Saturday, October 28, 2017

On the Use of Coriander

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, is an edible herb whose fresh leaves and dried seeds used in cooking.  It is native and grows wild in southern Europe, northern Africa and western Asia, but has been cultivated worldwide.  Cilantro is the Spanish word for coriander leaves that are extensively used in Mexican cuisine.

The history of coriander spans several centuries and has historical ties to the Ancient Greeks, the Renaissance and the Spanish Conquistadors. Fifteen desiccated mericarps found in a Neolithic B level of the Nahal Hemar Cave in Israel is the oldest archaeological evidence of coriander in ancient times. A pint of coriander mericarps was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen.  It was cultivated in Greece since at least the second millennium BCE. Hippocrates, the Ancient Greek physician, recommended the use of coriander as a medicine.  Pliny mentioned that the highest quality coriander to be found in Italy was that which was grown in Egypt.

Late Bronze Age invaders introduced coriander into Britain. Large quantities of the species were retrieved from an Early Bronze Age layer in Macedonia.  The British took coriander to North America in 1670, and it was one of the first spices cultivated by early settlers in New England.  They used coriander to flavor barley gruel and mixed it with cumin and vinegar and to preserve meat.

Coriander seeds can have a narcotic effect when consumed in quantity.  During the Renaissance it was thought to be an aphrodisiac and added to love potions mixed with wine to stimulates animal passions.  The Ancient Israelites used coriander in their cooking and the Book of Numbers compares it with manna and bdellium.  Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium.”

All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the parts most traditionally used in cooking.  The dry fruits are known as coriander seeds are ground to form the spice commonly known as coriander. Roasted coriander seeds, called dhana dal, are eaten as a snack in India and are the main ingredient of the two south Indian dishes sambhar and rasam. 

Outside of Asia, coriander seed is used for pickling vegetables. In Germany and South Africa, the seeds are used in making sausages. In Russia and Central Europe, coriander seeds are an occasional substitute for caraway seeds in rye bread.  Coriander seeds are also used in brewing certain styles of beer, particularly some Belgian wheat beers.

In the Salinas Valley of California coriander has been planted among lettuce plants to ward off destructive pests like aphids and attract beneficial insects like hoverflies whose larvae consume 150 aphids per day before reaching maturity. 

A 3.5 oz. of coriander has the nutritional value of 3.67 grams of carbohydrates, 0.87 grams of sugar, 2.8 grams of dietary fiber, 0.52 grams of fat, and 2.13 grams of protein, as well as the average daily equivalent of the following vitamins and minerals: Vitamin A (42%), Thiamine – B1 (6%), Riboflavin – B2 (14%), Niacin – B3 (7%), Pantothenic acid - B5 (11%), Vitamin B6 (11 %), Folate - B9 (16 %), Vitamin C (33%), Vitamin E (17%), Vitamin K (295%), Calcium (7%), Iron (14%), Magnesium (7%), Manganese (20%), Phosphorus (7%), Potassium (11%), Sodium (3%) and Zinc (5%). The nutritional value of the seeds is different from the fresh leaves. Leaves are particularly rich in vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K, with moderate content of dietary minerals.  Seeds have lower content of vitamins, but significant amounts of dietary fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese.

The health benefits of coriander include its use in the treatment of skin inflammation, high cholesterol levels, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, anemia, indigestion, menstrual disorders, smallpox, conjunctivitis, skin disorders, and blood sugar disorders.  Cineole and linoleic acid, both present in coriander, possess antirheumatic and antiarthritic properties. Other components in coriander help induce urination and the release of excess water from the body. The reduction in skin inflammation leads to a reduction in discomfort, and an improvement in skin appearance.

The disinfectant, detoxifying, antiseptic, antifungal and antioxidant properties of coriander are ideal for clearing up skin disorders such as eczema, dryness and fungal infections. The acids present in coriander, like linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) are very effective in reducing the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) deposition along the inner walls of the arteries and veins, which can lead to serious cardiovascular issues like atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes. Coriander also aids in digestion, proper functioning of the liver and bowels. 

It is also helpful in curing diarrhea caused by the microbial and fungal action, since components like cineole, borneol, limonene, alpha-pinene & beta-phellandrene have antibacterial effects.  Coriander can be used to control nausea, vomiting, and stomach disorders.  Consuming coriander has been shown to positively reduce blood pressure and enhance the interaction of neurotransmitters in the peripheral and central nervous system, relaxing blood vessel tension and reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Citronellol, a component of essential oils in coriander, is an excellent antiseptic with antimicrobial and healing effects making it a natural choice for organic toothpaste.  Before the invention of toothpaste, people chew coriander seeds to reduce bad breath.