Cilantro: Great Herb

Cilantro: Why You Should Choose This Unique, Pungent Herb


Story at-a-glance

  • Originally, the herb was grown in present day Greece and was utilized by ancient Egyptians and Romans, making cilantro one of the oldest known herbs in history
  • A medical report noted that when 200 milliliters of 10 percent cilantro extract was consumed for seven straight days, it led to severe diarrhea, stomach pain, darkened skin, menstrual lapse and dehydration

Some people associate cilantro with its soapy aftertaste1 or its “bedbug-infested bedclothes” odor, and for some, this could be either appetizing or disgusting. In fact, as Harold McGee writes in The New York Times, although food can be a universal language, it can become divided as far as cilantro is concerned. He says:2

“FOOD partisanship doesn’t usually reach the same heights of animosity as the political variety, except in the case of the anti-cilantro party. The green parts of the plant that gives us coriander seeds seem to inspire a primal revulsion among an outspoken minority of eaters.”

Cilantro comes from a plant called Coriandrum sativum,3 an herb that belongs to the Apiaceae family. Also called Chinese or Mexican parsley in some areas,4 cilantro is said to be native to the Mediterranean and Asia Minor (Turkey) regions.5

Originally, the herb was grown in present day Greece and was utilized by ancient Egyptians and Romans, making cilantro one of the oldest known herbs in history.6

What most people do not know about cilantro, however, is that it is both an herb and a spice,7 because the plant also bears aromatic seeds — more popularly known as coriander seeds — that have their own health benefits.8

The Countless Health Benefits of Cilantro

It’s no surprise that adding cilantro to dishes won’t just enhance the flavor, but provide health benefits too. The nutritional content of this low-calorie, no-cholesterol herb is very impressive, since it is abundant in:9

  • Antioxidant polyphenolic flavonoids like quercetin, kaempferol, rhamnetin and epigenin
  • Minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron and magnesium
  • Vitamins A, C and K, as well as B vitamins

Cilantro is also proven to have antiseptic, antifungal, antioxidant, disinfectant and antibacterial properties, as well as a vast amount of health benefits that include:10

Helping reduce the swelling caused by arthritis and rheumatic diseasesbecause of its phenolic acids and polyphenols11 Lowering levels of bad cholesterol in the blood and along the inner walls of your arteries and veins Increasing healthy LDL cholesterol levels
Helping lower blood pressure levels among people with hypertension Regulating proper secretion from the endocrine glands Stimulating digestion and peristaltic motion
Helping with bone regrowth and durability because of its calcium content Acting as a potent chelator to remove heavy metals and toxins from your body12 Assisting in lessening allergic reactions
Helping prevent smallpox Lowering stress and strain on your eyes Optimizing proper assimilation and absorption of blood sugar
Assisting in preventing stomach disorders like nausea and vomiting Helping thwart vision disorders like macular degeneration

The leaves, root and stem of cilantro was also proven to work well against certain conditions, such as:13

Eczema Dry skin Fungal infections
Mouth ulcers and wounds Anemia Eating disorders like anorexia
Smallpox Spasms

Beware that using cilantro medicinally may have certain side effects, such as, allergic skin reactions, skin irritation, photosensitivity and inflammation. Consult your physician before using this herb to treat any disorder.14

What Is Cilantro Mainly Used For?

Cilantro leaves are primarily used for culinary and medicinal (as mentioned above) purposes, although you can utilize cilantro essential oil for aromatic reasons as well (this will be discussed further).15

Arguably, many people are familiar with cilantro as an ingredient to many recipes. The herb may feature prominently in some dishes across a wide variety of cuisines, namely:16

Middle Eastern Mediterranean Indian
South Asian Mexican Latin American
Chinese African Southeast Asian

You can spruce up a meal with cilantro because it pairs well with many dishes, especially those containing beans, eggs, cheese and fish. Plus, you can add cilantro into creamy vegetable dips or use it as a garnish for soups and salads.17

A study conducted by a group of American and Mexican researchers also revealed that cilantro can help purify water.

The discovery was made by the team led by Douglas J. Schauer, Ph.D. of IvyTech Community College in Lafayette, Indiana, along with researchers from the Universidad Politecnica de Francisco I. Madero in Hidalgo, Mexico, while studying the Tule Valley region.18

Waste water from Mexico City is dumped in this region. However, this waste water, contaminated with heavy metals like nickel and lead, is actually being used to irrigate crops.

