Coriander {Medicinal}

Image courtesy of Baliji  CC BY-SA 3.0 License.Image taken in West Bengal India


Coriander belongs to the order of plants known as the Apiales and the family Apiaceae ,formerly the Umbellifers. this family includes many culinary and medicinal herbs such as parsley,fennel,,carrot,celery and parsnip. All the garden species have wild relatives found in the countryside of many countries throughout the world. the family also contains some of our most toxic plants such as Fool's parsley,Hemlock and Hemlock Water dropwort. Many of these plants are very similar in appearance and correct identification is very important when gathering herbs of this family for medicinal and culinary uses.

Coriander has been allocated the genus name of Coriandrum,which is said to derive from the Greek Koros -a bug,alluding to the foetid smell of the foliage. the specific name of sativum indicates it being a cultivated food crop. This plant has long been used for medicinal and culinary purposes. Here we review the plant's past and present medicinal {and other } uses,along with notes from past herbalists and other eminent writers. As always we commence with a description of the subject under review.

Components of coriander

Kohler's Medizinal Pflanzen


This species is for all intents and purposes is an annual species, with a root-stock which is tapering,slender,somewhat branched,whitish,and adorned with a few fibres. The stems are erect, branched, ,cylindrical,furrowed,and attaining the height of one to three feet.

The lower leaves are stalked and divided into leaflets which are roundish or oval or wedge shaped and are toothed at the margins.The upper leaves have segments which are more linear and more divided,all the leaves produce a distinct smell.

The flowers are arranged in terminal short stalked umbels,with five to ten rays. They are delicately pretty almost white tinged with mauve or purplish hues. The calyx {sepals etc} consists of five unequal acute teeth. The five petals of each individual flower are inflexed at the point;the innermost of the umbel are almost equal the outer flowers of the umbel,larger and have petals which are bifid. The five stamens have thread-like filaments and roundish yellowish anthers.

The fruit {seed capsules} consists of two hemispherical carpels,each furnished with a projecting margin on its inner and flat side,which combines with the opposite one to form an almost complete globe which when mature has ten obscure ridges. The seed is concave in front and covered with a loose membrane. They loose their unpleasant smell on drying and become fragrant. The longer they are kept the more fragrant they become.

The plant flowers in June and the seeds are fully ripe in August.

Coriander foliage.

Image courtesy of Thamizhpparithi Maan CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

General  information and historical notes.

The country of origin of this species is uncertain,but most botanists agree it is probably a plant of the East,before it was introduced to Italy and Greece,and eventually to the UK. it has long been cultivated in England for medicinal and culinary purposes and like many other non-native plants it escaped over the garden wall and into the wider countryside.

Records show that in Essex {southern England} and Ipswich {East Anglia} it was cultivated for its seeds. the seeds were sown on a light ,rich soil in September.It was recommended that twenty pounds in weight would sow an acre. When the plants germinated they were thinned out to about eight inches aprt. The following spring the soil would be 'stirred' by a pronged hoe. By August the seeds would be ripe,and great care was required in the harvesting of them or many would be lost.

To prevent this, women and children were employed to cut, plant by plant,and to put them immediately into cloths,in which it was carried to some convenient part of the field,and then threshed upon a sail cloth. A few strokes of the frail got the seeds 'clean out ',and the threshers were then ready for another bundle within a few minutes. The average produce came between ten and fourteen hundred weight per acre.

 Although in the fresh state and especially so when bruised the foliage has, in the opinion of many, a disagreeable, even, foetid smell, yet when dried they become somewhat pleasant and even aromatic. Alpinus {De Plant Egypt page 131} states that the Egyptians used the herb very freely in soups and salads. However, Hoffman {Med.Off.page 241} relates that, on the authority of a monk,instances of Fatuity produced by it.

Coriander seeds are an ingredient of curry powder and at one time they were encrusted in sugar and sold by confectioners under the title of Coriander Comfits. The goodness within the seeds was extracted by means of rectified spirit, but less so by water. When distilled in water they were said to produce a yellowish essential oil,which yielded an aromatic,somewhat powerful odour.

Corinader seeds.

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Coriander towers above most other herbs.

Image courtesy of H.Zell  CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

Past medicinal uses and observations.

In the distant past there seems to have been some disagreement,especially among the Ancients of this plants virtues. indeed the Ancients believed that the juice of the leaves of coriander was as harmful as that of Hemlock. Gerarde,{1500's} who probably derived his information from Avicenna,tells us, "That the juice of the green coriander leaves taken in the quantity of four dragmes,killeth and poisoneth the body" Matthiolus and Tragus advised that it should never be used without previous maceration in vinegar. Gilbert states that he experienced headache,nausea,and cardiolgia from the emanations of the fresh herb.

 Conversely Alpinus,Bauhin,Zwelfer, Lobel and others deny that it possesses any noxious qualities,and they tell of its daily use of it among the Egyptians,Spaniards and the Dutch, who mixed with their food and drink. History tells us that it would be unjust to accuse the Ancients of misleading information, as the state of the herb,the way it was cooked has an influence on the effects produced in different individuals. The seeds have been long known as a carminative {able to ease flatulence} stomachic and diaphoretic{ causes perspiration}.

