feels like I am being kept company.

Cilantro flowers make long lasting cut flowers. They are good for at least one week. If you sell in a farmers market I think you will find that you will make much more money selling bouquets of cilantro flowers than you will on its leaves. With some practice you can end up producing cilantro plants that will turn into small bushes when they bolt.

Bolting plants remain edible. The feathery leaves that grow behind the flowers have the cilantro taste. I have not used flower heads in a salsa, but I do regularly harvest bolting cilantro for a flavor accident in salads. 

As I write this it is May. I live in coastal Northern California. My January planted seeds have yielded plants that are just about to break into flower — they are about four feet high right now. Wherever you live, May is a good time to plant. Like radishes and lettuce, cilantro lends itself to succession planting. Even if it not a flavor you like — and I know there are cilantro haters — plant it for its flowers. You will have to work out what planting succession works for your climate. A good place to start would be planting a few plants every four to six weeks. 

To slow down bolting in hot climates you can plant in the shade of a tree, or artificially shade the plants with screen cloth or a rustic lattice work made of sticks. 

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