Is It Edible?

By Analiese Paik

Overwintered, bolted cilantro that has gone to seed. Food or compost?

Each year I push the envelope on avoiding food waste a bit more, focusing this summer on reaping the most from the food I grow in our backyard and what comes in our weekly CSA share from Sport Hill Farm. Sometimes my “aha” moment comes in the middle of making dinner.

Last night, just before dinner, I sent my youngest child to our herb bed to clip some overwintered cilantro for the curried carrot lentil soup I was making. Some was for us and some for a friend undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer. I wanted the soup to have a loving, homegrown touch. He returned with two massive stalks in full bloom, but with few good leaves for chopping. They leaves rather looked like dill and I knew they wouldn’t taste good-bolted vegetables and herbs rarely do. But upon closer inspection, I discovered that seed heads were beginning to form.

Seed heads forming on cilantro. Eat them now for a burst of cilantro flavor or let them dry out and harvest them as a spice.

I got really excited because I know how delicious those seeds are. I’m talking about the green ones, not the dried pale brown ones that are used as a spice. Farmer Farah Masani turned me on to the green seeds last year and their intense flavor blew my mind. I knew I had to use them in the soup, but what about the flowers? Are they edible? The roots are. I learned that in cooking school.

I never assume every part of a plant is edible. Carrot greens can be deadly if a sufficient quantity are consumed. Rhubarb greens are toxic and so are mature parsnip greens.

Since my hands were busy making dinner, I had my oldest child do a Google search for “cilantro flowers edible”. He came up with a few hits, but none from well-known sources. Is there a definitive guide to what’s edible and what’s not? One that lists roots, stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, and stalks? If so, let me know!

Cilantro flowers and seeds, a gorgeous and tasty garnish for soups, salads, wraps, etc. Could be interesting in a cocktail too!

Meantime we trusted what Wikipedia said: “All parts of the plant are edible.” I rinsed the cilantro stalks in a salad spinner, then clipped the flowers and green seed clusters off with scissors and collected them in a bowl. These would be our soup garnish.

Curried carrot and lentil soup with lime and cilantro flowers and seeds. Delicious and healthy!

At the dinner table, my children learned that every part of the cilantro plant is edible, including the flowers and immature seeds, which are fun and delicious to eat with soup. Cilantro is one of those polarizing foods – you either love it or you hate it. If you love it, you’ll love the musty flavor of the flowers. If you season your dish with the green seeds, you’ll get a pop of lemony flavor normally derived from the leaves. So don’t throw out/compost your bolted cilantro and consider rescuing some from a local farmer. Your taste buds will thank you.

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