Cilantro or coriander is an aromatic herb; that is known to give a boost of flavor to a variety of dishes like soups, salsa, curries, and guacamole. This herb, which is related to parsley, is an excellent source of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. It has antiseptic, antifungal, antibacterial, disinfectant properties, which make it very useful for many health conditions.
Numerous studies have suggested that there several health benefits of cilantro such as it decrease the risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Let’s learn more about this herb, its nutritional content and its health benefits.
What is cilantro?
Cilantro, also known as coriander and Chinese parsley, is a popular herb used in cuisine from all over the world. Known by its scientific name Coriandrum Sativum L, this annual herb belongs to the Apiaceae family, which contains 3,700 species like carrots, celery, and parsley.
It was originally grown in Greece and was used by ancient Romans and Egyptians.
Traces of cilantro were found in a cave in Israel that has been dated back to 6000 BC. Cilantro seeds were also found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. This shows how widespread was the use of this herb in ancient civilizations.
Cilantro has also been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat illnesses and fight infection for thousands of years.
Native to Mediterranean and Asia Minor regions, it is now grown all over the world.
Though all parts of cilantro are edible, we use its leaves and seeds more commonly in cooking. Its dried seeds are known as coriander seeds and are used as a spice.
Cilantro nutritional facts
Cilantro contains no cholesterol and is extremely low in calories. It is rich in many antioxidants, essential oils, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.
Nutritional profile of cilantro (1/2 cup, 8 grams) (1)
- Calories: 1.8
- Vitamin K: 24.8 mcg (32 % of DV)
- Vitamin A: 540 IU (10 % of DV)
- Vitamin C: 2.2 IU (4 % of DV)
- Vitamin E: .2 mg (2 % of DV)
- Folate: 5 mg (2 % of DV)
- Potassium: 41.6 mg (2 % of DV)
- Calcium: 5.4 mg (0% of DV)
Seeds of cilantro are known as coriander. These seeds have a warm, nutty flavor and have many health benefits. The benefits of coriander come from its mineral content.
Coriander seeds are a good source of vitamin C, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, dietary fiber, iron, and calcium.
Health benefits of cilantro
1. Helps in detoxification
Cilantro helps combat heavy metal toxicity. It binds heavy metals together, loosens them from the tissues and facilitates their elimination from the body. Because of its ability to chelate, researchers are also studying it as a natural water purifier.
During a study on albino mice, researchers found that cilantro extracts protect against lead-induced oxidative stress (2).
Another study found that cilantro accelerates the removal of heavy metals from the body (3). During this study, when researchers used cilantro along with antibiotics, it helped prevent a relapse of the infection.
The researchers believe that cilantro helps get rid of heavy metals in the body, which prevents the infections from arising again.
2. Antioxidant properties
Cilantro’s antioxidant properties are a result of its quercetin content. Quercetin protects the body from oxidative stress caused by the free radicals, thus preventing chronic diseases and delaying the aging process.
The antioxidant properties in cilantro protect against macular degeneration, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2012, a study was done to examine the protective effects of cilantro leaf extracts against oxidative stress in human HaCaT keratinocytes. The result suggested that cilantro protects our body from oxidative effects through its antioxidant effects (4).
3. Reduces cholesterol levels
Coriander has been used traditionally as a treatment for cholesterol and diabetes (5).
Cilantro is rich in fatty acids like linoleic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid, which play an essential role in reducing blood cholesterol. Cilantro also contains vitamin C, which reduces oxidation of cholesterol on the blood vessel walls.
According to a study published in the Journal of Food Science, cilantro decreases the levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, and raises the levels of HDL.
4. Protects against heart disease
Besides lowering bad cholesterol and raising the levels of good cholesterol, cilantro also helps lower blood pressure. This herb provides calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and iron and is low in sodium.
It’s high potassium, and low sodium ratio is beneficial for keeping heart rate and blood pressure in control.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a diet rich in potassium helps in controlling blood pressure as it lowers the effects of sodium (6).
High blood pressure is linked to heart failure, ischemic heart disease, and thickening of the heart muscle.
According to a study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, the rich polyphonic content of cilantro extract is responsible for preventing oxidative damage that can lead to myocardial infarction by inhibiting myofibrillar damage (7).
One test tube study also found that cilantro extract may also reduce the formation of blood clots (8).
Both cilantro leaves and stems and dried cilantro seeds are useful in reducing blood sugar levels. When we consume cilantro, it increases the activity levels of the enzymes that help remove sugar from the blood (9).
According to a study published in the Journal of Food Science, cilantro extracts protect liver function and exhibit hypoglycemic, hypolipidemic, and antioxidant efficacies in diabetic rats.
These results indicate that we can use the leaves and stem of cilantro in food as a remedy for diabetes (10). More studies are needed to confirm the positive effect of cilantro on blood pressure in humans.
6. Improves digestive health
Cilantro leaves help to provide relief from nausea and indigestion. They help produce digestive enzymes, along with more digestive juices, which aids in the breakdown of food.
