Reviewed by Dr. Michael Kessler, DC — Cilantro is a popular herb featured in a number of dishes and cuisines around the world. Coming from the Coriandrum sativum plant, cilantro can go by a couple of names. In the United States, for example, “cilantro” is used to describe the leaves of the plant, while the seeds are known as “coriander.” In other parts of the world, it’s vice versa. Both the leaves and seeds are edible, widespread, and may offer health benefits.
Carrots, parsley, and celery are all related to coriander plants. Like celery and parsley, seeds can be ground up to use as seasonings. Also like its cousins, particularly parsley, the leaves are also eaten fresh and whole.
Cilantro Health Benefits
There are many potential health reasons to eat coriander, or cilantro. Benefits are typically associated with its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Although it’s hard to determine if simply including more of it in your diet will produce any measurable effects, supplementing with extracts, oils, and powder might offer some benefit.
May Help Manage Blood Sugar
There is some evidence that coriander seeds, extract, and oil may help to lower blood sugar. High blood sugar is a major risk factor for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Studies on animals suggest coriander seed extracts can have a substantial impact on blood sugar. It’s possible that coriander may prompt the mobilization of enzymes to remove sugar from the blood.
May Help Improve Heart Health
Cilantro and coriander may help improve heart health by limiting inflammation, reducing high blood pressure, and reducing blood concentration of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Antioxidant compounds in cilantro include terpinene, quercetin, and tocopherols (vitamin E). Each of these is associated with reduced inflammation and neuroprotective effects. Low-grade systemic inflammation is closely associated with heart attack and stroke risk.
There are also animal and test-tube studies to suggest coriander may improve cholesterol levels. One study found that coriander seeds were able to significantly reduce LDL and improve “good” HDL cholesterol.
Lower LDL cholesterol and inflammation levels can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and encourage better blood flow. This can result in lower blood pressure.
Coriander may also help reduce blood pressure by acting as a diuretic.
May Help with Pain
Various studies have pointed to the idea that coriander may have analgesic, or pain-relieving, effects. One study indicated it may influence pain through the body’s opioid system.
Other work has shown it might be an effective treatment for migraine headaches. One small study examined 68 people who suffer from frequent migraines, splitting them into a group that took 15 milliliters (ml) of coriander fruit syrup and a traditional migraine medication three times per day for a month. The control group only took the medication.
Participants who took the coriander/medicine combo reported less severe migraines that were shorter in duration and occurred less frequently.
Potential anti-inflammatory effects of coriander may have an effect on other sources of pain.
May Promote Improved Digestion
There is evidence to suggest that oil extracted from coriander seeds may promote healthy digestion.
An eight-week study featuring 32 people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) found that 30 drops of a herbal medication containing coriander, taken three times per day, reduced symptoms compared to a placebo group. The medicine seemed to significantly decrease abdominal pain, bloating, and discomfort.
May Help with Skin Care
Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities may make coriander useful in treating skin problems. It may help tame a mild rash or dermatitis or even help protect against age-related skin cell damage.
May Aid in Heavy Metal Detoxification
Cilantro and its extract are believed to act as chelating agents—that is, binding to toxic heavy metals to assist their excretion from the body.
For example, in Germany, cilantro extract has been used to pull heavy metal out of the brain and is part of a bigger heavy metal protocol. This procedure must be handled by an experienced doctor, however.
There is also little evidence to support this use. One animal study found that cilantro decreased lead absorption into bone, while another study of young children exposed to lead found it was effective as a placebo.
Some suggest combining cilantro with chlorella for best results. Talk with your physician about whether the remedy is appropriate for you.
Cilantro Nutrition Facts
Although it is rich in nutrition and antioxidants, it is very difficult to get much benefit from eating cilantro as a whole food. It is highly unlikely a person would ever eat a cup of cilantro as a side dish. Rather, most use it sparingly in recipes or as a garnish.
Here is what you will get in 1/4 cup (4 grams) of raw cilantro leaves:
|Nutrient||Amount||% Daily Value (DV)|
|Vitamin A||270 IU||5% DV|
|Vitamin C||1.1 mg||2% DV|
|Vitamin E||0.1 mg||1% DV|
|Vitamin K||12.4 mcg||16% DV|
|Folate||2.5 mcg||1% DV|
|Calcium||2.7 mg||0% DV|
|Magnesium||0.1 mg||0% DV|
|Phosphorus||1.9 mg||0% DV|
|Potassium||20.8 mg||1% DV|
How to Use Cilantro
Cilantro is used in a number of ways. It’s most commonly used to garnish soups, tacos, curries, and more. It’s typically added at the end of the cooking process; however, powered coriander can be used as a seasoning prior to, and during, cooking.
Cilantro can also be blended up into pestos, or added to beet and mint salads. It is very versatile and lends itself quite easily to a number of dishes. Chimichurri steak, for example, relies heavily on cilantro while marinating.
Fresh cilantro is typically purchased in bunches, much like its relative, parsley. When preparing, separate the leaves from the stems and toss the stems away. Use a sharp knife to cut up the small leaves, as using a dull one can bruise the herb and dull its flavor.
Is There Any Risk to Eating Cilantro?
There is some risk to cilantro. One report suggested that roughly 15% of powdered coriander seed imports to the U.S. were contaminated with salmonella. If you’re buying from large-scale, trusted retailers, you can largely mitigate the risk.
Another potential drawback to cilantro is genetic. Although it doesn’t present a serious risk, some people are flat-out disgusted by its taste. There is evidence to suggest that a particular olfactory receptor picks up on a compound in cilantro, causing it have a particularly strong, undesirable flavor.
Another risk is believing that including it in your diet will make a major impact on your health. Most of the research highlighting potential benefits of cilantro have used highly potent extracts or herbal blends. It is highly unlikely you’d get the same benefit from a few leaves to garnish a meal or a teaspoon of ground coriander as seasoning.
Give Cilantro (Coriander) a Try!
If you have never tried cilantro before it’s definitely worth a try. The leaves can add a nice flavor to salads, egg dishes, soups, tacos, dips, curries, marinades, and more. The powder, coriander, lends itself easily to a number of recipes. Experiment with it to see how it can offer a new flavor to some of your old favorites.
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