According to Schauer, filtering agents such as activated charcoal can be used to remove the chemicals from the water, but this material too expensive.19

The researchers then tested samples of different plants ranging from cacti to flowers, and learned that cilantro is a very powerful “bioabsorbant” material in this region. An item is considered to be bioabsorbant when it’s made from dried organic material from a plant, and can essentially replace the charcoals typically utilized in filters.20

As Schauer points out in a Time interview, ground-up cilantro can be placed inside a tube where the water can pass through. The herb not only allows the water to trickle out, but also filters dangerous heavy metals as well. Another method involves placing dried cilantro in tea bags and into a water pitcher for a few minutes, allowing it to draw out these toxins.21

Grow Your Own Cilantro at Home

If you’re interested in growing cilantro at home, take note of these pointers. This herb is a cool-season vegetable that reaches its full potential when you sow it either in the spring or fall.22

However, cilantro is also able to withstand a high frost, and can grow in temperatures of 14 to 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 to -5 degrees Celsius), although the plant dies once the ground freezes.23 Cilantro can also be grown in warm temperatures during the high summer, but make sure to plant “Slow-Bolt” cilantro in the coolest microclimate, in the shade of taller plants or in full shade.24

According to Grow It Organically, the trick to growing the best cilantro is to fool the plant into thinking that it’s perpetual spring or fall. To do this, make sure to give the plant a regular and steady supply of water and mulch the soil to maintain a cool surface. Cilantro takes a longer time to “bolt” (sending up a flower stalk), if you provide an optimal environment for it to grow.25

Healthy soil is also important if you want to grow your own cilantro. Ideally, loose and sandy loam would work best for this herb. Feel free to add aged manure or high-quality compost to the soil bed as well, since this can speed up the growth of the plant and yield better herbs.26

It takes six to 12 weeks for a cilantro plant to grow. Grow It Organically suggests planting small patches of the herb every two to three weeks throughout the growing season, if you want a steady supply of cilantro.27 Do take note, however, that certain factors such as age, heat and dryness, can result in bolting. While the plant is still edible even if it has bolted, the leaves become finer and harder to harvest.28

Easy Cilantro Recipes You Should Try

If you haven’t used cilantro in any of your dishes yet, what are you waiting for? Purchase the freshest cilantro leaves you can find (if you’re not growing this herb in your garden yet), ideally from an organic farmer. Organically grown cilantro will have an intense and refreshing flavor and is loaded with many vitamins and antioxidants, without the added risk of pesticides and chemicals.29

Look for fresh cilantro with vibrant green leaves, without any indicators of spoilage or yellow discoloration, as well as firm stems. At home, wash the herbs first in clean water and remove roots and/or old or bruised leaves. To store, keep them inside a zip pouch or wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel in your refrigerator.30

When you’re buying cilantro, make sure that you know how to incorporate it into your dishes. Use the herb as soon as possible since it might lose its flavor and nutrients if you keep it for too long.31

To prepare cilantro for cooking, make sure you have a chopping board and a sharp knife. You will need only the leaves, so separate these from the stems by using a sharp knife to cut the plant gently. Be careful, since using a dull knife or over-chopping cilantro can “bruise” the herb and cause its unique flavor to spill onto the chopping board.32

As emphasized by Megan Ware in an article for Medical News Today, cilantro is best added “either raw or near the end of cooking.” This herb is very tender and has gentle leaves, so adding it last will retain cilantro’s delicate flavor and texture.33 Cilantro can hold its own ground in terms of flavor and does not need additional flavoring. Because of this, raw and fresh cilantro leaves make recipes like Sunflower Power SaladCabbage Crunch or Land and Sea Salad taste great.

Cilantro Essential Oil Could Be Helpful, Too

Aside from consuming fresh cilantro, you can use cilantro essential oil to your advantage as well, if you want to gain some of the benefits the plant has to offer. There are a variety of ways that you can use cilantro essential oil at home:34,35

  • Diffusion via a vaporizer: pour three to four drops of this essential oil, along with a citrus oil of your choice, into a diffuser.
  • Topical application: apply one to two diluted drops on the area that requires the oil. Cilantro essential oil is known to blend well with basil, lemon and melaleuca essential oils.36
  • Food ingredient: drizzle this essential oil over stir fries, salads and dips (make sure you’re using a brand that is safe for oral consumption).

Before you use cilantro essential oil, make sure to consult a physician first and take an allergen patch test to see if your skin responds well to the oil. Keep the oil out of reach of children, and refrain from placing the oil on your eyes, inner ears and sensitive areas.37

Get your physician’s approval before taking this oil orally as well. A medical report noted that when 200 milliliters of 10 percent cilantro extract was consumed for seven straight days, it led to severe diarrhea, stomach pain, darkened skin, menstrual lapse and dehydration.38

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