It’s delicious on tacos, enchiladas, pico de gallo, salsa, soups and Mexican salads. It’s especially delicious in guacamole. I love cilantro so much that I always joke that I don’t trust people who don’t like cilantro.
Often known in the UK as coriander, cilantro comes from the plant Coriandrum sativum. In the United States, the leaves of the plant are referred to as cilantro (the Spanish translation) and the seeds are referred to as coriander. Cilantro is also commonly referred to as Chinese parsley. This article focuses on the health benefits of the leaves of the Coriandrum plant.
The use of coriander can be traced back to 5,000 BC, making it one of the world’s oldest spices. It is native to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions and has been known in Asian countries for thousands of years. Coriander was cultivated in ancient Egypt and given mention in the Old Testament. It was used as a spice in both Greek and Roman cultures, the latter using it to preserve meats and flavor breads. The early physicians, including Hippocrates, used coriander for its medicinal properties, including as an aromatic stimulant.
The Russian Federation, India, Morocco and Holland are among the countries that commercially produce coriander seeds. Coriander leaves (cilantro) are featured in the culinary traditions of Latin American, Indian and Chinese cuisine.
Control of Blood Sugar, Cholesterol and Free Radical Production
Recent research studies (though still on animals) have confirmed all three of these healing effects. When coriander was added to the diet of diabetic mice, it helped stimulate their secretion of insulin and lowered their blood sugar. When given to rats, coriander reduced the amount of damaged fats (lipid peroxides) in their cell membranes. And when given to rats fed a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet, coriander lowered levels of total and LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), while actually increasing levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol). Research also suggests that the volatile oils found in the leaves of the coriander plant, commonly known as cilantro, may have antimicrobial properties.
A Phytonutrient-Dense Herb
Many of the above healing properties of coriander can be attributed to its exceptional phytonutrient content. Coriander’s volatile oil is rich in beneficial phytonutrients, including carvone, geraniol, limonene, borneol, camphor, elemol, and linalool. Coriander’s flavonoids include quercitin, kaempferol, rhamnetin, and epigenin. Plus, coridander contains active phenolic acid compounds, including caffeic and chlorogenic acid.
Coriander (also called cilantro) contains an antibacterial compound that may prove to be a safe, natural means of fighting Salmonella, a frequent and sometimes deadly cause of foodborne illness, suggests a study published in the June 2004 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Working together, U.S. and Mexican researchers isolated the compound, dodecenal, which laboratory tests showed is twice as effective as the commonly used antibiotic drug gentamicin at killing Salmonella. Since most natural antibacterial agents found in food have weak activity, study leader Isao Kubo, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, noted, “We were surprised that dodecenal was such a potent antibiotic.” While dodecenal is found in comparable amounts in both the seeds and fresh leaves of coriander, the leaves are usually eaten more frequently since they are one of the main ingredients in salsa, along with tomatoes, onions and green chillies. In addition to dodecenal, eight other antibiotic compounds were isolated from fresh coriander, inspiring the food scientists to suggest that dodecenal might be developed as a tasteless food additive to prevent foodborne illness.
Heavy metal detoxification
Cilantro mobilizes mercury, aluminum, lead and tin stored in the brain and in the spinal cord and moves it into the connective tissues. The mobilized mercury appears to be either excreted via the stool, the urine, or translocated into more peripheral tissues.
The mechanism of action is unknown. Cilantro alone often does not remove mercury from the body; it often only displaces the metals form intracellularly or from deeper body stores to more superficial structures, from where it can be easier removed with other agents. The use of cilantro with DMSA or DMPS has produced an increase in motor nerve function.
Pass the salsa!