Cilantro is the Spanish name for a plant known as Coriander. It also goes by the name of Chinese parsley just to make things even more confusing! In America, cilantro refers to the leaves of the coriander plant, whereas the rest of the world calls those leaves coriander. The seeds are known as coriander seeds in America … and coriander seeds everywhere else.
It can be a bit confusing. In this article we will refer to the leaves as cilantro and the seeds as coriander. This seems like the best way to distinguish the two. Cilantro is part of the Apiaceae family of plants, which also contains carrot, celery, cumin, dill, fennel, parsley, and parsnips (to name a few).
Cilantro naturally grows in many climates, Southern Europe, Africa, and Southwestern Asia, but you can find it in many Latin American countries. It is believed to have become popular there as it was very similar to “culantro” which is almost identical and also comes from the Apiaceae family .
Cilantro/coriander has been cultivated for hundreds and thousands of years. The Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Greeks both used it, while it is said that the Romans brought Cilantro to Britain to help preserve their meat .
In this article we will be taking a look at some of the main health benefits of cilantro (leaf) and coriander (seeds).
1. Coriander Seed May Prevent Food Poisoning
For hundreds of years coriander seeds have been added to meals due to the belief that they can help prevent food poisoning. In recent years several studies have found that there appears to be some merit to this common belief.
A 2011 study in the Journal of Medical Microbiology looked into the effects of essential oils found in coriander seeds . The study found that using coriander seeds to prevent food poisoning worked, due to the fact that coriander oil “effectively kills pathogenic bacteria related to food borne diseases”.
A similar study published in 2004 by Kubo et al found that the leaves (Cilantro) were also effective at preventing food poisoning . Cilantro was able to protect the body against Salmonella choleraesuis (now called Salmonella enterica), the most common cause of food poisoning globally.
It appears that using coriander seeds or cilantro in your cooking is an excellent way to cut the risk of food poisoning. It may be no coincidence that many countries where food is quicker to spoil (due to increased temperature and humidity) have embraced both coriander seeds and cilantro into their cuisine – India, Mexico, Greece, Egypt etc.
2. Coriander Seeds May Help To Reduce Cholesterol
A 2008 study by Dhanapakiam et al published in the Journal of Environmental Biology looked at the effect of coriander seeds on cholesterol . The study found that taking coriander seeds led to a marked reduction in low density lipoprotein cholesterol (bad cholesterol). The study also saw an increase in high density lipoprotein cholesterol (good), which can help to reduce total cholesterol by attacking LDL cholesterol.
If you have high cholesterol then adding coriander seeds to your diet may help to increases good cholesterol, lower bad cholesterol, and lower total cholesterol.
3. Coriander Seeds May Reduce Constipation & Symptoms Of IBS
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects around 1 in 5 adults. There is no cure, and nobody is completely sure what causes it, though there are many theories. The current belief is that IBS is affected by changes in the bacteria in your gut.
A 2013 study by Thompson et al looked at the effect of a mixture of coriander seed, lemon balm, and mint on IBS . The study found that coriander seeds were particularly effective at fighting E. coli. This antibacterial ability could explain why coriander is effective at treating IBS and constipation.
4. Cilantro Is A Great Source Of Vitamin K
Vitamin K is a fairly overlooked vitamin, nowhere near as talked about as vitamin C or vitamin D, but just as essential.
Vitamin K is necessary for regulating blood clotting, reducing the risk of bone fractures (by helping calcium to travel throughout the body). A 100g serving of cilantro provides 295% of your RDA for vitamin K, it is one of the best sources of vitamin K around.
5. Cilantro Contains High Levels Of Vitamin A
There are many benefits associated with a diet high in vitamin A. It can boost your immune system, prevent eye sight loss as you age, and even improve your complexion by reducing the chances of you getting acne.
Cilantro is an excellent source of vitamin A, containing 42% of your RDA and 36% of your Beta Carotene requirements.
6. Cilantro May Help To Reduce Anxiety
Cilantro is a fantastic source of a bioflavonoid called Apigenin . There are several benefits associated with it, particularly when it comes to anxiety.
A 1995 study looked into apigenin (sourced from Matricaria recutita flowers rather than cilantro – not that this would make a difference) and found that it worked similar to benzodiazepine to reduce anxiety and relax . Obviously, you would need a lot of cilantro to create similar effects, but it may help mildly relax you if eaten normally.
7. Cilantro May Help To Reduce Inflammation
Coriander seeds and cilantro leaves may help to reduce inflammation, there have been studies that have seen results from both. A 2015 study by Zhang et al found that the seeds can help reduce inflammation and inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells . This was performed in a lab though, not in humans or even animals.
Inflammation can affect many aspects of health. Increasing the risk of certain cancers, increasing the risk of metabolic diseases (diabetes, obesity etc), and also affecting mood. Foods that can help reduce inflammation may have an important role in disease prevention.
8. Cilantro May Reduce Risk Of Heart Disease
Thanks to the effect that cilantro and coriander have on inflammation, cholesterol, and anxiety it is perhaps no surprise that cilantro may be able to reduce the risk of heart disease.
There is some evidence (though animal rather than human) that cilantro can help to reduce blood pressure, a common cause of heart disease .
It seems obvious to us that both the cilantro leaves and the coriander seeds of the cilantro/coriander plant have many health benefits. Adding both to your cooking will help improve your quality of life (and may prevent food poisoning).
Indian cuisine is a great way to do this, with both the leaves and the seeds often used in curries and rice dishes. Mexican, Greek, North African, and Arabic food will also use both of these parts of the plant to enhance the taste (and the health benefits) of their dishes. You can even grow your own for added freshness!