Garden Fresh: Easy Cilantro and Parsley

The terrible heat seems to have passed, though in a season when a hurricane whacked villages in Vermont instead of Galveston, it's hard to be certain. Some herbs survived easily through the 100˚ days -- the basil, oregano, chives and spearmint -- but hierba buena for mojitos struggled, as Houston is hotter than Cuba in the summer.

It certainly looks like Fall, so it's time to plant the main cool-weather herbs: cilantro and parsley. They're easy to grow from seed, but a simple trick is required, which is to soak the seeds first. I drop parsley seeds into hot water from the tap, and soak them overnight, before planting them ¼" deep. They'll sprout in a few weeks, and can be transplanted to a morning-sun location.

Cilantro seeds require an additional trick. The round "seeds" are actually pods containing two seeds, so they need to be gently crushed (a serving spoon works well) and soaked in water for two days, and then dried overnight before planting. I only crush half of them, to delay some of them from germinating.

Cilantro doesn't transplant well, so it's best to plant a lot of the seeds directly into the pot or garden. Crowding them is preferred, and as they grow, I harvest from different zones of the pot, to give the other plants time to mature. I also reseed every month to keep the cilantro coming, until next summer's inferno.

In the meantime, parsley and cilantro can be stored in the refrigerator for a remarkably long time. Like cut flowers, the plants are still alive, so I cut an inch or two off the stems of the bundle, put them in a coffee cup with water, and drop the cup into a plastic bag, leaving the bag open at the top. That provides some evaporation, and makes it easy to reach in and pull out several sprigs, without unwrapping anything. I change the water every three days, and trim another inch off the bottom of the stalks, and they'll last a week or more.

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