Terzagus commended an infusion of half an ounce of the seeds to five ounces of wine as a remedy in Quartan auges,to be taken before paroxysm. They were also found useful in the hysteria disorders and headaches in females,and in some cases of Scrofula. { formerly referred to as the King's evil, swollen glands in the neck}

Dr.Cullen esteemed coriander seeds as the best adjunct with which he was acquainted to prevent griping effects of Senna and their aroma serves well to mask the nauseous taste and odour of various purgatives. The dose he recommended was a scruple to a drachm in substance and from a drachm to a drachm and a half in infusion form. There was also a component in the compound known as 'Honey water'

 The recipe for Honey water was taken from 'Aqua mellis abrata'.----

Take of Coriander seeds --eight ounces. Lemon peel fresh.

Nutmeg and Storax and Benzoin -- of each half an ounce.

Vanilla ------------three drachms

Alcohol -----------three pints.

After infusing the ingredients for twenty four hours, they were distilled and add ' if thought requisite' a small quantity of essence of Amber and Musk. It was considered Cephhalic,Nervine,Coordial,Paregoic and Cosmetic.The dose being about half an ounce.

" Sweet Chervil's cottage value weed,

And coriander's spicy seed."

Another use of the seeds was to disguise the flavour of medicines To render their flavour milder the seeds of coriander were steeped first in wine and afterwards vinegar. It appears the flavour was better liked in some countries more than others. In the Book of Numbers where manna is said to be like coriander seed, it would seem it was well used by the Hebrews.

 In the Useful Family Herbal 1775,the author John Hill states-" The Coriandrum is a small plant cultivated in France and Germany for the sake of its seeds. The seed is the only part used, the whole plant when fresh has a bad smell, but as the seeds dry they become sweet and fragrant. They are excellent to dispel wind, they warm the stomach and assist digestion. It is good against pains in the head and has some virtue in stopping purges,joined with other things" However, Mr Hill does not mention what those 'other things' are.

The above information is for historical interest only and not meant as a guide to self medication.

Modern day medicinal uses.

The dry ,ripe seeds of coriander are regarded as being mildly stimulant,and aromatic and they are also used as a flavouring agent. An essential oil from the seeds is regarded as being refreshing and also aromatic. It is used to encourage digestion in both the stomach and intestines,it is also thought to be of beneficial use in helping the nervous system and is an ingredient in some massage oils.

In Asia it is used in medications to treat headaches,conjunctivitis and colic. It is a useful aid in relieving the symptoms of diarrhea. Some modern herbals recommend that children under the age of two years that suffer from colic may be given a diluted tea prepared from coriander.Dried and powdered coriander seeds can be dusted on to small wounds to prevent them becoming infected, as they posses anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.Although coriander is thought to be a safe herb there have been cases of dermatitis in some people that have been exposed to coriander oil or after touching coriander leaves,however, this seems to a rare occurrence.

In the powdered form the seeds are used in commercial products to add essence to processed meats such as sausages and hotdogs. The essential oil extracted from the seeds is employed in the preparation of chewing gum,soups,sauces,gin and liqueurs and tobacco products among other s.



Coriander in culinary preparations

Image courtesy of Mianean66 Public domain.

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Culinary uses.

Coriander has long been used in culinary preparations in many countries especially eastern countries, but also in Mexico and south and central American countries. The fresh young leaves {often referred to as cilantro} may be added to salads and to garnish soup,sauces and chutneys.

It is recommended that the seeds are used whole or powdered while making soups and sauces but also for desserts such as prunes and stewed apples. In Thailand coriander roots are boiled to add essence to soups and chicken dishes.

 For culinary purposes the fresh leaves should be picked after they have attained the height of two to four inches,whenever required.If kept in the fridge they will last for a couple of weeks. The seeds of coriander should be harvested when they have turned to a pale brown colour. Snip the plant at its base and place inside a paper bag. It must then be stored in a dark,warm place in order for it to dry. When the drying process is complete shake the bag until the seeds fall from the stem. Once the seeds have been separated they may be rubbed between your palms to crack them into seed sections. These may then be kept in a sealed air tight container.

If the roots are to be dug up,they should be washed and frozen for future use. The roots should be dug up before the flowers appear or much of their goodness will be lost.

Coriander grows well in containers.

The Herb garden at Royal Botanic gardens SydneyImage courtesy of J Bar. CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Coriander in the garden

Fearing Burr, ' Field and Garden Vegetables of America' 1865, says of coriander --" Like all annuals ,it is propagated from seed,which should be sown in April or May,in good rich mellow soil well pulverized. Sow in drills made fourteen or sixteen inches asunder and about three fourths of an inch in depth and then to nine inches in rows. It soon runs to flower and seed and will be ready for harvesting in July or August."

In the south of England,coriander is generally cultivated in association with caraway. Eighteen pounds of caraway seed mixed with fifteen pounds of coriander per acre.An unquestionable way of sowing them is in drills alternately, by which means the caraway would be more easily hoed and cleaned after the removal of Coriander.

 In the modern day garden plants and plugs may be purchased on line or from the garden center or nursery. Coriander does well in soils that are medium to heavy in texture,but they do require adequate drainage and the soil must be deep and fertile.They should not be overfed with fertilizers as this may diminish the flavour. They are annual plants {or they should be treated as such} and free seeding. Control must be exercised or they may become invasive vis seedlings which are produced in abundance by these plants.

If the seeds are sown just below the surface they produce seedlings in about twelve to twenty days. they should be thinned out to a distance of four inches {10 cm apart}, in weed free soil. If coriander is to be used for culinary purposes make successive sowings to ensure a good supply. The palnts stop growing when they are in flower.

Along with many species of herbs they grow well in containers even indoors if the foliage is required. However, if it is the seeds that are required for your purposes the plants need to be grown outdoors for they need powerful sunlight to ripen,which indoors the plants do not receive.

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