One of my favorite herbs is cilantro. It's an inexpensive way to add flavor to many dishes without adding calories. Just a fourth of a cup will only add 1 calorie to the dish while providing a small serving of vitamins K, folate, potassium, manganese, and choline. A serving will also provide plenty of antioxidants which I talk about below. You can eat all parts of the plant - I prefer the leaves but others prefer the seeds.
History of Coriander and Cilantro
Scholary type people who study these kinds of things debate over when cilantro was first used, but it is believed to have originated thousands of years ago. Dried cilantro was found in a cave in Israel that dated to around 6,000 BC. Coriander was also found in the tomb of King Tut which is why some scholars believe that the herb was first cultivated in ancient Egypt. Known in the United Kingdom as coriander, the spice was one of the first spices to be cultivated by early settlers when it was introduced to North America in 1670.
Health Benefits of Cilantro
Cilantro contains carotenoids like beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants may help prevent cancer, eye disease, and protect the skin against Ultra Violet (UV) B radiation leading to better overall skin health.
Some research suggests that coriander seeds can help with pain and inflammation in the body. The compound acts on the opioid system to keep inflammation in check and reduce pain overall. Though it will take time for these effects, herbal remedies are a much healthier option than pain relieving drugs. Consult your doctor and ask if a change in your diet could help mitigate any pain you may have.
Cilantro causes heavy metals to bond (chelate) and pass through the body. That's why many smoothies and detox drinks include cilantro as an ingredient. A study of lab rats found that cilantro prevented lead from accumulating in the body. Though more research is needed, this powerful herb may have a future as a natural water purifier because of this chelating ability.
Probably the biggest benefit of adding cilantro to you diet is the anticancer benefits of the herb. When meat is cooked a chemical is formed called heterocyclic amine. This chemical has been linked to increased cancer risk, and cooking with cilantro can prevent the formation of this chemical during cooking. Additionally, the oils in cilantro act as a preservative which helps food to last longer by inhibiting oxidation.
Coriander based essential oil preparations have been found to have antifungal abilities - helping to treat fungal infections like oral candidiasis (thrush). A compound found in cilantro leaves called dodecanal has an antibacterial effect which kills Salmonella. In fact, dodecanal is twice as effective at killing the bacteria found in raw poultry, eggs, beef, and even fruit and vegetables than traditional antibiotics.
Using Cilantro and Coriander
If you want to add these herbs to a dish, it's best to cut the leaves from the stems and add them to the dish raw or near the end of cooking so that the flavor is preserved. You can even grow them yourself easily in a window sill. That's what I do and I always have a fresh supply of cilantro to include in a burrito or in my soup.
Cilantro is great because it goes with so many dishes - eggs, fish, vegetable dips, anything with beans and cheese like Mexican or Southwestern food. It also works great as a garnish or in a salad. Just be careful: some people are allergic to coriander and cilantro. If you have ever had a allergic reaction to caraway, fennel, or celery - avoid coriander and cilantro since they come from the same family.
Brooke Bailey is a personal trainer, masseuse, and student in health and wellness.
She currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Follow her on Facebook.