These digestive enzymes help prevent flatulence, bloating, heartburn and ease stomach cramps. The antioxidant properties of cilantro encourage healthy liver function. Cilantro leaves also provide fiber, which helps improve digestive health.
7. Lowers stress and improves sleep
Cilantro is a relaxing herb. It helps to relax the nerves, and reduces tension and hence helps you sleep better. According to a report in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology, the extracts of cilantro produced anti-anxiety effects almost similar to diazepam (11).
Diazepam can have several side effects like confusion, hallucination, aggression, memory problems and muscle weakness. Cilantro intake is a much safer way to reduce stress and improve sleep.
8. Prevents Urinary Tract Infections
The anti-bacterial properties of cilantro also help prevent urinary tract infections by keeping the urinary tract healthy. UTIs can be caused by E. Coli, staphylococcus bacteria, sexual activity, genetics or diabetes.
If the infection does occur, coriander seeds can help in relieving the symptoms like pain and discomfort. Just soak a few seeds of coriander overnight and blend them into your smoothie or have them with yogurt.
9. Helps prevent food poisoning
Salmonella is responsible for thousands of cases of food poisoning every year. According to the researchers at the University of Guadalajara, Mexico, dodecanol, a compound found in cilantro, is highly effective in killing salmonella bacteria.
The natural antibacterial properties of cilantro also help in preventing food and water-borne diseases like food poisoning, dysentery, cholera, and listeria.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology, essential oil of cilantro is particularly effective against listeria, due to the presence of long chain alcohols and aldehydes (12).
10. Prevents menstrual disorders
Coriander seeds help regulate endocrine gland function and the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. They can also help relieve cramps, bloating and pain during the menstrual cycle.
Coriander seeds also contain linoleic acid, ascorbic acid, palmitic acid and stearic acid, which are helpful in preventing menstrual disorders and they also support appropriate secretion of hormones.
Soak coriander seeds in the night and have them the next morning to get maximum gains.
11. Prevents neurological inflammation
Chronic inflammation can lead to various neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, brain tumor and meningitis.
Extensive research over the last ten years has indicated that nutraceuticals derived from spices like coriander, cinnamon, red pepper, turmeric, black pepper, licorice, clove, ginger, and garlic target inflammatory pathways and prevent neurodegenerative diseases (13).
12. Heals mouth ulcers
Mouth ulcers are tiny painful sores that develop inside the mouth. Coriander contains citronellol, an essential oil that has antiseptic properties that help heal ulcers in the mouth by preventing bacterial overgrowth.
Citronellol is also used in toothpaste and mouthwashes as it benefits oral hygiene.
13. Prevents cancer
According to researchers, coriander seeds can prevent colon cancer by reducing cholesterol levels and increasing the excretion of sterol compounds and bile (14). This process helps to decrease the toxic levels in the colon and hence lowers the risk of cancer.
Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that coriander can prevent heterocyclic amine (HCA) from forming in meats during cooking.
High consumption of foods containing HCA has been linked to cancer. When we cook meats with spices like coriander, the formation of HCA is significantly lower.
14. Keeps skin healthy and young
Cilantro is rich in many antioxidants that help keep skin young and healthy. Vitamin A and vitamin C fight free radicals and prevent signs of aging like sagging skin, wrinkles and pigmentation.
Cilantro is also used internally and externally to treat hives, sunburn and poison ivy. Cilantro juice is used on the face to prevent acne and blackheads.
Cilantro side effects and precautions
Cilantro is considered safe for use as food for most individuals. However, some people can develop allergic reactions after eating cilantro. According to one report, a man developed hives, facial swelling, and throat swelling after eating cilantro.
In another case, a woman developed severe diarrhea, stomach pain, darkened skin, lapse of menstruation and dehydration after she took 200 ml of 10 % cilantro extract for a week.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using cilantro extracts. They can continue to use cilantro leaves and seeds in small amounts in their food.
Cilantro is known to slow down blood clotting. So, people who suffer from bleeding disorders or are scheduled for surgery should avoid taking cilantro extracts.
Ways to use cilantro
Cilantro can add a unique flavor to any dish without adding extra calories. This herb has tender leaves, which lose their strength and health benefits when they are heated.
So, it is best to add cilantro leaves to your dish just before you serve it. For recipes that do not require heating like salads, salsas, and smoothies, you can add cilantro at any time.
Always cut cilantro with a sharp knife or herb shears. A dull knife will bruise the leaves, and it will lose much of the flavor.
How to store cilantro?
Fill a jar or a glass with an inch or two of water. Rinse cilantro with water to remove any dirt and place it upright in the jar. If you are storing cilantro in the refrigerator, cover it lightly with a plastic bag.
Cilantro is rich in many antioxidants, essential oils, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. These nutrients provide cilantro with many health benefits.
Cilantro helps in detoxification, protects against heart disease, lowers stress and improves sleep, and also prevents food poisoning. Usually considered safe for most people, it can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
To enjoy the health benefits of this aromatic herb, add it to your cooked dishes just before serving to keep its nutrients intact.